Everything you need to know about marriage in Gambia

9 Aug 2023·20 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Gambia 01

Gambia is a west African country on the Atlantic coast, popular for its diverse ecosystem and natural attractions. Every year, thousands of foreigners and Gambian nationals solemnize their marriages in the country. There are four different types of ways to get married in Bambi. These are Muslim, Christian, customary, and statutory or civil marriages. These forms of marriage are all recognized and protected under the laws of Gambia, but they are performed in different ways. Muslim marriages are guided by the principles of Sharia law. Islam is the largest religious belief in Gambia, and most marriages are conducted in a Muslim setting with all the Islamic marriage rituals. 

Even though the country is dominated by Muslims, Gambia remains a secular country. Both Gambian and foreign nationals are allowed to practice any type of religion in the country. Customary marriages are performed according to the customs and traditions of the spouses and their respective regions and communities. Civil marriages take place in the civil registry, and the act of civil marriage is governed by Gambia's civil codes. These types of marriages are internationally recognized. It is possible to have multiple wedding ceremonies in Gambia. A lot of Gambians perform both civil and religious marriage ceremonies. The number of interreligious marriages in Gambia has increased over the years, and it is common for a Christian woman to marry a Muslim man. 

The ceremony is usually held in the mosque, and the civil ceremony is performed in Banjul at the registry office. There is usually an infusion of religious marriage rituals and ethnic customs and practices in Gambian marriages. Traditional marriage ceremonies involve the families of both sides, who give their permission and play active roles in the ceremonial rites. Marriage is a very important ceremony in Gambia, and most Gambians look forward to the ceremony for several years. Gambian weddings usually include a lot of preparations that often last several months. As you read on, you will find out more about the types of marriages in Gambia as well as the laws and rights governing them.

Civil marriages 

Civil marriages performed in Gambia are recognized in both Gambia and other foreign countries in the world. Civil marriages are performed in a civil registry office by a state-authorized registrar. The process of getting married civilly in Gambia begins with a marriage application, which must be submitted by both spouses declaring that they are willing to get married. All marriages in Gambia must be performed with the free will and consent of both spouses, and this must be clearly stated during the marriage application and registration process. The application form may be obtained at the registry general’s office. Both marriage applicants will be required to fill out the application form with their correct information as well as their signature. 

The minimum age for marriage in Gambia is 18 years old for both male and female spouses. Under some special circumstances, a person below the specified age may be allowed to marry if they are able to provide parental consent or a judicial authority. This age requirement only applies to civil marriages governed by the civil codes of the country, as there is no minimum age for marriage under sharia law in Gambia. Child marriages are prevalent in Gambia, and a lot of these marriages are the result of customary and Muslim marriages. 26 percent of all female spouses in Gambia get married before the age of 18 and about 8 percent get married before reaching the age of 15. Most of the victims of child marriages in the country are girls, and the civil codes of Gambia have ensured that spouses below the minimum required age are not able to perform a marriage except in some extenuating circumstances. 

Both spouses will be required to show valid documents such as a birth certificate to support their age claim, and they must also provide valid photo identification paperwork. The documents submitted by foreign and Gambian spouses are often different in this aspect since foreigners who have no permanent residence may only be able to provide their valid passport. Both partners will also be required to provide valid Gambian witnesses who are 18 years of age or older. In Gambia, a civil marriage must be between one man and one woman. Spouses who are already married, either in Gambia or other foreign countries, are not allowed to perform another civil marriage unless the previous marriage is legally terminated. 

