Everything you need to know about marriage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

3 May 2023·21 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo 01

The Democratic Republic of Congo, also known as DR Congo or DRC, is a Central African country where thousands of marriages are held by Congolese and other foreign nationals. Over 100,000 marriages are celebrated every year in the DR Congo, and wedding ceremonies are held in high regard in the country. Both civil and religious marriages are legal in the country, and couples have the free will to decide which one they would like to perform. Traditional rituals are often performed alongside religious ceremonies, and both usually occur on the same day. Christian church weddings are held in the morning and often conclude before noon. The rest of the day is often dedicated to the traditional ceremonial rites, which may last till later in the day.

The laws of the DR Congo state that marriages can only be held by spouses who are at least 18 years old. Child marriages are prohibited and frowned upon by marriage laws in the country. Unlike most other countries, where there may be exceptions for spouses who are younger than the stipulated age, the DR Congo is different. Under no circumstances are spouses younger than the age of 18 allowed to marry, and this law has really curbed child marriages in the country. Continue reading to discover more about the marriage traditions and cost of getting married in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Civil marriage 

A civil marriage is legally binding in the DR Congo. It is performed by a registrar in the registry office. The processing of all the documents for registering the marriage may take up to a month or more. However, the actual civil marriage ceremony itself is concluded within a short period of time. Most civil marriage ceremonies last less than 30 minutes. Civil marriages must be conducted by state-authorized registrars and notaries. Any marriage that is conducted by a person who is not authorized is not legally binding in the country or other countries in Africa or the rest of the world. In the DR Congo, all marriage requirements must be met before spouses are allowed to get married. Just like in most countries in the world, marriage between siblings or close relatives is not allowed. This implies that a spouse cannot get married to his or her brother, sister, uncle, or aunt. 

Congolese who are religious often just perform a religious ceremony since it is equally recognized and protected by the country’s laws. Those who are irreligious in the country have no choice but to conclude a civil marriage ceremony and then hold any kind of celebration they want next after the marriage certificate is obtained. Symbolic weddings are also common in the country. With this type of ceremony, spouses frequently have the freedom to decide everything from where and when it will be held to how it will be performed. The documents that are required from spouses during the marriage registration are stated below.

Documents Required

  • Copies of the birth certificate. Both spouses are required to submit certified copies of their birth certificates, including their full names as they would like to be addressed and the names of their parents.
  • A valid means of identification. Congolese spouses may submit a DRC National ID Card, and foreign spouses may provide a valid passport.
  • Certificate of no impediment to marriage This is a document to show that there are no current instructions preventing the marriage from taking place, from anyone or anything.
  • The two spouses must be single and within their legal rights to marry in the country before going ahead to do so.
  • Divorce or death certificate. Spouses who were previously married must provide evidence that their previous marriage was terminated as a result of separation or the death of a former spouse.
  • Both partners must provide at least two witnesses within their legal capacity to act as such.
  • All the required fees for the marriage registration must be paid in full when due.

The main official language in the DR Congo is French, and all documents submitted should be in this language. Documents in other languages must be translated by an accredited translator and apostilled for them to be legalized in the country.

Religious marriage 

Religious marriages are also recognized and protected under the laws of the DR Congo. In the country, spouses can be legally married without going through the process of a civil ceremony. They can have their marriage registered at the church, mosque, or other religious institution where they worship. The country is mostly dominated by Christians, with most of them being Catholics, followed by Revival Churches and Protestants. The percentage of Muslims and other religious bodies in the country is quite low. Therefore, most marriages are performed under the Christian faith and according to the principles of Christianity. To get married in the Catholic Church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there are certain requirements that must be met according to the rules of the church. 

The rules guiding marriages in Catholic churches are quite different from those in Protestant churches. An official declaration of intent to marry must be made in the church prior to the wedding ceremony. During this time, the church will monitor to see if anyone or anything objects to the marriage. Church weddings are usually performed towards the end of the week and officiated by an authorized clergyman such as a pastor or priest. The clergyman will tell the couple how married life is and what couples must do to ensure a happy marriage. It is the duty of the priest in a Catholic Church to determine if the spouses have passed and are ready for marriage.

