Everything you need to know about marriage in Mali

8 Jun 2023·20 min to read
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Mali, officially known as the Republic of Mali, is a west African country popular for its stunning landscapes and scenery. The country has various sites of attraction where Malians and other foreigners in the country may conduct their marriage ceremonies. Mali is a multiracial and multiethnic African country. The marriage practices of each ethnic group are quite different from the other, and most times, some of the local traditions of the region or community of couples are mixed with religious marriages. 

The predominant religion in the country is Islam, and there are three major ways of performing marriages in the country, namely, civil, religious, and traditional marriages. Malians have also been known to perform symbolic and secular marriages due to the high level of freedom that comes with them. The three major marriages stated above are the only types of marriages that hold legal grounds in the country; however, they all involve different processes or submission of documents by the spouses getting married. Generally, symbolic wedding ceremonies do not have a rigid structure that must be followed by the spouses getting married. 

There is a lot of flexibility that comes with this type of marriage; however, it is not legally binding. The legal marriage age in the country is 18 for both boys and girls. It used to be 16 for girls in the past, and child marriages are still quite prevalent in the country. Statistics have shown that about 54 percent of the total population of girls in Mali are married before the age of 18, while about 16 percent get married before they reach the age of 15. In terms of child marriages, the ratio of boys to girls is not balanced because only about 2 percent of boys are married before the age of 18. Continue reading to learn more about the marriage registration process in Mali as well as the various marriage traditions.

Civil marriages 

Civil marriages are legally binding in Mali. This type of marriage must be performed in the registrar’s office or town hall office. Civil marriages are conducted by state-authorized notaries or registrars. There are some rules guiding the registration of marriages under the civil law of the country that must be followed by Malian and foreign spouses. Couples are not allowed to marry each other if they are close relatives. This implies that blood and adopted siblings and parents cannot perform civil marriages. This type of option is also popular with the foreigners in the country due to the fact that the religious or ethnic backgrounds of spouses do not matter and, upon the submission of all necessary documents, a marriage can be registered.

 A marriage registered in Mali is recognized in other countries around the world too. To register a marriage in Mali, the spouses are required to apply in person, unless they are in a foreign country. The couple must go to the town hall where they intend to hold the ceremony to learn about the documents and payments that are required. BH spouses will be informed at the town hall about the documents to submit, the necessary forms to fill out, the payments required, as well as the verification and processing times. The first step involves the public declaration of marriage.

The couple must notify the registrar of their intention to marry, and after the registrar is notified, there is usually a waiting period. During the waiting period, the registrar and other concerned authorities are on the lookout to see if there will be any conflicting information presented by anyone or anything that can prevent the marriage from taking place. The registrar also conducts an interview to determine the eligibility of both spouses by ensuring the marriage ceremony is taking place of their own free will and that the woman is single. The waiting period is usually for 15 days, and if nobody comes up with any complaints that may hinder or prevent the marriage from happening, the registrar may then issue a marriage certificate to the spouses.

Documents Required 

  • A valid means of identification must be submitted by both spouses, such as a national identity card or passport.
  • Certified copies of the birth certificates of both spouses
  • Two witnesses must be provided by both spouses. They must not be close relatives of the spouses.
  • Divorce or death certificate. This applies to previously married spouses and must be submitted as evidence of the legal termination of a previous marriage.
  • Receipt of the payment of all required fees

Religious marriages 

Religious marriages are recognized and protected under the laws of Mali. The predominant religion in the country is Islam, with over 95 percent of the total population. The 5 percent on the left includes people who are under other religious faiths such as Annadiyya, Christianity, Dogon, and other traditional African religions. Muslim marriages usually involve ceremonial rites performed by both families. Before a man and a woman can marry in Islam, the two families must meet and agree. 

Families are very important to Muslims, and a groom is required to ask for the hand of his bride from her parents before further marriage preparations. If the bride's family accepts the proposal, the groom often has to pay a dowry. There is also the presentation of gifts to the bride, which is different from the actual bride price. Traditionally, an elder of the groom's family used to be chosen to make all marriage arrangements and act as an intermediary between both families. However, in modern marriages, grooms are now shouldering this responsibility and nesting with the bride's family to make marriage proposals.

Traditional marriages 

Traditional and customary marriages are also recognized and accepted in Mali. As stated earlier, Mali is a multiethnic country, and the way traditional marriages are performed varies between ethnic groups, regions, and communities. Generally, traditional wedding ceremonies last two to three days or even more. These ceremonies are usually lavish, with several ceremonial rites, and in most cases, spouses would have been saving up for years just for this occasion.

 Traditional wedding ceremonies in Mali involve a lot of dancing, singing, and eating. There are often various games that can be played by the couple and other guests. The celebration of a traditional marriage usually takes place at the front of either the bride's or the groom's house, with various families and friends in attendance.

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Marriage traditions in Mali

Engagement ceremony

A Malian wedding ceremony cannot take place without an engagement ceremony in the pre-wedding phase. Here, both families meet each other, and the groom and his family make a marriage proposal to marry the daughter of the other family. If the bride's family accepts the proposal, the groom often presents gift items to the bride's family as marriage preparations continue.


Henna is a ceremony that is often organized by the closest friends of the bride or the maid of honor. The term "hen e" refers to beautiful drawings on female spouses' hands and legs as a way of adorning and displaying them in their most beautiful form. The henna ceremony is only attended by female relatives and friends of the bride.


The use of jewelry is very common in traditional wedding ceremonies in Mali. The jewelry is an important aspect of the bride's dressing, and even if there are several types of ceremonies held on different days, the bride still has to stand out in the crowd. Gold jewelry on the wrists and ears is usually worn by women, but there are also various traditional jewelries that can be worn by men too.

