Everything you need to know about marriage in South Sudan

23 Jul 2023·19 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in South Sudan 01

South Sudan, officially known as the Republic of Sudan, is a northeastern African country known for its national parks, tropical forests, and game reserves. Thousands of marriages are performed every year in South Sudan by foreign spouses from other African countries and South Sudanese. The constitution of South Sudan is based on a combination of statutory and customary laws. There are different ways marriages are solemnized in this country. Spouses may either get married in a traditional, civil, or religious marriage. There is no rule against two romantic couples living together; however, this type of union will not have legal grounds or the marriage rights and benefits available to spouses. 

Traditional marriages are performed according to the customs and traditions of the regions and communities of the spouses. The clan is made up of various ethnic groups, and each group has its own unique touch when it comes to how marriage ceremonies are performed. A civil marriage performed in the country is legally binding in all parts of South Sudan and the rest of the world. According to the laws of the country, the minimum age for marriage is 18 for both spouses. Under certain exceptions, spouses aged 16 or 17 may be allowed to marry; however, in customary marriages, there are still many cases of forced and early marriages. 

Child marriages are a prevalent problem in South Sudan, where about 52 percent of all marriages are entered by female spouses who are younger than the age of 18. Of these child brides, 9 percent are married off before the age of 15. There have been cases in the country where young female spouses are exchanged for cattle. There is a very high rate of gender inequality in the country, and the government has been trying to reduce the rate of child and forced marriages over the years. Continue reading to find out more about marriages in South Sudan.

Civil marriages

A civil marriage in South Sudan is performed by a civil registrar at the marriage registry. This type of marriage is legal in South Africa and other parts of the world. Couples must use the registry in the same locality or municipality where they reside. To begin the marriage registration process, both partners are required to go to the civil registry in person to obtain a marriage application form. The form must be completely filled out by the spouses and returned to the registry in a short period of time. Some couples may decide to fill out the form the same day and avoid the stress of having to go back. 

The marriage registrar will then provide the spouses with a list of documents they are required to provide during the marriage registration. Foreign spouses may be required to submit some additional documents that are generally not necessary for native South Sudanese. Spouses from other countries abroad may obtain these documents directly from their home country or the embassy or consulate of their country in South Sudan. The official language of the country is English. All documents obtained from foreign countries must be translated into this language by an accredited translator before they are presented at the civil registry. 

The documents must also include an apostille and an authorization stamp showing that they are legal. Foreign spouses must provide a certificate of non-impediment to marry. This document must be able to show that a foreign spouse is not prohibited from getting married in their home country. Both partners must be single and unrelated to contract a civil marriage in South Sudan. Male and female partners, regardless of their home country, must have reached the age of 18 before getting married in South Sudan. Under special circumstances, the partners may be allowed to marry at ages 16 or 17, but they are required to provide written parental consent. 

The country does not make medical examinations before marriage a mandatory requirement, but spouses are often advised to carry out tests before they get married. The tests will make them fully aware of any underlying illnesses and ensure both partners are medically fit for each other before proceeding with the marriage. In South Sudan, both partners are required to show that they are entering the marriage as a result of their free will and consent. Forced marriages are illegal in the country. Partners that were previously married are required to provide evidence of the dissolution of such marriages during the marriage registration. The documents both foreign and south Sudanese spouses must submit are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • A valid form of identification, such as a valid passport or a South Sudanese national ID card
  • A certificate of non-impediment to marriage from a foreign spouse This paperwork must be certified and authorized by the home country of such a spouse.
  • Divorce or death certificate. Either of these documents must be provided by partners who were previously married but are not separated or widowed at the time of registering the marriage.
  • Both spouses must provide two witnesses who are at least 18 years old.
    receipt of the payment of all relevant fees

Religious and traditional marriages

Religious and traditional marriages are very common in South Sudan. These marriages are performed in accordance with the customs and religious beliefs of the spouses, and they are recognized and protected by the laws of the country. The religious belief of Christianity has the highest population in South Sudan, accounting for approximately 60% of the population. The rest of the population includes indigenous animist religions and Muslims, with the former having a larger percentage. 

Christian marriages are often performed in an elaborate manner at various ceremonial sites. During the church service, the bride and groom exchange vows and declare how much they love each other. The priest or pastor then asks both partners if they wish to take each other as husband and wife. Upon their agreement, they are pronounced husband and wife. Church marriages usually last two to three hours in South Sudan.

Ghost marriages 

In South Sudan, there are "ghost marriages," where a groom set for marriage is replaced by his brother upon his death. The brother is expected to stand in place of the deceased spouse, and any resulting children from such a marriage are considered to belong to the deceased partner. 

This is a type of marriage that is not popular in other parts of the world and is unique to the Nuer, Atuot, and Dinka people of South Sudan.

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Marriage traditions in South Sudan

Jirtig Ritual 

This is a marriage tradition where both the bride and groom sit on a wooden bed in the presence of their immediate families. The bed is often covered with a red cloth and embroidered to be very beautiful. The families of both partners often sing traditional songs and encourage the couples to dance as they are being cheered for.

Bride Price 

In South Sudanese wedding ceremonies, the groom is required to make an official marriage proposal at the bride's family house. If her parents accept his proposal, they present the groom with a list of items that must be provided before he is allowed to wed their daughter. Cattle is frequently the country's main export.

Wedding Feast

South Sudanese weddings are known to have a lot of traditional foods and drinks served during the ceremony. The respective families of both partners may also organize their own marriage ceremonies, where various guests are invited to come and wine and dine with them and celebrate the new life of the newlyweds.

