Everything you need to know about marriages in Senegal

27 May 2023·21 min to read
Articles
Everything you need to know about marriages in Senegal 01

Senegal, officially known as the Republic of Senegal, is a west African country popular for its diversity and tasty cuisines. Every year, thousands of marriages are performed in the country through civil, religious, and traditional ceremonies. Other forms of marriage, such as symbolic or secular marriages, are also performed; however, they hold no legal grounds. The country only recognizes marriages that are conducted by authorized or registered officiants, and both foreign and Senegalese nationals are allowed to conduct marriages in the country. The predominant religion in the country is Islam; however, the country is still regarded as a secular state. Religious marriages are generally performed based on the instructions or procedures of the religious bodies of the respective spouses. 

Before spouses are allowed to perform a marriage in Senegal, they must have reached the age of 18. The country's government has made various efforts to reduce the number of child marriages in the country. Over 20% of the married girls in Senegal were married before the age of 18, compared to 1% for boys. Historically, young girls have been more likely than boys to enter suffocating marriages. In the past, the legal minimum marriage age for girls and boys varied. Before marriage, boys had to be 18 years old, while girls had to be 16 years old. Even with this, there was still a parental consent provision for spouses below the stipulated age who wanted to marry in Senegal. 

However, over the years, this changed, and the current marriage age is 18 years old for both boys and girls. There are civil laws based on the constitution of Senegal, and even though almost everybody living in Senegal is Muslim, the principles of sharia law do not guide the general act of marriage across the country. Spouses are allowed to follow their own respective religious beliefs. Let’s continue to the other sections of the article where the marriage laws and rights in the country will be touched on.

Civil marriages 

Civil marriages performed in Senegal are legally binding and recognized in the country and in other countries abroad. A civil marriage is conducted by a registrar and held in the civil registry. There are sets of procedures that must be followed by the spouses before they are allowed to get married in the country. The marriage procedure begins with an application. Both spouses are required to submit an application to the civil registry where the marriage ceremony will take place. The spouses getting married are required to appear before the registrar with evidence of their civil status at least one month before the marriage ceremony. 

There is often a waiting period where the registrar verifies all the documents that have been submitted. The civil status of the spouses is also confirmed by the registrar, and how long it takes depends on the condition of the spouses as well as other concerned authorities. Before a civil marriage is performed, a marriage banns is issued to the spouses by the officer of civil status. This is to serve as a notification to the public that there is an oncoming marriage between the two spouses. Upon the submission of all documents and the exchange of vows, the couple then obtains a marriage certificate, along with two family books where important family events are recorded. 

The minimum marriage age in the country is 18 years, and in some special cases, a person younger than 18 may be allowed to marry provided that they have parental or guardian consent. The authorization may also come from a judge. Civil ceremonies are often performed during the week, and they usually take a short period of time. Spouses can expect to conclude their civil ceremony in less than 40 minutes. The conditions that both spouses must meet, as well as the documents that are required, are listed below.

Conditions for marriage

  • Both spouses must be at least 18 years old.
  • Both spouses must give their free consent, stating that the marriage is happening as a result of their free will.
  • A marriage must be between two people of the opposite sex.
  • The bride and groom must not be related to each other by direct link or affinity.
  • A married man is not allowed to contract a new marriage that is outside the legal grounds or limits of his current marriage.
  • A divorced or widowed woman is not permitted to enter a new marriage until the expiration of the waiting period of the previous marriage.

Documents Required  

  • A valid means of identification, such as a Senegalese national ID card or a valid passport
  • Birth certificates. Both partners are required to provide copies of their birth certificates that have been issued within a period of three months.
  • The bride and groom are required to provide two spouses during the civil ceremony who have the legal capability to act as such.
  • Certificate of freedom to marry This is often requested from foreigners, and it must show that the spouse can legally contract a marriage in Senegal without facing any legal issues.
  • Divorce or death certificate. Separated or widowed spouses are required to provide either of these documents to serve as evidence of the legal termination of the marriage.

