Everything you need to know about marriage in Somalia

11 Jul 2023·21 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Somalia 01

Somalia, officially the Federal Republic of Somalia, is an East African country. The country is popularly referred to as "the nation of poets" because their culture revolves around poetry. Somalis are known to be social and friendly people, and thousands of marriages are performed every year by Somalis and foreign nationals. A marriage can either be solemnized in a civil, religious, or customary ceremony. The country recognizes these three types of marriages. Generally, other forms of marriage, like secular and symbolic marriages, are not performed in the country due to the high number of Muslims. The act of marriage in the country is governed under both customary and civil laws. 

Religious marriages are the most popular types of marriage, and their ceremonial rites are often combined with those of customary marriages. The family plays an important role in Somali communities; raising a child is a communal duty. In essence, raising a child is the responsibility of the family and the whole community. The society is patriarchal and headed by men. It is common for multiple women to be married in one household in Somalia. According to statistics, one-fifth of all marriages involve multiple women living together in a polygamous marriage. The legal marriage age in Somalia is equal for both genders. 

Male and female spouses are required to have reached the age of 18 or above before contracting a marriage in Somalia. However, the law allows an exception for female spouses, who may be permitted to get married once they reach the age of 16. This type of marriage may only be valid if the consent and approval of the parents are provided. The rate of child marriage in Somalia is quite high. About 45 percent of girls marry before the age of 18, with 8 percent of them entering marriages before the age of 15. Like in most other countries where child marriages are prevalent, the causes of these high numbers are poverty and gender inequality. The government has been making attempts to reduce the number of child marriages in the country. Continue reading to find out more about marriages in Somalia.

Civil marriages 

Civil marriages are recognized and protected by law in Somalia. This type of marriage is performed in court and officiated by a state-authorized officiant. During the marriage registration, there are certain criteria that must be met by both spouses, as well as documents that must be submitted. Strict requirements are imposed on foreign nationals by the Somali government. This is done as a way of discouraging Somali citizens from moving to other foreign countries. To get married in Somalia, foreign spouses must be able to prove they are eligible and permitted to get married in their home country. This is often done through a certificate of single status. In cases where this is unavailable, a court-sworn affidavit may suffice. The identity of all foreign nationals must be proven. 

They must submit a valid means of identification, and concerned authorities in Somalia may carry out additional verification from such a spouse’s home country to ensure the means of identification provided is valid. The documents must be provided to the Somali government in Somalia or the embassy of Somalia in another country. Both partners are required to have reached the age of 18 before getting married in Somalia. The law, however, makes an exception in the case of female spouses, as stated above in the introduction section of this article. Females aged 16 or older may be allowed to perform a marriage in Somalia provided they have written parental consent. The civil laws of the country frown on forced marriages. A marriage may only be entered into between two consenting spouses. Any marriage held under threats, coercion, or fraud is punishable under the laws of the country. 

Upon the submission of all required documents, the concerned authorities will carry out some verification checks to ensure the documents are all valid. The official languages of Somalia are Somali and Arabic, and the documents obtained from foreign countries must be submitted in either of these languages. Foreign spouses are required to ensure all documents are translated by an accredited translator before their submission. Also, these documents must include an apostille (authorization stamp) to prove their legitimacy. The documents that must be submitted by Somali and foreign spouses are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • A valid means of identification. Somali spouses may provide a national ID card or driver's license, while foreign spouses may provide a valid passport.
  • Both partners are required to provide copies of their birth certificates. This paperwork must carry their names as they are currently listed, as well as those of their parents.
  • Proof of single status. This document may be required for foreign nationals getting married in Somalia. Foreign spouses must show they are currently single at the time of contracting a marriage.
  • A written consent from the parents. This must be provided by spouses below the age of 18 getting married in Somalia.
  • Divorce or death certificate. This is required of previously married spouses who are separated or widowed at the time of marriage.

Religious and customary marriages

Religious and customary marriages are widely performed in Somalia. Marriages performed in accordance with the religion, custom, and tradition of couples also hold legal status in Somalia. Somalia is a Muslim country, and almost 100 percent of the total population are Sunni Muslims. The number of people with other religious beliefs is extremely low in the country. Most marriages are performed under the principles of Sharia. In Somalia, a Muslim man is allowed to marry a non-Muslim woman, even though this case is not very common. 

