Everything you need to know about marriage in Namibia

2 Jul 2023·18 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Namibia 01

Namibia is a country in southwest Africa best known for its natural attractions. There are two major ways of getting married in this country. Both foreigners and native Namibians can either perform a civil marriage or a customary marriage. Prior to Namibia's independence, customary marriages had no legal status in the country. Marriages that were performed according to the customs of spouses were only recognized as unions, which could not be registered legally. This implies that there were only customary unions that were not legally binding. After the country gained independence, this changed. 

The bill was passed to give customary marriages the same rights and benefits as civil marriages. Those who were previously in customary unions have the option of registering their marriage to ensure they have full marital rights under the law. The minimum legal age for marriage in Namibia is 18 years for both male and female spouses. A spouse below this age is required to provide parental consent or authorization from the judge before he or she is allowed to marry. In Namibia, 7 percent of all marriages are between children under the age of 18, with 2 percent of them getting married before the age of 15. Child marriages in the country are a result of poverty.

Most communities include harmful traditional practices such as the lobola, which refers to the bride price that must be paid to the bride's family. Some families are often so concerned about their pockets and the money they will receive that they neglect their daughters and marry them off. Child marriages have, however, decreased in the country as the government keeps making efforts to ensure gender inequality in Namibia. The rest of this article will touch on the marriage rights of married couples as well as the laws guiding the act of marriage in the country.

Civil marriages 

Civil marriages in Namibia take place in the magistrate court or civil registry, and these types of marriages are performed by a registered marriage officer such as a pastor or priest and a magistrate. Civil marriages are legally binding in Namibia and other countries in Africa and the rest of the world. To get married civilly in the country, spouses are required to obtain a marriage application form. The marriage application form must be completely and correctly filled out by both spouses before it is submitted back to the marriage officer. In most other countries, the process of contracting a legal marriage is done civilly and according to the wishes of the spouses. Religious beliefs are different. In some countries, there are two separate ways of getting married that are independent of each other, while in most other countries, a civil marriage must be performed before a religious marriage is legally accepted. 

This is not the norm in Namibia. Civil marriages in Namibia include marriages that are performed in the church, magistrate court, or civil registry. The spouses' marriage location should be in the same district or municipality as their place of residence. The process of getting married civilly in Namibia, from the notice of marriage to the actual registration process, can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Generally, the marriage certificate is issued to spouses after a period of three to six months. 

Couples who do not wish to wait this long may be allowed to pay extra fees to speed up the process of obtaining the marriage certificate. When this is done, the couples often receive the paperwork within a few weeks from when the marriage registration was completed. To get married in Namibia, the two spouses must not be related by blood, marriage, or adoption. All consanguineous marriages are nullified under the laws of the country. Generally, adults under the age of 21 in Namibia are required to obtain permission from their parents or legal guardian before contracting a marriage. 

In cases where a spouse is unable to obtain permission from the parent or guardian, they may request special permission from the high court. The civil codes guiding civil marriages in Namibia state that both men and women have equal rights and responsibilities in the marriage. The marriage officer must ensure that both spouses are entering the marriage as a result of their own free will and consent. Forced marriages as a result of threats, coercion, or fraud are not allowed in Namibia. The documents that must be submitted by male and female spouses getting married in Namibia are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • A valid means of identification. This includes a Namibian national identity card or a valid passport.
  • The male and female spouses must both submit copies of their birth certificates with their names as they are currently addressed and those of their parents.
  • Divorce or death certificate. If either or both spouses were previously married, one of these two documents must be submitted.
  • Certificate of freedom to marry This is paperwork that is often requested from foreign spouses getting married in Namibia. It shows that they are single and eligible for marriage.
  • Provision of parental consent by spouses who are below the legal marriage age in the country
  • Two witnesses must be provided during the marriage registration and ceremony.

Customary marriages 

Customary marriages are also legally binding in the country. These marriages are performed in accordance with the spouses' regional and community-based customs and traditions. Customary marriages are usually elaborate events that involve a lot of ceremonial rites. Namibia is a multiracial and multiethnic country, and each region has its own unique ways of performing marriages. 

Lutheranism is the largest Christian denomination in the country, followed by Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Adventism. Before the marriage ceremony is performed in the community, the spouses must appear before the head of the community to state their marital intentions. Traditional marriages often involve the payment of a bride price and several wedding feasts.

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Marriage traditions in Namibia

The bride hiding

There is a marriage custom in Namibia where the bride is expected to go into hiding before her wedding ceremony. Up until the wedding day, the bride is expected to remain covered and hidden in a small room with her omutike (a female bridal escort).

Bridenapping

This is a common Namibian tradition that has been practiced since ancient times and is still quite popular. Before the wedding ceremony, the bride is kidnapped by other members of the wedding party, and it is up to the groom to save her by paying a ransom.

Lobola

The lobola refers to the bride price or dowry, and this tradition is still very prevalent in traditional Namibian marriages. Most times, livestock is required from the groom, and the groom may be asked to provide up to four cows before the marriage ceremony is allowed to take place.

Same-sex marriages

Two people of the same sex are not allowed to marry in Namibia. The country does not allow same-sex unions or same-sex sexual activities. According to the laws of Namibia, homosexuality is legal for females and illegal for males in the country. There are no family rights, such as adoption or inheritance, provided to same-sex couples.