Religious and traditional marriages

In Senegal, the predominant religion is Islam. The laws of the country recognize and protect marriages that are performed religiously or traditionally. Over 95% of the total population of Senegal are Muslims of various denominations. A small percentage of the people living in the country are Christians or irreligious. The most popular Muslim denomination in the country is Sunni, and Muslim marriages are performed in accordance with the principles of Islam. During the Muslim marriage ceremony, both families are usually in attendance, and the couples are required to provide two witnesses. 

These witnesses play huge roles in the signing of the marriage contract. Generally, most Muslim marriages involve a small ceremony performed at the bride's house with a formal reception on another day. The spouses have the option of having the marriage ceremony performed at their home or a mosque. Islamic marriages usually begin with a proposal made by the groom's family to ask for the hand of the bride in marriage. 

After this stage, the second step is acceptance, which is referred to as "qubool." Here, the bride's family accepts the proposal of the groom and his family so that marriage preparations can proceed. If the marriage ceremony is performed in a residential setting, the men and women may sit together; however, mosque marriages require the men and women to be segregated.

Everything you need to know about marriages in Senegal 02

Marriage traditions in Senegal

Marriage Proposal

The groom makes a marriage proposal to the bride during the pre-wedding phase of the marriage. The groom is accompanied by his family to officially request the hand of the bride in marriage. During this time, the bride's family sizes up the groom and his family to decide on their acceptance. If they accept, the groom presents various gift items to the bride's family.

Qubool 

The qubool refers to the acceptance of the marriage proposal. Here, the two families will have exchanged pleasantries and become familiar with each other. The bride's family then officially accepts the proposal and gives their daughter to the groom and his family in marriage. This is accompanied by a wedding price.

The Mahr

The custom in Senegalese marriages is for the groom to give a special gift to the bride and her family. This refers to the Mahr and can be in the form of money or other gift items. The symbolic meaning of this ritual is that it shows that the groom is responsible and capable enough to take care of his wife and ensure she is comfortable.

Same-sex marriages

Same-sex marriages are not recognized or accepted in Senegal. It is forbidden to be a homosexual or engage in same-sex sexual activities. LGBT members face various legal consequences and challenges that are not experienced by opposite-sex couples. In Senegal, homosexuality and same-sex marriages can attract up to 5 years of imprisonment and the payment of a fine. The conditions under which the same-sex activity happened may also impact the legal consequence.

Polygamous marriages 

Polygamy is legal and widely accepted in Senegal. A man is allowed to marry multiple wives. The rate at which polygamy is being practiced now is reduced compared to how popular this type of marriage used to be in the past. The marriage laws guiding polygamy do not allow spouses to perform this type of marriage outside the limitations of their previous marriage. This implies that a person who is in a monogamous marriage and publicly declares the marriage at the time of contracting is not allowed to marry multiple wives.

Everything you need to know about marriages in Senegal 03

Marriage Laws and Rights, Costs and Duties

Laws

Every country across the world has various laws that guide the process of contracting marriage. Religious laws, civil laws, or a combination of both must be in place before interested parties are allowed to contract marriage. In Senegal, where civil marriages and religious marriages are considered legal, couples who wish to enter into marriage are only allowed to enter into a marriage agreement after all the laws of whichever form of marriage they wish to contract have been obeyed. The marriage must be conducted by a civil or religious official before it can be recognized as legally binding. 

All couples (foreigners included) must submit an application for marriage, after which a marriage license is issued and a publication, also known as banns, is put outside the town hall to notify the public of the marriage. After the time for which the banns must be put out has elapsed, the couple is allowed to contract marriage. The law stipulates that the minimum legal age of marriage with parental consent for girls is 16 years and 18 years for boys; persons who have reached the age of 21 do not need to obtain parental permission to be able to contract marriage. Exceptions are made for minors under special circumstances such as pregnancy, and permission for such marriages can only be gotten from the judge presiding over a regional court. 

A marriage certificate obtained from Senegal is globally recognized; however, it is only a civil marriage certificate that is recognized in any country across the world. Levirate and sororate marriages are considered legal; a man is allowed to marry the widow of his dead brother. Marriage between in-laws is the only legal form of marriage between related people in Senegal; siblings, step-siblings, cousins, nephews, nieces, uncles, and aunts are not permitted to marry. Marriages involving incest are prohibited in the country. 