If either or both partners were previously married, they’ll be required to provide valid documents to show that they are currently single and no longer married. After all the marriage documents are submitted, the registrar will go through them to ensure they are properly verified. Upon successful verification, the registrar and the couple will schedule a date for the wedding ceremony. All documents obtained from foreign countries must include an apostille and also be in English. Documents that were issued in another language by a foreign spouse’s home country must be legally translated to English before submission at the civil registry in Gambia. The documents that must be submitted by foreign spouses are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • A national ID card or a valid passport for Gambian and foreign nationals, respectively.
  • Government-issued birth certificates must be submitted by both spouses.
  • Both partners must provide valid witnesses during the marriage registration.
  • Divorce or death certificates. Separated or widowed spouses must provide either of these documents to show they terminated their previous marriages legally.
  • Proof of address in Gambia must be provided by a foreign spouse.

 Religious and traditional marriages


Religious and traditional marriages are very popular in Gambia. More than 90 percent of the total population in Gambia are Muslims, of which most are Sunni. Christians make up about 5% of the total population in the country, with the rest being Ahmadi, Hindu, and so on. Customs and traditions are greatly valued in Gambia, and both religious and traditional marriages have certain ceremonial rites that must be performed during the solemnization of the marriage. Before the traditional wedding commences, it is customary for the bride and groom to take their partners to their respective families to do a formal introduction. 

During this time, the groom asks the parents' permission to marry the bride, and if they accept, the partners receive marriage blessings from them. Muslim marriage ceremonies in Gambia are often mixed with some traditional wedding rituals. It involves a Nikah ceremony, which is usually held in the bride's family’s house, where the marriage agreement is signed by both partners.

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Marriage traditions in Gambia

La Dot

This is a ceremonial rite that is performed in the pre-wedding phase, where Lola nuts are presented by the groom to the bride's family. If the father of the bride accepts the kola nuts, the bride price is set, and the marriage date is scheduled. This is a marriage tradition that is still practiced in Gambia to this day.

Dowry 

The groom is expected to pay dowry to the family of his future wife in traditional Gambia marriages. The dowry is usually in the form of money or livestock, and it must be paid as a sign of respect and appreciation to the bride's family before marriage.

Wedding Feast 

There is usually a wedding feast after the conclusion of the church or mosque wedding in Gambia. The wedding feast may be held at a booked venue or at the bride's family’s house. During the feast, traditional music is played and a lot of food and drinks are served to the guests.

Same-sex marriages 

Same-sex marriages are illegal in Gambia. For men, the status of homosexuality and same-sex sexual activity has been illegal since 1934, and it has been this way for women since 2005. There is no recognition of any form of homosexuality or marriage between spouses of the same gender. The practice of homosexual acts may result in up to 14 years' imprisonment in the country.

Polygamy in Gambia

The older generations in Gambia have always seen polygamy as an indicator of wealth and prosperity. Polygamous marriages are legal in Gambia, and a man is allowed to marry multiple wives according to his financial capabilities in a customary or religious marriage. There are still a lot of communities that include multiple spouses in a family.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

In Gambia, marriage is governed by four different laws. Civil marriages are governed by the Civil Marriage Act of 1938; religious marriages are governed either by Sharia law and the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act of 1941 or the Christian Marriage Act of 1862; and lastly, customary marriages are governed by the traditions and customs of the country, which are heavily influenced by Islamic laws. This is so because of the large Islamic population in the country, and while Islam is the major religion, other religions are respected. Under the civil law of marriage, the groom and bride are required to be single at the time of marriage. Couples are required to be single, unmarried, or divorced before they may be able to contract a new marriage agreement. 

Any couple who is either divorced or widowed must submit proof that he or she is no longer legally married in the form of a death certificate or a divorce decree certificate. Couples must not be related, either directly or indirectly, through blood relations, marriage alliances, or adoption. The husband and wife are required by law to provide at least two witnesses at the time of marriage. The witnesses must be at least 18 years of age and have valid documentation. The legal age for marriage in Gambia under the civil laws of marriage is 18 years for both men and women. There are no exceptions for those who have not reached the legal marriage age. Anyone who contracts or conducts a minor's marriage is liable to face 21 years of imprisonment. Under Sharia law and the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, there is no legal age for marriage because it is believed that once puberty is reached, anyone can enter into marriage. 