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Marriage traditions in the DR Congo

Dowry payment

It is customary for the groom to pay a dowry before the wedding ceremony in the DR Congo. This is a pre-wedding ceremonial rite that used to be very popular in the past. Couples in rural areas and communities still practice this tradition. Here, the bride's and groom’s families get to meet with each other to discuss the terms of the marriage. The bride's family presents a dowry that must be paid by the groom before the marriage ceremony is allowed to take place. In the DR Congo, the dowry is usually paid in the form of cash ($1500 to $2000).

Wedding ceremony 

The actual wedding ceremony in the DR Congo usually lasts several hours. For Christians, a church wedding ceremony is held in the early hours of the day. During the service, the bride and groom exchange vows and rings and are pronounced husband and wife. After the service is concluded, a wedding reception is held in another venue entirely, where the newlyweds are escorted along with their wedding party and various guests to continue the celebration.

Wedding night 

This is an ancient ritual that is still practiced in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. On the wedding night, the wife waits for her husband on their matrimonial bed so as for them to have sexual intercourse. The belief is that there must have been blood during the sexual activity to confirm that the wife was a virgin before marriage. In cases where no blood is seen, the wife would have brought shame to her family, and this is not regarded as a good way to begin a marriage. Members of the family usually arrive at the house of the newlyweds the day after the wedding ceremony to confirm if all went well and the wife was a virgin.

Same-sex and polygamous marriages

Marriage between two people of the same sex is illegal in the DR Congo. Same-sex sexual activity is allowed in the country for both males and females; however, unions, partnerships, and marriages between same-sex couples are not permitted. Even though one is allowed to be a homosexual in the DR Congo, there is still a lot of discrimination, and the rights and benefits of marriage are not enjoyed by such spouses.
In the DR Congo, polygamous marriages are prohibited; however, there is still a small percentage of people who are or are considering this type of marriage. Most of the couples that practice polygamy are in rural areas, and the percentage of people engaging in this type of marriage is quite low. It is illegal for a man or woman to have more than one spouse at a given point in time.

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Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

Marriage is the foundation upon which the family is established; therefore, before marriage can be contracted, interested parties must ensure that all laws are understood and obeyed. The laws guiding marriage in the DR Congo are relatively direct and straightforward enough for both nationals and foreigners to fulfill. Obtaining consent from both parties is a very important aspect of the laws of marriage in the DR Congo. Before marriage can be entered into, interested parties must give their full and free consent without third parties influencing their decisions. The couple must be in a stable state of mind to be able to consent to marriage. If one of the spouses is mentally unbalanced, he or she may not be allowed to enter into marriage. Forced marriage is illegal; contracting marriage with the use of violence or threats for the purpose of fraud is a punishable offense under the law. 

The law specifically defines marriage as the coming together of two people of the opposite sexes with the intent to start a family. In light of this definition, same-sex unions are illegal in the country; people of the same sex are not allowed to enter into a civil union, let alone marriage, in the DR Congo. According to the law, the minimum legal age for marriage is 18 years, and no special consideration is given to minors who have parental consent or a court's ruling. Even under special circumstances such as pregnancy, minors may not be allowed to contract marriage unless they have reached the minimum legal age for marriage. Polygamy is illegal in the DR Congo; couples have to be single at the time of marriage. Proof of nullification of a previous marriage, such as a certificate of divorce If one of the couples was married, a marriage certificate must be provided, and in the case of widowhood, the surviving spouse must provide a certificate of death for the deceased spouse. 

A woman who is recently divorced has to observe a waiting period of 300 days before she can enter into a new marriage agreement. According to customs and traditions, polygamy is widely practiced within the country. Both religious and civil marriages are recognized in the DR Congo. Couples who wish to contract a civil marriage must provide all necessary documentation required by law and abide by every law, while those who wish to contract a religious marriage must abide by the rules laid out by the religious institution. A civil marriage must be conducted by a public notary or a civil registrar, while a religious wedding must be conducted by an authorized priest or minister. 

