Everything you need to know about marriage in Papua New Guinea

21 May 2023·21 min to read
Everything you need to know about marriage in Papua New Guinea 01

Papua New Guinea is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world, with over 7,000 ethnic groups and over 800 languages across the country. Generally, most of the ethnic groups have their own unique languages and ways of celebrating different events, such as marriages. Some of the types of marriages celebrated in the country include customary and religious, informal, symbolic, civil, and statutory marriages. However, not all of them are recognized and protected by the laws of the country. In Papua New Guinea, statutory and customary marriages are the only types of marriages that are legally binding. 

These kinds of marriages open couples to various marital benefits as well as citizenship processing for foreign couples. The minimum marriage age for male and female spouses in the country is different, and the laws guiding the act of marriage in Papua New Guinea also make provisions for minors who may need to get married due to some special circumstances. To get married in Guinea, the male spouse must be at least 18 years old, and the marriageable age that must have been attained by the female spouse is 16 years. There may be special circumstances such as urgency, traveling, or other issues that warrant a marriage to be conducted when a person has not reached either of those ages, but there is still a limit. 

Male spouses may be permitted to get married at the age of 16 years, while female spouses may get married at 14 years. There is a two-year reduction in the ages of both genders for marriages of minors with the provision of parental or guardian consent. In some cases, court authorization may be required from a judge before the marriage is allowed to take place. The rest of this article will touch on the types of marriages in Papua New Guinea as well as their customs and traditions. Let’s get started.

Civil and statutory marriages

In Papua New Guinea, civil and statutory marriages are recognized and protected by law. These types of marriages are held in the civil registry and family court, and they are conducted by a judge or state-authorized registrar. Typically, couples are supposed to conduct the marriage ceremony in the same municipality or district where either one or both of them reside. Civil and statutory marriage ceremonies typically last for a short period of time. About 20–50 minutes, depending on the readiness of the participants and the officiant. However, the process of applying for the marriage and registering it can take some time. 

Marriage registrations typically last several weeks or even months and usually involve various verification checks and the submission of documents. After they have clearly stated their intention to marry each other of their own free will, the spouses must submit an official notice of marriage.

This notice of marriage is then published for a certain amount of time based on the registry to verify that the man and woman getting married are truly single and eligible for marriage in Papua New Guinea. 

In essence, both spouses are required to have reached the minimum marriage age in the country before proceeding to get married. The marriage rules in Papua New Guinea apply to everyone getting married, regardless of whether they are citizens or foreigners. There are several reasons why civil and statutory marriages are conducted in the country. When spouses get married, they get to enjoy benefits such as inheritance, protection, social security, entitlement, travel processing, legal provisions, etc. Marriage is also prohibited between spouses who are related to one another through close relatives or blood. Siblings and parents cannot conduct recognized marriages between each other.

 Civil marriages in the country have strong legal backing and are recognized by other countries around the world. This is one of the major reasons why civil marriages are so popular, along with the fact that they are less expensive than the other alternatives. Couples end up spending way less than they would with traditional and customary marriages in Papua New Guinea. The male and female spouses are required to submit some paperwork during the marriage registration. The documents needed may vary depending on the status of the spouses as well as the civil registry where the marriage is being performed.

Documents Required 

  • A valid means of identification (national ID or passport)
  • Birth Certificate. Both spouses are required to submit copies of their government-issued passports.
  • Written consent. This document applies to marriages between spouses, and either one or both of them must be below the minimum marriage age to submit written parental consent.
  • Proof of address Foreign spouses who are getting married in Papua New Guinea must be able to provide evidence that they have been living in the country prior to when the marriage ceremony will be conducted.
  • Divorce or death certificate. Spouses who were in previous marriages where the former partner died or separated must submit either of these.
  • Deed poll. This is paperwork that must be submitted by spouses who changed their names in the past.
  • Receipt of timely payment of all applicable fees

Customary and religious marriages

Customary marriages are those marriages in Papua New Guinea that are based on the customs and traditions of spouses in various ethnic groups as well as their religious beliefs. These types of marriages are also recognized in the country. In general, customary marriages involve direct actions and events between the bride's and groom's respective families, with no external factors or authorities such as the registry or the court at large. The primary decisions or rules guiding this type of marriage are made by the district court or village, in general. 

