Everything you need to know about marriage in Sudan

13 May 2023·22 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in Sudan01

Sudan, officially known as the Republic of Sudan, is a country in northeast Africa that hosts thousands of weddings each year. There are three types of marriages in the country: civil, religious, and customary. All three marriages are widely recognized and accepted across the country. Couples have the option of entering into any of the marriages or combining them. It all comes down to their preferences as well as their religious beliefs. Sudan is generally regarded as an Islamic nation. When compared to other races, the proportion of Muslims is quite high. 

The country is governed by Islamic principles, as religion has a very strong influence on the country and its laws generally. Most aspects of the people's political, legal, and personal lives in the country are governed by Muslim laws. The minimum age to marry is 18 years for boys and 16 years for girls, according to the civil code of the country. The minimum age law guiding other marriages is quite different. In traditional marriages, the age at which males may get married is 15 years, while that of girls is 13 years. Under the country’s Islamic laws, there is no specific age that has been set for marriage, and spouses are allowed to get married once they have reached the age of puberty. 

A lot of the laws guiding marriages in the country are different from those of most other countries in the world, even Muslim ones. In Sudan, consanguinity marriages are allowed. A person is allowed to marry a blood or close relative. This type of marriage is not allowed in most countries around the world. For worldwide acceptance, the most commonly accepted form of marriage in Sudan is civil marriage. The rest of the article will touch on the marriage traditions and laws in Sudan.

Civil marriage 

Civil marriages in Sudan are performed by non-Muslim Sudanese and foreigners, and these types of marriages are legally binding and recognized in the country. The civil marriage is officiated by an authorized registrar or Khartoum Province Judge and held in the civil registry or court of law. Couples who want to contract a civil marriage must meet certain requirements, including eligibility and marriage age. As previously stated, the minimum age for boys is 18 years old, and the minimum age for girls is 16 years old. Unlike in most other countries where a certificate of civil status is needed to serve as evidence that the spouse is single in the country and abroad, the case is different in Sudan. 

A person is allowed to have multiple wives with equal marriage rights and entitlements. In fact, marriages between people related by a degree of consanguinity are legal and can be performed civilly. Civil marriages are performed by both foreigners and Sudanese nationals. The Sudanese are majorly concerned about traditions when it comes to marriage ceremonies; therefore, the number of religious and traditional marriages is mostly higher than that of civil marriages. Foreign spouses getting married in the country must ensure they are not prohibited from getting married in their own home country, and they must comply with all the laid-out marriage rules and registration process. The documents that must be submitted by both spouses are stated below.

Documents Required 

  • A valid means of identification such as a national ID or passport
  • Copies of the birth certificate Both spouses are required to submit this document (original and photocopies) with their correct information as they are addressed.
  • Both partners must provide witnesses who must be physically present during the wedding ceremony. These witnesses cannot be related to the spouses by blood or affinity, and they must also be citizens of Sudan and of the legal age in the country.
  • Divorce or death certificate. This applies to separated or widowed spouses who can demonstrate that the marriage was legally terminated. If this document is requested from a foreign country, it must be notarized and apostilled to prove its legitimacy. Also, all documents must be either in Arabic or English, as these are the official languages in Sudan.

Religious marriage 

Religious marriages in Sudan are recognized and protected under the laws of the country. The predominant religion in the country is Islam, and Sudan is generally referred to as an Islamic state. Non-Muslims in the country are not many, and they make up less than one-third of the population. The laws of the country are based on Islamic principles, and there are certain acts pertaining to marriage and religion that can land a person in jail. These include conversion from Islam to another religion, blasphemy, and apostasy (being an atheist or irreligious). Simply put, couples in Sudan must have a religion. Muslim marriages are mostly conducted in the bride's family house or the mosque. 

Over the course of the ceremony, a marriage contract is drawn up and presented to both spouses. The spouses must go over it to know their roles and responsibilities in the marriage. The contract is signed by both couples as well as their witnesses and officiant. A Muslim marriage is officiated by the imam. A mandatory gift must be presented to the wife by her husband. This gift is referred to as the "mehr," and it is often presented as a sum of money. According to general Islamic laws and traditions, a marriage is not only between the spouses but also between families. Before a Muslim marriage is allowed to take place, both families must be satisfied with each other, and they must have offered their blessings. A Muslim woman is not allowed to marry a non-Muslim man. The only condition under which this type of marriage may hold is if the man has agreed to convert to Islam before the marriage ceremony.

