Everything you need to know about marriage in Lesotho

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

Thousands of marriages are performed every year in Lesotho, a country in southern Africa known for its breathtaking scenery and landscapes. Lesotho, officially known as the Kingdom of Lesotho, allows both Sotho nationals and foreigners to marry in a variety of ways on a yearly basis. There are different processes involved in getting married in Lesotho, and it all comes down to the type of marriage couples have a preference for. In Lesotho, couples may get married in a civil, religious, or traditional marriage. For a couple to be recognized in Lesotho and other parts of the world as being officially married, they must obtain a marriage certificate. A marriage certificate is obtained in a civil ceremony, and the rule of thumb is to perform this marriage first before any other type of marriage so as to ensure its validity. 

Some religious bodies may request that the marriage certificate be obtained civilly before proceeding with the marriage ceremony in the religious place of worship. Although the rate of child marriages in Lesotho is not as high as some of the other countries in Africa, there are still prevalent cases. About 16 percent of all marriages in Lesotho are entered into by spouses who are below the age of 18, and 1 percent of those spouses were married off before they reached the age of 15. There is a high rate of poverty in the country, and this has been one of the major driving forces behind child marriages, coupled with the fact that there is gender inequality, especially in customary marriages and families. 

There are two systems of marriage in Lesotho. These are marriages performed under civil and customary laws. Under the general constitution of the country, both spouses have equal rights and responsibilities, and gender discrimination is not allowed. However, there are still several cases, mostly in rural areas, where family spouses are treated less favorably than male spouses. More details about the types of marriages in Lesotho, as well as the documents that must be submitted during marriage restoration, are below. Let’s get started.

Civil marriages 

Civil marriages are performed by a marriage registry at the civil registry in Lesotho. This type of marriage is recognized and protected by law in the country and other foreign states. The National Identity and Civil Registry Department is charged with the responsibility of registering marriages in the country, and couples must obtain a marriage certificate before they are allowed to enjoy marriage rights and benefits in Lesotho. According to the Marriage Act of 1974, marriage can only be solemnized at the age of 21 for both male and female spouses. However, with the written permission or consent of the minister, female spouses can marry at age 16 and male spouses can get married at age 18. 

Foreign spouses who want to get married in Lesotho must show evidence that they are not prohibited from entering a marriage in their home country. Spouses from other countries must provide a certificate of no impediment to marriage supporting this claim. Also, foreign spouses must ensure their documents show that they are single and are not in any form of marriage or union with any other person in Lesotho or other foreign countries. Both partners are required to provide witnesses during the marriage registration. The witnesses provided must be citizens of Lesotho and within their legal capacity to act as such. 

To legally get married in Lesotho, both partners as well as their witnesses must provide valid means of identification. Depending on the registry, the documents submitted may have been required to have been obtained within three to six months prior to the marriage ceremony. There are no medical examination requirements to get married in Lesotho; however, couples are often advised to perform various medical tests in a bid to ensure they are both mentally fit to enter a marriage and have no underlying medical conditions that may affect such a union. All documents obtained from foreign countries must include an apostille, which serves as an authorization stamp to prove the legitimacy of such documents. 

These documents must be translated by an accredited translator into southern Sotho or English, as these are the two official languages of Lesotho. Typically, the actual civil marriage ceremony only takes about 20–30 minutes. However, there is usually a waiting period before couples are able to obtain a marriage certificate. During this waiting period, the registrar and other concerned authorities go through all the submitted documents to ensure there are no discrepancies. All the information provided by the spouses must be accurate. Upon the confirmation of all the submitted information, the couple may then obtain a marriage certificate. The marriage certificate can be used in Lesotho and other foreign countries as a legal document showing that both spouses are married. During the registration, the documents that are required from both spouses are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • A valid means of identification. Sotho nationals may provide a national identification card, and foreigners may submit a valid passport.
  • Both partners must submit certified copies of their birth certificates.
  • Proof of address. The registrar may request a proof of residence from a foreign spouse, serving as evidence that they have been living in Lesotho for the stipulated timeframe.
  • Divorce or death certificate. Separated or widowed spouses must submit either of these documents to show their previous marriage was legally dissolved.
  • Certificate of no impediment to marriage. This must be submitted by a foreign spouse to show they are eligible for marriage and are facing no legal obstructions.
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Religious and customary marriages

In Lesotho, approximately 90 percent of the total population is Christian. The Christian population is mostly made up of Protestants and Catholics. Those under other religions such as Islam and Hinduism make up about 7 percent of the population, with the rest having no religious affiliations. Most marriage ceremonies take place in the church and are performed by a registered priest or pastor. To get married in the Catholic Church, there are various requirements that must be met by both spouses. 

The three major certificates that must be provided are holy communion, confirmation, and baptismal certificates. Upon the submission of the certificates, the priest may conduct an interview to ask some questions of the couple and ensure they are fit for marriage. It is up to the priest to make a decision on whether the couple will be allowed to get married in the church. In Lesotho, customary marriages may be registered at the national identity and civil registry department, but only the first marriage may be registered. The man is also required to pay a bride price in a customary marriage. Without this payment, such marriages will be rendered invalid in Lesotho.

Marriage traditions in Lesotho

Engagement Ceremony 

In all customary marriages in Lesotho, the pre-wedding rites often begin with an engagement ceremony. During this ceremony, the families of both spouses meet together to exchange pleasantries and get acquainted. Also, during this ceremony, the groom makes an official marriage proposal and seeks the approval of the bride's family.

Bohali 

The bohali refers to the bride price in Lesotho. The bride price is mandatory and must be paid by the groom to the bride's family in a customary marriage. The Bohali may be presented in any form, ranging from livestock to money, landed properties, etc.

