South Africa to change its marriage laws

 ·28 Oct 2019

Home Affairs minister Aaron Motsoaledi says that his department is working on a number of changes to South Africa’s marriage laws.

Speaking at a marriage policy dialogue last week, Motsoaledi said that the updated policy must speak to three aspects: equality, non-discrimination and human dignity.

“The reason we want to change the current marriage policy is because it is wrong, and it is not working for South Africans,” he said.

“There’s no law that prevents children from getting married. Children can obtain consent but parents provide the wrong consent,” he added.

Motsoaledi said that gaps that have been identified with the current legislation include:

  • The current legislation does not regulate some religious marriages such as the Hindu, Muslim and other customary marriages that are practiced in some African or royal families.
  • The Recognition of Customary Marriages Act also does not make provision for entering into a polygamous marriage with non-citizens. This poses a serious challenge when such marriages are entered into especially amongst the community members who are members of the same clan but are separated by a borderline.
  • The legislation does not make provision for couples who change their sex status while married under the Marriage Act but want to retain their marital status without going through a divorce as required by the current law.
  • While in terms of the African tradition, chiefs or traditional leaders have a recognised role in the conclusion of a customary marriage, the legislation does not extend a similar responsibility to traditional leaders.

Other issues 

In addition to the above gaps, Motsoaledi said that South Africa’s current marriage legislation also discriminates against some religious marriages such as the Hindu and the Muslim and certain customary marriages among African communities.

In their place a new, single marriage Act will enable South Africans of different sexual orientation, religious and cultural persuasions to conclude legal marriages that will accord with the constitutional principle of equality, he said.

He added that existing laws prohibit people from marrying their relatives but there is no law which prohibit boys younger than 18 and girls younger than 16 from getting married.

Motsoaledi said that his department would also look to clamp down on fraudulent and fake marriages, with the Department of Homes receiving around 2,000 queries of fake marriages a year.

Read: The economics of having a baby in South Africa: how much it costs

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