With customary marriages, there are a lot of expenses that may be incurred by the spouses and their families. Even though there is no fixed time or payment of fees as there is in civil marriages, there are still several factors that affect this type of marriage. It may take several months for the two families to reach an agreement as regards the date, attire, and payment of the bride price. The bride price is one of the important ceremonial rites in customary marriages, and the negotiations can take anywhere from weeks to months. Both families must meet an even point that favors the two parties. Customary marriages are still widely practiced in Papua New Guinea.

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Marriage traditions in Papua New Guinea


Customary marriages in Papua New Guinea involve an exchange between both families. As a matter of fact, a marriage cannot happen in most cultures if the groom's family does not pay the bride price (dowry). The type of dowry that will be paid by the groom’s family is totally up to the bride's family, and it can be presented in the form of money (cash) or various gift items.

Wedding Ceremony

Christian marriages in Papua New Guinea usually take place in the morning. These marriages are officiated by priests, and during this ceremony, the bride and groom get to share thirteen gold rings to show their love and trust for each other. The bride and groom are blessed and pronounced husband and wife by the officiating priest.


Traditional marriages in the country usually involve a lot of feasting, gift exchange, dancing, and singing, referred to as "singsings." Singsings are commonly seen at various special events across the country.Marriages usually involve hours of feasting and sharing drinks and food. During this time, the bride and groom express their greetings and appreciation to their families and guests.

Same-sex marriages 

Marriage between two people of the same sex is illegal in Papua New Guinea. The legality of homosexuality also varies according to one’s gender. Females are allowed to be homosexuals and practice same-sex sexual activities; males are not allowed to do all of these. The penalty for performing a same-sex marriage in the country can lead to up to 14 years of imprisonment. Even though this penalty has not been enforced very much, same-sex spouses face various discriminations in the country.

Polygamous marriages

Polygamy is allowed in Papua New Guinea. The government has been making attempts to ban this type of marriage since 2014; however, it is still widely practiced in the country. A man is allowed to marry multiple wives, and unlike most other countries where a woman is not allowed to take multiple husbands, the reverse is the case here. Polyandry is still prevalent in the country today.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties


As stated earlier, Papua New Guinea is a very diverse country in terms of culture and ethnicity. There are several civil and customary laws guiding the act of marriage in the country. Same-sex activity and marriages are illegal in the country; those who are found guilty are liable to face jail terms of up to 14 years. However, lesbians can be allowed to partake in same-sex activities. The law recognizes both statutory and customary marriages. Marriage conducted according to the customs and traditions of the couple holds the same legal value as a marriage conducted at the civil registry; the couple, however, has to register the marriage in order to enjoy the rights and benefits made available by the government for married couples. 

In Papua New Guinea, both men and women are allowed to enter into marriage provided they have reached the legal age for marriage, which is 18 years for men and 16 years for women, with an exception for minors who are 16 and 14 years old to contract marriage under special circumstances provided they have the permission of both parents or a judge's authorization for couples without parents or a legal guardian. Couples who wish to contract a civil marriage are only allowed to practice monogamy; they must not be in any existing marriage while trying to contract a new one, and they must be able to prove their single marital status in the presence of the appropriate authorities before marriage can be declared legally binding. 

If one or both spouses have been married in the past, they are both required by law to present proof of the dissolution of such marriages, either by presenting a certificate of divorce or a certificate of death. Marriage between relatives is an abomination under the law; couples must be from different blood lines before they can contract marriage. Conscientious and incestuous marriages are illegal in the country. Marriages conducted according to the customs and traditions of Papua New Guinea are potentially polygenic. This allows the practice of polygamy in the country; men are allowed to marry more than one wife if they wish to, and women are allowed to practice polyandry, where the woman is allowed to marry more than one man. 