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Marriage traditions in Sudan

Whipping

This is a ceremonial rite where the groom is whipped with a lash. This tradition is referred to as Al-Potan, and it is mostly practiced by the Ja’alin. Getting whipped during the marriage ceremony is seen as an act to display a man’s dignity. The man has to withstand the pain of the lash on his back. The friends of the groom may also accompany him in getting whipped.

Proposal

The marriage proposal is an important ritual performed in Sudanese marriages. The groom's family approaches the bride's family in their house to officially ask for their daughter's hand in marriage. Here, the groom is presented with a bride price, which includes a long list of items that must be purchased before the marriage is allowed to happen. Some families in Sudan used to marry their daughters off as a way to raise money, and this is still common in some rural communities.

Multiple Days 

The norm for wedding ceremonies in Sudan is for them to last several days. Most wedding ceremonies last anywhere from 3 days to a week, and it all comes down to the preference of the spouses who are getting married as well as the kind of ceremonial rites and guests present during the wedding. There is usually a lot of drinking and eating at the respective houses of both families.

Same-sex and polygamous marriages

Marriage between two people of the same sex is illegal. Since 1899, homosexuality has been illegal in the country, and those who engage in same-sex sexual activities or unions face up to 5 years in prison or life in prison. There are no rights or benefits attached to this type of union.

Polygamy is legal in Sudan. This type of marriage has been promoted by the president of the country in order to increase the total population. A man is permitted to have as many wives as he desires. Although this type of marriage is most common in rural communities,

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

Sudan is one of the countries in Africa that expressly practices Sharia law among the other religious laws in the country. However, the law that guides certain practices, such as marriage, is known as the personal law act; under this law, Sharia law and other religious laws or traditional customs determine the rules and regulations that guide marriage for persons who wish to enter into marriage. Child marriage is a common occurrence in Sudan. According to Muslim marriage laws, a girl can enter into marriage once she reaches puberty, which sets the minimum age of marriage at 10 years old. However, before the girl can be married off, the presiding judge must grant permission after her guardian has proven to the court that the marriage is in the girl's best interests of the girl.

The law states that marriage must not be contracted without the express consent of the interested parties. However, in contrast, the consent of the girl's guardian, also known as the wali, is the only recognized consent, while the boy can give consent to marriage on his own, so the concept of free consent void of any interference from third parties is a facade. Divorced or widowed women can enter into marriage without the permission of their legal guardian. Under the non-Muslim laws of marriage, the minimum age for marriage for girls is set at 13 years and 15 years for boys. Civil marriage sets the legal age for marriage at 18 for boys and 16 for girls. Since child marriage is not criminalized, forced marriages are definitely inevitable. Payment of dowry is an important rule of marriage in Sudan; the dowry must be paid before marriage can be contracted. This is one of the reasons why child marriages are so rampant; many rural families see their female children as a means to amass wealth or get out of poverty. 

In the country, same-sex activity is illegal, and perpetrators are liable to face grave consequences such as imprisonment or death. Polygamous marriages are recognized and protected by the law. Muslim men can enter into marriage with up to four wives, but the concept of polyandry is forbidden. Conjugal marriage is permitted in Sudan between people who share a common ancestor; many marriages are formed between cousins, particularly first cousins. Foreigners are allowed to contract marriage in Sudan provided they are able to prove that there is no legal impediment to marriage. The law recognizes civil, religious, and traditional marriages; however, religious weddings are held more often than the others, especially in rural areas. 

The law that states that a couple must be single at the time of marriage only applies to the woman since polygamy is legal; men do not have to be single before entering a new marriage agreement. The woman must not be in an existing marriage at the time she intends to contract a new marriage. If she was previously married, she has to present proof to the court that such a marriage has been annulled or has ended. Persons from other religions, such as Christianity, that wish to enter marriage can only do so according to the laws of their respective denominations; only the Coptic Church in Sudan has a written set of laws guiding marriage. As regards polygamy, Christians are not allowed to do so; Christians are only allowed to practice polygamy; therefore, the concept of consent and the single marital status of couples before marriage must be fulfilled.

Rights

The legal framework for the rights of citizens in Sudan is very unequal; therefore, in marriage, husbands and wives do not have access to equal rights. The law provides more civil rights to the husband than the wife. As previously stated, husbands have the right to practice polygamy; they can marry up to four wives and face no punishment or discrimination in society; however, women are not allowed to marry more than one man at the same time. In Sudan, men have the right to marry non-Muslim women; on the other hand, women are not allowed to marry a non-Muslim man unless he converts to Islam. In the country, a man has the right to divorce his wife by just saying "I divorce you" three times, and it stands. 