Two witnesses must be provided by couples who wish to enter marriage. Child marriage is illegal, and any parent that forces his or her child into marriage is liable to serve a jail term of up to 12 years and a fine of up to $1 million. Foreign spouses must ensure that they are eligible for marriage in their home country before they can contract marriage in the DR Congo. Marriage is not permitted between people who are related by blood (direct link relationship), marriage (alliance link relationship), or adoption. Consanguineous marriages are also prohibited in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Rights

Men and women do not enjoy equal rights in marriage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Women are frequently viewed as inferior to men. The couple has the right to file for divorce if the marriage is no longer working; however, many women do not get to exercise this right as divorce is frowned upon by society. Many women are stuck in abusive marriages because they refuse to exercise their rights to leave such marriages based on the social stigma they would experience. The right to give birth to and adopt children is available to couples in the DR Congo. Couples have the legal right to act as legal guardians for their children while exercising parental authority. 

Couples have the right to raise their children according to their own moral and social beliefs. The couple has equal rights to inheritance in the event of the death of one of the spouses; however, women often face discrimination when it comes to cases of inheritance. Couples in the DR Congo do not possess the same right to pursue career ambitions or goals; women are often deprived of this right as they always have to receive permission from their husbands before they can be allowed to do certain things such as travel or access certain healthcare such as family planning. Men have the right to be actively involved in social activities, whereas the wife does not have access to this right; she is expected to be within the confines of the home. Although modern families have changed the narrative, many older families still practice inequality.

Costs

Weddings in the DR Congo are all about age-old customs and traditions; they are often considered one of the most expensive events one would hold in his or her lifetime. The cost of getting married in the DR Congo comprises a combination of different expenses, starting from the dowry to the honeymoon experience. An average wedding in the Democratic Republic of the Congo costs between $15,299 and $24,298. The wedding budget includes a variety of expenses, such as wedding attire, decorations, and even the purchase of wedding shoes, which can easily go unnoticed and add up to the high cost of the wedding. 

The dowry is often paid by the groom or the groom's family in cases where the bride price is too expensive for the groom to bear alone. The dowry is often very expensive, and it ranges from $1,500 to $5,000, which is pretty exorbitant. Many families also require household appliances such as televisions; some even ask for as much as motorcycles despite paying the monetary dowry. The bride is required to provide a certain number of things for the wedding ceremony, while the groom shoulders a large portion of the total wedding cost. Couples can hire the services of a wedding planner to ensure that every dollar is spent purposefully.

Duties

The household duties and responsibilities lie on the shoulders of the husband and wife; the couple is responsible for all the needs of the family. The husband is seen as the head of the household, while the woman is expected to assume the role of motherhood and also take care of her husband. The roles of the couple are based on stereotypical gender roles where the woman is obligated to always obey her husband and the husband is seen as the guardian of the wife. 

The husband has the final say in the home; his decisions are not to be questioned. The couple has a duty to provide for the welfare and well-being of the children. They have an obligation to provide a proper educational upbringing for the children to ensure they become upstanding citizens of the country. The husband is responsible for providing maintenance for his wife and children, while the woman, on the other hand, is obligated to always make herself available. The children also have an obligation to take care of their parents when they are old and financially capable.

Conclusion 

Getting married in the DR Congo is straightforward. Both civil and religious marriages are allowed. Religious marriages have gotten very popular in the country because they are not as tedious and generally do not take as much time as civil marriages do. However, some Catholic churches have some strict conditions that must be met by couples before they are permitted to marry.
Marriage ceremonies are very important events in the lives of Congolese. There is a lot of planning that goes into making the day a success. Couples who conduct a civil marriage may wait a couple of weeks before conducting a religious or traditional marriage. Others may conduct theirs immediately, as it all comes down to the preferences of the spouses. This article includes all you need to know about marriage in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

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