De facto unions are recognized in the country; couples who do not wish to be in a formal marriage but want to be recognized as partners are allowed to enter into such relationships. Foreigners are allowed to contract marriage in Papua New Guinea, provided they meet all the requirements made by the law. The marriage certificate obtained from the country is globally recognized. Foreigners who are not permitted to marry in their home country cannot contract marriage in Papua New Guinea. 

A civil marriage must be conducted by an authorized marriage celebrant in the presence of at least two witnesses chosen by the couple. Both parties must be in a stable state of mind while giving consent to marriage; couples who are not mentally stable may not be allowed to contract marriage, and any marriage with a mentally unstable person can be declared void by the judge. Consent from both parties must be obtained voluntarily, without the use of force, coercion, or threats.


The rights that are available to couples in Papua depend on the type of marriage contracted. The rights of couples who contract a civil marriage are directly protected by the law; the same is true for customary marriage. However, there are situations where traditions dictate the rights of the couple rather than the law. When it comes to exercising their various rights, husband and wife are seen as equals in Papua New Guinea. Both the husband and wife have the right to be involved in politics and government; no restriction is placed on the couple based on their marital status, and they can both run for official positions such as the office of the prime minister. 

They have the right to procreate and decide the number of children they are willing to have, while also performing their rights and responsibilities as the legal guardians of the children and exercising parental authority when necessary. Spouses have the right to file for and finalize divorce based on mutual agreement or for specific reasons such as adultery, alcoholism, etc. Following divorce, the wife has the same rights to custody of the children as the husband; whoever represents the best interests of the children will be granted custody. 

The law provides husband and wife the same right to inheritance and property; at the death of one of the spouses, the surviving spouse has the right to take over the estate of the deceased spouse. According to the law, all citizens have the right to make a will once they reach 21 years of age. Both the husband and wife have the right to confer their nationality on their children. If a woman from Papua New Guinea marries a foreigner, she has the right to transfer her nationality to the children, and the same goes for men.


Marriage in Papua New Guinea is primarily about the payment of the bride price to the bride's family by the groom or his family. The bride price often consists of various things such as groceries, livestock such as pigs and cows, and even turkey, chicken, or money. Livestock is the most accepted form of bride price payment in rural areas; specifically, pigs are used to measure the wealth of the groom and his family, while money serves as a perfect substitute for couples in urban areas. While some families accept only cash, others accept both cash and in kind. 

Apart from the other items on the bride price list, the monetary cost of the bride price ranges from 2,500 kina to 300,000 kina. Many couples in Papua New Guinea do not hold any celebration because once the bride price is paid, the husband has the right to take the wife away as she has become his property. Couples who are more educated and are financially stable can decide to host a wedding reception after a civil wedding has been contracted, which costs around 50,000 to 100,000 kina.


The husband and wife are expected to love, respect, and protect one another as well as the entire family, both nuclear and extended. They are obligated to provide for and jointly contribute to the welfare and well-being of the family, especially the children. The educational development of the children is the responsibility of the husband and wife; they are both responsible for the moral upbringing of the children. 

However, the couples are not only responsible for the welfare of the children; the extended family, which includes uncles and aunts, contributes to the development of the children. Even at the dissolution of marriage, the husband and wife have a duty to provide for the welfare of the children in terms of child support. The wife does not have any mandatory obligation to always obey her husband, but they are both expected to respect each other's opinions and not impose their views on one another.


There are various ways in which marriages are performed and celebrated in Papua New Guinea. A major reason why the methods of contracting a marriage are so numerous is due to cultural diversity. There are thousands of ethnic groups that perform marriages according to their own beliefs and communities.

Couples getting married in the country must be mentally fit and in good health. This is important so as to avoid future issues in the union. Various couples have been cohabitating in the country over the years; however, they do not get to enjoy the majority of the marriage benefits available to legally married spouses. This article has given you a detailed description of everything you need to know about marriage in Papua New Guinea.

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