Same-sex marriages in South Sudan

Two people of the same sex are not allowed to marry in South Sudan. Marriage between male and female spouses of the same sex is illegal and may result in legal consequences where those who practice the act face imprisonment for up to 10 or 14 years. In South Sudan, homosexuality and same-sex sexual activities are also strictly forbidden.

Polygamous marriages 

Polygamy is allowed in South Sudan. According to statistics, about 40 percent of all marriages in the country are polygamous. Men are allowed to marry multiple wives, and in areas where this type of marriage is dominant, men often marry according to how wealthy they are. Simply implying that the richer a man is, the higher the number of wives he marries,

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

South Sudanese marriages are celebrated according to the laws, customs, and traditions of the country. In the country, the laws of marriage must be fulfilled by couples to be able to enter into a legally binding marriage contract. In accordance with the law, civil marriages, religious marriages, and customary marriages are all considered legally binding. If any of these types of marriages are contracted, they have legal value. Under the law, the minimum legal age for marriage is 16 years; however, anyone who wishes to be married at this age must obtain parental consent, or in the absence of either, the consent of a legal guardian. 

Persons who are 18 years of age do not need to provide parental permission as they are considered to be adults already. Despite these laws, many children are forced into marriages due to the stereotypical mindset of some people that once puberty is reached, anyone can get married. The law also states that for marriage to take place, both the husband and wife must be in a sound and stable state of mind. This implies that the husband and wife must be mentally stable to comprehend all that the institution of marriage entails, as anyone who does not have a sound mind is not allowed to get married. Polygamy is allowed under the law of the country; a man is allowed to marry as many wives as possible, provided he has the financial ability to do so. Same-sex marriages are against the law in South Sudan; same-sex couples are not allowed to carry out any activities in the country, let alone contract marriage. 

The law also states that the husband and wife must give their free and willing consent to marriage. Marriage must not be contracted with the use of force or threats, as it is against the law. Other Africans are allowed to marry in South Sudan, provided they are eligible for marriage in their home country and there is no legal impediment to marriage on the part of the groom and bride. The spouses-to-be must not be related in any way, either directly through blood relations, indirectly through marriage alliances, or through adoption. If either of the couples has been married in the past, they are required to prove to the appropriate authorities that the marriage has been dissolved by presenting a certificate of divorce or a certificate of death of the deceased spouse to the concerned authorities.

Rights

Couples in South Sudan have rights that are available to them as citizens and also as a result of marriage. The husband and wife have the right to procreate and raise the children in accordance with their religious beliefs and moral inclinations. They have the right to exercise their parental authority over the children and be regarded as the legal guardians of the children, making important decisions on their behalf until they are able to make decisions on their own. However, couples should note that they are not permitted to abuse parental rights over the children. The husband and wife have the right to make one another their next of kin in cases of emergencies such as medical emergencies, financial emergencies, etc. 

The law grants the husband and wife the right to initiate divorce, but it is easier for the man to finalize divorce than it is for the woman. The law does not require the husband and wife to meet the same standards. The stigma that comes with divorce in South Sudan prevents a lot of women from exercising these rights, and they end up staying in marriages that do not benefit them. Spouses have the right to work and receive equal payment for that work without facing any discrimination at the workplace due to their marital status. The husband and wife have the right to exercise their civil rights to vote and be voted for, as well as the right to participate in politics and government affairs. Couples have the right to property and inheritance; the husband and wife have the right to decide which marital regime of property will be in effect during the course of the marriage. It would also determine whether property would be owned individually or jointly.

Costs

The cost of marriage in South Sudan is both expensive and inexpensive. Wealth is measured by the number of cattle a man has; therefore, many women are married off after the man has paid a number of his cattle to the father of the bride. In more urban areas, the average cost of marriage in Sudan ranges from around $10,000 to as much as $60,000, despite the economic instability and high poverty rate that affect the country. 

This cost is often determined by the equivalent number of cattle given to the bride's family. Couples can decide whether to have a small, intimate wedding with just family and friends or the lavish wedding of their dreams.

Duties

In South Sudan, the husband and wife's household responsibilities and duties are heavily influenced by societal gender norms. According to these norms, the wife is responsible for all the household work and domestic chores in the home. She has a duty to take care of the children and fulfill her part of their conjugal duties by making herself available to her husband as often as possible, taking care of her husband and his family, and taking care of the home by cooking, cleaning, and washing. 

In some more rural areas, she is also responsible for the workload on the farm. The husband's duties in a typical South Sudanese home are to provide for the material needs of the family. He is expected to be authoritative, self-reliant, and dominant. The husband and wife have a duty to be committed to the marriage, provide mutual care, protection, support, and assistance for one another, and respect one another's beliefs and opinions. The husband and wife have a duty to take care of the children, always look out for them, and ensure that they have a good environment to grow and develop in.

Conclusion 

South Sudan holds marriages in high regard. Family is regarded as the most important aspect of life in the country, and during the marriage preparations and ceremony, various members of the family are known to have active roles in the ceremonial rites. Traditionally, families in South Sudan are large with multiple spouses.

Foreigners from other countries are also allowed to perform legal marriages in South Sudan. The country allows both civil and religious marriages. Couples usually organize a wedding reception after the ceremony is concluded, where different drinks and foods are served to the guests. This article includes everything you need to know about marriage in South Sudan.

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