However, Muslim women are not allowed to marry non-Muslim men. This type of marriage may only take place if the non-Muslim man converts to Islam before the marriage. Muslim marriages often involve a nikah ceremony, which plays a major role in the marriage. In this ceremony, both spouses and their witnesses are required to sign a marriage contract agreement. In this contract, the duties of the husband and wife will be stated, as well as other marital responsibilities and how they will be shared.

Everything you need to know about marriage in Somalia 02

Marriage traditions in Somalia

Seven-Day Ceremony 

Long wedding ceremonies are the norm in Somalia, and weddings are known to last as long as seven days. On the first day, the actual wedding is performed, which is then followed by different ceremonial rites in the subsequent days where the respective families can hold their separate ceremonies.

Engagement Ceremony 

Before the actual wedding is allowed to take place, the groom must ask for the hand of his bride in marriage from her father. He may be accompanied by family members to make the marriage proposal, and upon acceptance, he will present gifts as a courtesy to his bride's family.

Gifts 

The custom in Somali weddings is for there to be gift sharing during the wedding reception. Here, the guests will present various gift items to the newlyweds as a way of congratulating them on their marriage. Most gifts are often money or jewelry.

Same-sex marriages 

Same-sex marriages are illegal in Somalia. There is no recognition for any form of same-sex sexual activity, including unions and partnerships. In areas controlled by Al-Shabab and in Jubaland, same-sex sexual activity can result in the death penalty. Under the civil law, same-sex sexual activities result in sentences ranging from 3 months to 3 years of imprisonment.

Polygamous marriages 

Polygamy is legal in Somalia. A man is allowed to marry multiple wives (up to four wives) as he pleases. However, before a man marries another wife, he must obtain written permission from the district court. There are various conditions that will be set by the court that must be met by the man before he obtains the authorization to perform another marriage in Somalia.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

The family code of Somalia, which is founded on the Islamic laws of Sharia, states that any marriage contract must be consented to by both parties to the marriage. Force or other forms of threats and violence must not be used to obtain the couple's consent to marry. Any marriage contracted with the use of force is void. The groom and bride must represent themselves in signing the marriage contract; however, if the bride is younger than the legal age for marriage, she may be represented by her father or her legal guardian. If the bride is underage, her father or legal guardian must consent to the marriage on her behalf. Speaking of the legal age for marriage, 18 is the stipulated legal age for marriage for both males and females. 

However, a female who is 16 years of age or younger can contract marriage if her legal guardian consents to it. In extenuating circumstances, the court can remove the age limits and allow underage couples to get married. In the absence of the legal guardian due to sickness or death, the mother is allowed to give consent; if both parents are absent, the brother, grandfather, or uncle is allowed to give consent. In any case where the legal guardian refuses to allow marriage to take place, the court can disregard the concerns of the legal guardian and authorize the marriage. In Somalia, polygamy is legal, but before a man can contract a second marriage, he must receive written permission from a district court. Before the permission is granted, certain conditions must have been met, such as the infertility of the present wife and her long-term absence from the home marriage. 

Force or any other form of threat or violence must not be used to obtain the couple's consent to marry. Any marriage contracted with the use of force is void. The groom and bride must represent themselves in signing the marriage contract; however, if the bride is younger than the legal age for marriage, she may be represented by her father or her legal guardian. If the bride is underage, the father or legal guardian must consent to the marriage on her behalf. Speaking of the legal age for marriage, 18 is the stipulated legal age for marriage for both males and females. However, a female who is 16 years of age or younger can contract marriage if her legal guardian consents to it. In extenuating circumstances, the court can remove the age limits and allow underage couples to get married. In the absence of the legal guardian due to sickness or death, the mother is allowed to give consent; if both parents are absent, the brother, grandfather, or uncle is allowed to give consent. 