While the woman, on the other hand, has the right to also file for divorce, she has to prove beyond every reasonable doubt why she wants a divorce, even if she is facing domestic violence. Many women do not exercise this right because society frowns on it, and such women are regarded as obsolete; some even believe they are bringing shame and dishonor to their family. The husband has the right to demand obedience in any way possible from his wife when it comes to performing their conjugal rights. This entitlement often leads to the practice of marital rape, which is not a crime under the law. The Muslim laws of marriage believe the husband has the supreme right over his wife's body, even when she does not want to. Under property and inheritance rights, the husband has the right to own all property, both financial and physical, as he is seen as the head of the household, which makes the wife totally dependent on him. He also has the right to stop his wife from working or earning a living; she has to seek permission from her husband before she can work, and if he does not consent and she goes ahead to do the job, she would be punished. 

Despite all these limitations and restrictions, women are still allowed to exercise certain rights. Women have the right to visit their family members whenever they wish to, and they also possess the right to receive maintenance from their husbands. However, this right can be forfeited if she disobeys her husband. Divorced wives have the right to receive custody of the children until they are old enough, and she also has the right to receive maintenance from her ex-husband for at least six months after the divorce. The laws under which non-Muslim couples are married determine the rights available to the husband and wife in marriage.

Costs

The cost of getting married in Sudan is relatively expensive in urban areas of the country, but in more rural areas it is quite cheap. To many rural Sudanese, an extravagant ceremony is not needed; once the bride price has been paid off, the man is allowed to take his bride. Bride prices can start as low as $35.Many rural families see marriage as an avenue to get out of poverty, not necessarily about celebrating love. A typical urban middle-class wedding costs around $10,000, which is far beyond the financial means of many Sudanese nationals. There are only a few wealthy families that have the means to spend a lot more than $10,000 on weddings. 

Both rich and middle-class citizens see marriage as an opportunity to show off their wealthy status and secure a reputable standing in society. Practices such as the slaughter of many animals over a number of days contribute to the lavish cost of holding a wedding ceremony. Couples in a country whose economic structure is in shambles now find it difficult to spend so much on weddings; they must always borrow from friends and family and save up their salary for many years before they can meet society's expectations. Many young couples have had to marry late simply because they did not have the financial means to meet the expectations of their brides' families, and some have had to start new families in debt.

Duties

The duties of a husband and wife in Sudan are determined by the laws under which the marriage was contracted. According to Christian, Muslim, and traditional law, the husband and wife have different responsibilities in marriage. Under Islamic law, the wife has more duties to perform in the marriage than the husband; an average Sudanese family is patriarchal, which means that the husband has the unilateral authority in the home. The husband is obligated to provide for his wife and children; he is expected to be self-reliant and independent. He is tasked with the role of providing for all the needs of the family throughout his lifetime. 

The wife is expected to be in charge of taking care of the family; she is obligated to carry out domestic work in the home and to take care of her husband and children even if she is permitted to work outside the home. She has a duty to always obey her husband and not question his judgment. Since the husband is seen as the sole provider, the woman is expected to be dependent, which therefore leaves her at his mercy. The woman has a duty to protect the honor and integrity of her immediate family; failure to do so frequently results in societal violence or discrimination. Women are expected to always make themselves available to their husbands, even if it is against their wishes.

Conclusion  

Sudan is very big on traditions. Traditional marriages are very common in the country, and most Sudanese couples ensure the ceremonial rites performed during their wedding are according to the country's customs and traditions. Civil marriages are mostly performed by foreigners in the country, while native Sudanese perform religious and traditional marriages. Arranged marriages used to be very popular in the country, and these types of marriages are not so common in other parts of the world, but in Sudan, most cultures still practice them.

The marriage laws in Sudan are generally based on the principles of Islam. These laws apply to everyone living in the country, even if they are non-Muslim. In some cases, the marriage laws may be based on the country’s civil code as well as one's primary religious beliefs; however, the general laws are according to the laws of Islam. Child marriages are still quite popular in the country, and efforts have been made over the years to reduce them. This is largely due to the fact that marriages are based on Islamic laws, which allow anyone who has hit puberty to get married. This article is a complete guide to everything you need to know about marriages in Sudan.

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