Same-sex marriages 

Marriage between two people of the same sex is illegal in Mali. Members of the LGBT community face legal challenges that are not faced by non-LGBT residents. The status of being homosexual in Mali is legal; however, homosexuals are open to a lot of discrimination as the public does not totally accept it. Same-sex couples are unable to enjoy any of the marriage benefits in the country.

Polygamy in Mali

Marrying more than one wife is legal in Mali. According to the laws of the country, a man is allowed to marry two or more wives as he pleases. Even though polygamous marriages are allowed in Mali, these types of marriages are not practiced by a lot of people in the country. There is a high level of expense that comes with maintaining a large family.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties


Religious marriage, customary/traditional marriage, and civil marriage are all legally recognized in Mali. This implies that couples can decide to contract any form of marriage without restrictions, and it would be legally binding. The law states that before any person can enter into marriage, they must be at least 18 years old for men and 16 years old for women. Exceptions are made for marriages between minors as early as 15 years old, provided they have parental consent; on the part of a female minor, the permission of the father is all that is required. Anyone who conducts the marriage of a minor without their consent or the consent of their parents is liable to face jail time or pay fines. 

Consent from both parties is required for marriage to take place in Mali; however, the consent of the bride is often not respected as the ‘Wali’ is responsible for consenting to marriage even if it is not in the interest of the bride. Polygamy is widely practiced in Mali, as the traditional and Islamic religious laws allow it. A man is allowed to marry more than one wife, provided he has the means to do so. Polyandry, on the other hand, is prohibited. Same-sex relationships are legal within the country, but there is no legal framework that recognizes same-sex marriages in Mali. A woman who wishes to enter into marriage must be single at the time of marriage; there must not be any legal impediment to marriage on the part of either party. 

If a woman has been married before and is divorced, she is required to wait for at least three months before she is permitted to enter into a new marriage agreement. And a widowed woman is required to observe a waiting period of four months and 10 days before she can be allowed to remarry; if she is pregnant, she is only allowed to enter into a new marriage after childbirth. Foreigners are allowed to enter into marriage in the country, provided they are eligible and capable of contracting marriage. There must be at least two witnesses at the time of marriage registration, and they must be able to provide valid identity documents. All citizens and foreigners who wish to enter into marriage in Mali must fulfill all the requirements made by the law and ensure that all documents and credentials are submitted for verification.


If both the husband and wife have reached the legal marriage age, they have equal rights to contract marriage. They have the right to contract a monogamous or polygamous marriage, depending on which is preferred by the couple. If a monogamous marriage is contracted and during the marriage the husband wishes to be in a polygamous marriage, he has the right to do so, but he has to seek the permission of his wife before doing so. The same also applies to polygamous marriages: the husband has the right to be married to more than one wife, but he has to receive express consent from his wife or wives before doing so. 

The husband is recognized as the head of the family; therefore, he has the right to decide on the residence of the family. Both the husband and wife have the right to file for divorce in Mali; they can file based on mutual agreement or on specific grounds such as abuse, abandonment, excessive alcoholism, etc. If the divorce is finalized, the woman does not have the right to remarry immediately; she is required to wait for at least 3 months before doing so, but this does not apply to the husband. 

They both had the right to perform their roles as the legal guardians of the children and also exercise parental authority when needed, and in the event of divorce, the interests of the children are considered before custody is given to either of the parents. Both the husband and wife have the right to inherit, but while the husband has total access to the properties of his deceased wife, the wife is only entitled to at least a quarter of the possessions of her late husband. They both have the right to give birth to children and raise them according to their various religious, civil, moral, and traditional beliefs.


Celebration of customs and traditions over a number of days is the order of the day when it comes to celebrating weddings in Mali. There is often a very large number of guests at weddings, and the groom and bride often have no idea who half of the guests are. A typical wedding dress in Mali known as the boubou often costs around $35 if ordered, but many local tailors can do it for less depending on the designs requested by the couple. 

Couples who wish to hold a civil ceremony can decide to rent or buy a normal white wedding dress and a suit. The average cost of hosting guests in a reputable hotel such as Azalai is around $141 per night; therefore, the total cost of accommodation often takes up a large chunk of the wedding budget. The wedding venue and catering for invited guests cost around $3,000–5,000 due to the excessive number of invited guests at the ceremony. Only wealthy families are privileged to be able to spend so much on marriage; middle-class or poor families often hold traditional marriages, which cost way less than an average ceremony in Mali.


There is this belief in Mali that women are subordinate to men, and this affects the duties and responsibilities of husband and wife in marriage. According to tradition, the man is considered to be the head of the family; he has control over everything. He has a duty to provide for the financial well-being and general welfare of the family. 

The wife is responsible for ensuring balance in the home; she has a duty to manage resources, both financial and physical. She has a duty to ensure the home, children, and her husband are properly cared for. While her husband goes to work, she is obligated to wash, cook, and clean in anticipation of his return. She is considered to be a very important support to the family, and once a woman dies, the effect is felt by the whole family. 

They have a duty to provide conducive environmental conditions for the growth and development of the children and also ensure that they receive a proper educational and moral upbringing. Men have a duty to make decisions in the home, but the wife also has a duty to provide her husband with good counsel so he is able to make good decisions concerning the welfare of the family. They both must respect and love one another and ensure that support and assistance are made available when needed.


In Mali, there are three major ways of celebrating marriages. The marriage laws allow spouses to get married traditionally, civilly, or religiously. Under the religious marriage section, Muslim marriages are the most common because Sunni Muslims in the country make up over 90 percent of the total population.

Getting married in Mali is not a tedious process, coupled with the fact that there are different options to explore. Foreigners must ensure that they present a certificate of no impetus to marry before filing for a marriage registration in the country. This article includes everything you need to know about marriage in Mali.