In any case where the legal guardian refuses to allow marriage to take place, the court can disregard the concerns of the legal guardian and authorize the marriage. In Somalia, polygamy is legal, but before a man can contract a second marriage, he must receive written permission from a district court. Before the permission is granted, certain conditions must have been met, such as the infertility of the present wife, her long-term absence from the home, her imprisonment, etc. Within 15 days of the marriage, it must be registered at the nearest district court in the couple's municipality. In Somalia, civil marriages and religious marriages have legal recognition.

Intending couples can have both civil and religious marriages, as they are all conducted according to Sharia law, but they must be registered, as a failure to do so attracts a payment of fines. The law states that there must not be any legal impediment to marriage, and spouses-to-be must provide at least two witnesses on the day of marriage. If any of the spouses, particularly the wife, have previously been married but the marriage ended due to divorce or death, the concerned party must provide the authorities with a certificate of death or divorce.

Rights

Not only should couples know which laws guide marriage in Somalia, but they must also know the rights that are available to them by virtue of marriage. In Somalia, the rights of couples are equally distributed according to the law, but men are believed to have more authority in the home than women. In the home, the husband is recognized as the head of the household; therefore, he has the autonomous right to make decisions concerning the wellbeing of the family. Decisions such as the family's residence are only made by the husband. 

Couples have the right to divorce, but it is easier for a man to do so than it is for a woman. The husband has the right to talaq, where he can divorce his wife without any justifiable reason; however, he must receive authorization to do so from a court. The wife also has the right to finalize the divorce under certain conditions, such as the infertility of the husband, desertion, or imprisonment; anything outside these reasons has to be proven to the court beyond any reasonable doubt. The husband and wife have the right to own property in Somalia; their marital status does not deny either the husband or the wife their right to own property. 

However, they must decide which marital regime of property will be in effect throughout the marriage at the time of marriage. They both have the right to exercise their civil and political rights to vote and be voted for. Both men and women have the right to run for public government offices and fill vacant political positions without any restrictions. In Somalia, married men and women are not allowed to confer their nationality on their foreign spouses until after the dissolution of marriage has taken place.

Costs

Traditionally, marriages in Somalia are often expensive; couples tend to spend a fortune on wedding ceremonies, and the total cost of the ceremony often falls on the shoulders of the husband. The practice of paying bride price is very prevalent in Somalia, and it can cost around Sh100,000 or more; some even spend as much as Sh1,000,000. The total cost of the bride's price is determined by the demands of the bride's family and how financially capable the husband and his family are. 

In Somalia, many couples spend between $5,000 and $60,000 on their weddings. There is always a very large number of guests; on average, 300–400 people are always in attendance, regardless of the venue of the ceremony. Food is always served buffet style, and couples wear different attire throughout the duration of the ceremony.

Duties

In accordance with Sharia laws, the duties of the husband and wife in the home are distributed according to their gender roles. The wife is believed to have less authority in the home; therefore, she is obligated to always obey her husband without questioning any of his decisions. She is obligated to take on the domestic responsibilities and various housework, such as cooking, cleaning, washing, etc. She is in charge of taking care of the children and her husband at all times. She must also make herself available to her husband in order to fulfill their conjugal duties. She must accord respect to her husband and his family at all times. 

Despite being excluded from the decision-making process in the home, she has a duty to provide her husband with good counsel when making decisions. The husband is obligated to carry out his duties as the head of the home; he must provide for the needs of the family and ensure that they are met. The husband and wife have a duty to jointly contribute to the welfare of the family according to their various means. The husband is obligated to respect his wife, care for her, and provide support and assistance when necessary.

Conclusion 

Somalia allows both foreigners and Somali nationals to get married; however, the process may be tedious for some foreigners. The country has made strict requirements to discourage Somali nationals from performing marriages in foreign countries. Spouses who want to get married in the country must ensure they are fully eligible for marriage in Somalia and various other countries.

In Somalia, foreign spouses must be able to demonstrate good behavior before they are authorized for marriage. The marriage laws in Somalia do not make provisions for marriages between spouses who are related to each other. Consanguineous marriages are prohibited and may result in legal consequences. We hope this article has helped you understand everything you need to know about marriages in Somalia.

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