Under this law, polygamy is allowed, but only the groom is allowed to practice it. A man is allowed to marry up to four wives, provided he has the means to take care of their needs and treat all of them equally. The couple are required to sign a marriage contract that expresses their individual consent to marriage; however, the consent of the bride is not obtained directly from her; only her guardian has the permission to give consent on her behalf. The legal guardian, also known as a "wali," can be her father, brother, uncle, or grandfather. The Christian laws of marriage do not allow polygamy and prohibit the practice of bigamy. These laws vary from one denomination to another, and couples have to fulfill the requirements of their local assembly before marriage can take place.

Rights

The rights of couples in Gambia are based on the type of marital union the couple chooses to contract. The rights of couples under the civil laws of marriage are different from the rights of couples married under Sharia law and the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, and they also differ from the rights of couples under the Christian laws of marriage or the customary laws of marriage. Under the civil laws of marriage, the couple has the right to exercise their fundamental human rights to life, including the right to work, the right to fair treatment, political rights, legal rights, civil rights, etc.

 Couples married under the civil laws of marriage in Gambia have the right to initiate and finalize divorce without any restrictions, unlike couples married under Sharia law and the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act. Under this law, the man has the right to divorce his wife at will and without any justifiable reason; this is known as talaq. He has the right to divorce her even in her absence by just uttering "I divorce you" three times. The wife, on the other hand, does not have the right to do this; she only has the right to finalize the divorce if her husband has been away for more than two years, is in prison, or refuses to pay her dowry or maintenance.

In general, the husband and wife have the right to privacy and family, as well as the right to raise children in accordance with the family's moral and religious beliefs. The husband and wife have the right to obtain protection and assistance from the government of the country. Under customary and Sharia law and the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, parental rights such as legal guardianship belong only to the father. He has the sole right to exercise parental authority over the children when needed.

Costs

A civil marriage in Gambia is relatively cheap. Legal marriages cost around D8,000. This includes about D1,000 for the marriage certificate form and D7,000 for the marriage certificate. Once these fees have been paid and the marriage certificate has been obtained, the couple is legally married. The wedding reception is where the cost of a wedding is really determined. The dowry must be paid before the marriage celebration can take place. There is no fixed amount for the dowry; it is determined by the parents of the bride. 

The average cost of a wedding in Gambia is estimated to be around D200,000–D500,000. The cost of food varies from D60,000 to as much as D100,000. Wedding decorations cost around D5,000–D10,000. The wedding attire of the bride and groom together costs around D50,000–D80,000, and the bride wears at least three outfits on that day. Drinks cost around D700–D1,000. Hair, makeup, accessories, etc. cost a total of about D30,000.

Duties

The average family in Gambia is patriarchal, and the roles and responsibilities in the home are distributed according to gender norms. The role of the husband in the home is defined by his position as the head of the household; therefore, he has little or no responsibility in the home. On the other hand, the wife is not granted the position of head of the household, yet she has a lot of duties and responsibilities to carry out in the home. 

The husband is responsible for the economic welfare of the family; he is obligated to provide for the needs of the home. Basic amenities such as food, clothing, and shelter must be available in the household. The wife is responsible for the maintenance of the home. She has a duty to take care of her home and its occupants, cook, clean, be hospitable to visitors, and be available to carry out conjugal duties. They have a duty to provide for the educational and moral needs of the children and also ensure that they grow in a safe environment.

Conclusion 

Gambia is one of the safest countries in Africa, and marriage ceremonies are beautiful and special occasions in the country. Spouses may get married in a church, mosque, civil, or traditional marriage and be recognized in the country as married spouses to enjoy all the Gambian marriage rights and benefits.

Gambia does not allow people of the same gender to perform any type of marriage, and homosexuality results in legal consequences as stated above. All documents obtained from foreign countries must include an authorization stamp to show they were issued by the appropriate authorities and hold legal grounds in the country. This article includes everything you need to know about marriage in Gambia.

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