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Registration of marriages and births

Drafters should ensure that laws require the registration of births, deaths and marriages as a means of tracking marriages and parties’ ages. Drafters should ensure that registration is required for all marriages, including both civil and customary unions. CEDAW, Gen. Rec. 29. Data gathered through registration systems should be used to monitor and facilitate enforcement of the minimum marriage age standard, as well as compile statistics on marriages.

Polygamous marriages pose particular challenges for registration systems. In states where polygamy is illegal, parties may not register their additional marriages for that reason. Drafters should ensure that laws require religious leaders who perform marriage ceremonies first verify that the couple possesses a government-issued marriage certificate permitting them to marry. For example, the Tajik President issued an oral instruction to amend a 2007 Law on Traditions that mandates mullahs to require a civil marriage certificate before performing a Nikoh/Nikkah marriage. Public education, outreach and monitoring are essential to facilitating compliance with this requirement. (See: Marriage Vows Not Always Enough in Tajikistan, Institute for War and Peace Reporting, 2009) Drafters in countries where polygamy is still covertly practiced should modify marriage registration requirements to allow a wife the ability to register her marriage independent of her husband.

Tool:

Enhancing Capacities to Eradicate Violence Against Women is a guide to help countries and regional partnerships develop enhanced data collection and surveys to gather information about violence against women. (UN Regional Commissions, 2013).

Promising Practice: Sierra Leone’s Registration of Customary Marriages and Divorce Act (2007) requires the registration of customary marriages. Either or both parties must notify the local council in writing within six months of the marriage. The registration must state the names of the parties, place of domicile, and that the conditions necessary for the customary marriage have been met. Any person who objects to the validity of the marriage under customary law may file an objection in the court. This latter is an important mechanism for civil society to monitor compliance with the law. The law prohibits marriages of children under 18 years of age unless their parents/guardians have consented. The law prohibits additional marriages under customary law when a Muslim, Christian or civil marriage already exists and vice versa.

If drafters choose to adopt legislation similar to that of Sierra Leone, drafters should ensure that the marriage registration process requires both parties to list their birth dates to ensure that parties are of legal age to be married. Where official birth records are not available, drafters should provide for alternative means of age validation, such as witness affidavits and school, baptismal and medical records.

Also, laws must take into account illiteracy rates that may prevent parties from registering their marriages. Drafters should provide for oral registration and an alternative signature, such as a fingerprint, and fund and train local civil society to provide free assistance in customary marriage registration.  

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control, has developed a Handbook on Marriage Registration that may serve as a template. 

Also, laws must take into account illiteracy rates that may prevent parties from registering their marriages. Drafters should provide for oral registration and an alternative signature, such as a fingerprint, and fund and train local civil society to provide free assistance in customary marriage registration.  

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control, has developed a Handbook on Marriage Registration that may serve as a template.  

CASE STUDY: South Africa’s Recognition of Customary Marriages Act requires spouses in a customary marriage to register within three months of the marriage. Those who entered into a customary marriage prior to the act’s entry into force have 12 months from the date of implementation of the act to enter into force. The bodies authorized to register these applications include the Home Affairs domestic office, or a designated traditional leader in areas where traditional leaders have been so designated. Spouses, plus a minimum of one witness for each of the spouses’ families, and/or the representative of each of the families are to report for registration. Where one or both of the spouses were a minor at the time of a customary marriage entered into after November 15, 2000), they must have obtained consent of their parents, guardian, Commissioner of Child Welfare or High Court Judge, and the parents must be present at registration. Drafters should prohibit any customary marriages that allow a minor to marry irrespective of third party consent.