Bridal Handover

The custom in Lesotho weddings is for the father of the bride to hand her over to her new husband. During the handing-off, the bride is walked down the aisle and given to her groom.This also serves as a way of passing the responsibilities of the bride to the groom.

Same-sex marriages 

The status of homosexuality and same-sex sexual activities is legal in Lesotho. However, same-sex relationships, including unions, partnerships, and marriages, are not recognized in the country. Also, LGBT members may face legal challenges as well as discrimination on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation in the country. Marriage entitlements and benefits in Lesotho are not available to same-sex couples.

Polygamous marriages 

Polygamy is widely practiced in Lesotho. Under the civil laws of the country, polygamy is not allowed; however, under the customary marriage laws, men are allowed to marry multiple wives. This customary law is not recognized by the government, but it does not stop Sotho men from enjoying some of the marriage benefits, such as inheritance and child custody rights.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

The act of marriage in Lesotho is governed by the marriage act of 1961 and the customary marriage act of 1998. The Marriage Act of 1961 governs civil marriages, and under this act and the customary marriage act of 1998, The Marriage Act of 1961 governs civil marriages, and under this act, the requirements and process of contracting a civil marriage are clearly stated. Traditional marriages are governed by the Customary Marriage Act of 1998, which clearly spells out the traditions and customs that must be observed before marriage can take place. Under these laws of marriage, the husband and wife have attained the legal age for marriage, which is set at 21 years for both men and women. 

A male aged 18 and a female aged 16 may be allowed to contract marriage under special circumstances provided they have obtained parental consent to be able to get married; in the absence of one, the written consent of a legal guardian or a district administrator is admissible. Under the Marriage Act, the law requires intending couples to submit a notice of intended marriage to the civil registrar at least 21 days before the chosen date for the wedding. Following that, a marriage license would be issued, granting the couples permission to marry. The law also requires the couple to provide at least two witnesses to sign on the marriage certificate, which will be obtained after the official joining. The witnesses provided must be adults, and they must have valid identification documents. Under the marriage act, the groom and bride must be single at the time of marriage; it does not recognize polygamous marriages or the practice of bigamy.

There cannot be any existing marriages while attempting to enter into a new marriage contract. The husband and wife must be physically present, as marriages by proxy are against the law. According to the customary marriage act, polygamy is allowed. A man is allowed to marry more than one wife in accordance with traditions and customs in Lesotho. However, he must inform the appropriate authorities of his intent to contract marriage with more than one spouse as well as obtain consent from his current wife or wives. He must also be able to prove that he has the financial ability to cater to the needs of his wives. Only the first customary marriage must be registered. Same-sex couples are not allowed to contract marriage. It is legal for them to carry out their activities, but they are prohibited from having a family. The consent of the husband and wife must be obtained before marriage can take place. Consent must not be obtained with the use of force or violence.

Rights

Couples married under the civil marriage act enjoy equal rights in marriage compared to couples married under the customary marriage act. The husband and wife have equal rights to work and equal pay under the civil marriage act. They have the right to exercise their fundamental human rights, such as social, political, economic, legal, etc. Under the Marriage Act, the husband and wife have the right to raise children according to the religious and moral inclinations of the family. 

Not only are couples granted this right, but they are also entitled to the role of legal guardians of the children and have the right to exercise parental rights and authority. The husband and wife have the right to participate in socioeconomic activities without limitations as well as own financial assets. Regardless of the marital regime of property chosen by the couple at the time of marriage, they both have the right to own, use, and dispose of property as they wish. They also have the right to sign a prenup at the time of marriage to protect their property in the event of divorce. 

Couples have the right to participate in political activities outside the confines of the home. They have the right to contest for public government offices and vote for people who would represent their interests in government. They both have the legal right to file for divorce; the wife has the same right as the husband to initiate divorce. They both have equal custody and visitation rights after the divorce is finalized, because divorce does not limit couples' rights to their children.

Costs

The total cost of a wedding in Lesotho is determined by the type of wedding contracted by the couple. A civil wedding in Lesotho is less expensive compared to the traditional weddings in the country. To contract a civil marriage, the couple is required to obtain a marriage license, which is often affordable. To contract a traditional marriage, the average cost is estimated to be around 50,700 Lesotho Loti, which includes the cost of the bride price, the rental of the wedding venue, food and drinks at the event, the attire of the couple, etc. 

This cost can easily increase depending on the size of the wedding, the financial ability of the couple, the guest list, the location of the event, etc. Accommodation, flowers and decorations, photography, and videography at the event all make up the total cost of a wedding in Lesotho.

Duties

During marriage and even after divorce, the husband and wife have many household duties and responsibilities to one another as well as the children. The couple has a duty to protect one another, provide care and support for one another, and provide mutual assistance at all times. They are both responsible for supporting one another both during and after marriage. The health and comfort of the children should be the utmost priority of the couple. 

They have a duty to ensure that the children are protected from any form of violence or abuse, both physical and emotional. The couple should endeavor to provide a good environment for the growth and development of the children. It is the husband and wife's responsibility to practice joint parenting.

Primary responsibility for meeting the family's material and nonmaterial needs There must be the provision of basic amenities such as food, clothing, and shelter for the family. Any of the spouses who refuses to fulfill his or her duty in the home or towards the children commits an offense and is liable to face punishment.

Final Thoughts   

Lesotho uses both civil laws and customary laws in marriages. Only civil registry marriages are legally binding in other foreign countries. However, couples are allowed to perform religious and customary marriages. Under the civil laws of the country, both men and women have equal rights in marriage.

In Lesotho, marriage is celebrated in an extravagant style. Some traditional marriages last for more than one day and may include multiple ceremonies from both families. According to the customary laws of the country, the family heir is the first male child. We hope this article has helped you understand everything you need to know about marriage in Lesotho.

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