At the time of registering marriage, the couples must present two witnesses, one to represent the husband and one to represent the wife; both parties must also be single at the time of contracting marriage. Couples are allowed to choose whether they wish to contract a monogamous or polygamous marriage while registering marriage. The husband and wife must be in a sound state of mind to be able to give consent to marriage. Any marriage contracted without the consent of both parties or with the use of force can be declared void.

Rights

The husband and wife have access to various rights provided by the law in Senegal. Both the husband and wife have the right to initiate divorce, and like other Muslim-dominated countries, the husband has the total right to perform talaq and divorce his wife without any justifiable reason. Other couples in Senegal can also file for divorce with a court, and both parties have the right to do so. The couple has the right to be granted custody of the children; the court, however, would, in the interest of the children, grant custody to whichever parent has the children's best interests at heart. 

Since the husband is recognized as the head of the home, he has the autonomous right to exercise parental authority, and the wife is only allowed to exercise this right when the husband is not capable of carrying out this role. Both parties have the right to inheritance and property. At the demise of one of the couples, the surviving spouse has the right to inherit the properties of the deceased spouse. Under the right to own property, both the husband and wife can decide to own property individually or under a joint property regime. In cases of unwanted pregnancies, married and formerly married women do not have the legal right to abort; it is considered a criminal offense. 

Spouses have the right to work and earn a living without facing any discrimination as a result of their married status. Married women are entitled to paid maternity leave at their respective jobs. Both the husband and wife have the right to take part in political activities; they both can run for government offices and fill official positions. Married women possess the same rights as a married man to confer their nationality on their foreign spouses and children.

Costs

Couples who wish to get married in Senegal must plan and prepare properly before announcing their intent to marry. Contracting a civil marriage in the country is quite affordable; couples are not required to pay anything to the civil registry to file for an application to marry, although other fees may arise along the way. The practice of paying dowries is widespread across the country. Grooms are often expected to pay a certain amount to the parents of the bride before he is allowed to marry her; this could be in the form of groceries, livestock, foodstuffs, or monetary value. 

In more recent times, the monetary value of dowries has been reduced to $20, but for many couples, it is not about the amount but what it signifies. Traditional weddings in Senegal are expensive, and it often takes years of savings or borrowing a loan to be able to meet up with these expenses. An average wedding ceremony costs around $29,000 with all expenses included. The food and beverages for a wedding of around 60 guests would cost above $4000, with an average of at least $60 per guest. 

Couples who wish to hire a band and a large hall for the wedding ceremony should expect to spend more than the average cost because the music and venue for the wedding ceremony take up a large chunk of the wedding budget. That is why many couples just have an intimate family dinner or a reception with a few guests in a medium-sized hall and hire a DJ instead of a band. The total cost of marriage in Senegal is determined by how much the couple is willing to spend on the ceremony and how financially stable they are.

Duties

The family is considered to be the foundation of society in Senegal; therefore, couples are tasked with the responsibility of performing their duties to ensure that the family is in unity. Much like any country in the world, the husband and wife have a duty to one another; they are expected to provide mutual support and respect for one another. They are expected to provide for the needs of the family, whether financial, material, or emotional. 

The husband and wife have a duty to provide a conducive environment for the development and growth of the children; the educational and moral upbringing of the children and the family is the responsibility of the couple. They are obligated to maintain close ties with extended family members. The wife has a duty to carry out all domestic housework, and she is considered to be the primary caregiver in the home. The husband plays his role as the provider; he is responsible for providing all that is needed by the family. These roles are carried out interchangeably. There is no law that states that the wife is obligated to obey her husband, but they are both required to respect each other's opinions.

Conclusion 

The process of contracting a marriage in Senegal is quite straightforward. The country only allows marriage between people of the opposite sex, and spouses of the same sex who contract a marriage may face several legal challenges. Polygamy for spouses who are in monogamous marriages is prohibited and can lead to three years in jail.

Due to the fact that the country is mostly made up of Muslims, the marriage traditions in the country are made up of Muslim ceremonial rites. In some communities, the ancient traditions are mixed with Islamic marital rites. We hope this article has provided you with everything you need to know about marriage in Senegal.

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