Polygamous marriages 

Polygamy is not recognized or accepted under the civil marriage laws of Namibia. However, under the customary laws of the country, polygamous marriages are allowed. Before performing a civil marriage, the marriage officer ensures that both spouses are single. Under customary laws, a man is allowed to marry as many wives as he pleases, provided he is financially capable of taking care of them.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

Marriage is a type of contract entered into by a man and woman with the hopes of starting a family. It is a legally binding agreement; therefore, couples should have a proper understanding of the laws, rights, and duties that come with marriage before entering into it. According to the laws of marriage in Namibia, a man and woman are only allowed to contract a civil marriage; any other form of marriage is not recognized or protected by the law. In Namibia, civil marriage can only be performed between a man and a woman who have reached the legal age for marriage, which is set at 18 years for both men and women. Persons who wish to be married but have not reached the legal age for marriage have to obtain parental permission as well as a court ruling before they may be allowed to contract marriage. 

Both parties must give their consent to the marriage; however, consent is void when it is obtained through the use of force, violence, or if it has external influence. The couple must be in a stable state of mind to be able to understand what the institution of marriage is all about. If either spouse is mentally unstable, the marriage would not be allowed to take place. If either of the spouses is in a legally binding marriage with another person, he or she is not permitted to enter into a new marriage contract, as it is against the law to practice bigamy. If either of the couple has been married in the past and is currently divorced, they are required by law to present the original order of divorce to the appropriate authorities before they can enter into a new marriage contract. 

In other cases where the previous spouse has died, they are required to submit a death certificate before they can remarry. If the concerned spouse is not able to provide the required documentation, a sworn declaration or affidavit stating that any previous marriage has been dissolved can be submitted. Marriage between close family members is prohibited in Namibia; marriage between siblings, uncles, and aunts is against the law of the country; marriage between first cousins is not against the law; a man or woman may marry his or her first cousin. Polygamy is allowed in the country; at least one in five women is in a polygamous marriage. A man is allowed to marry more than one wife at the same time.

Rights

The Namibian laws of marriage, according to the Constitution of the country, state that both the husband and wife now have equal rights in the eyes of the law. The husband no longer has total authority over his wife in marriage, nor is the husband only recognized as the head of the household. Both the husband and wife now have the right to enter into contracts without seeking permission from one another, as was previously required. They both currently have equal financial and economic rights, such as the right to work, accumulate financial assets, open bank accounts, and take out loans. 

In the past, women could not take cases to court and have them ruled in their favor because women's testimony was not valued, but in more recent times, the husband and wife have the right to exercise their civil right to fair treatment under the law; they can defend court cases; they can file for divorce; and they are both granted equal rights to custody of the children once the divorce is finalized. Spouses have the right to own property and register land and non-land assets in their own names, as well as administer money and property. 

They have the right to work and chase their various career ambitions; unlike in the past, where a lot of limitations were placed on women due to their marital status at the place of work, in more recent times, the husband and wife have the same right to be a company director or a member of the board of trustees. The husband and wife have the right to decide on the marital regime of property they want the marriage to be contracted under, such as a joint marital regime or a separate marital regime.

Costs

It is understandable for couples to be a little agitated when it comes to accounting for the costs of hosting a wedding ceremony. It is safe to say that weddings in Namibia are quite affordable; it all depends on what the couple hope to achieve and how much they are willing to spend on the ceremony. The average cost of a wedding in Namibia is estimated to be around N$100,000, while more wealthy couples can spend as much as N$500,000. 

The average cost of food for a guest is estimated to be N$86.25 ($5), so the total cost for at least 100 people is estimated to be N$8,625 ($500), plus an additional N$34.50 ($2) for drinks, for a total of N$12,075 ($700) for the food and drinks of at least 100 guests. Hotel accommodation costs at least N$48 per night, which means that aside from food, music, entertainment, and the attire of the couple, the cost of the wedding venue and hotel accommodation takes up a larger part of the wedding budget.

Duties

At all times, the husband and wife have a duty to maintain one another as well as provide support and mutual assistance. The husband and wife have a duty not only to maintain themselves but to ensure that the children also receive proper maintenance. A proper educational upbringing and a good moral background must be provided by the couple for the children. The moral inclination of the family must be jointly decided by the husband and wife. 

Even in the event of divorce, the husband and wife still have an obligation to provide child support and ensure that the children are well taken care of. The husband and wife have a responsibility to live together and respect each other's opinions, even if the law does not mandate the wife to obey her husband at all times. They must also ensure that they perform their various conjugal duties at home. Couples have a mutual duty to jointly contribute to the wellbeing and welfare of the family according to their means.

Final Thoughts 

Marriage in Namibia can be either a civil or a customary marriage. The bride is believed to have a connection with the ancestors in Namibia, and as such, she plays a significant role in all the wedding preparations and processes.

Forced marriages are prohibited in Namibia. The marriage laws of the country state that all marriages must be entered into with the free will and consent of both partners. Marriages in Namibia can only be performed between a man and a woman, as it is illegal for two people of the same sex to get married. We hope this article has provided you with everything you need to know about marriage in Namibia.

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