Journal Article

Customary Marriage Laws in the Commonwealth: A Comparison Between Papua New Guinea and Anglophonic Africa

John Y. Luluaki

in International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family

Volume 11, issue 1, pages 1-35
Published in print April 1997 | ISSN: 1360-9939
Published online April 1997 | e-ISSN: 1464-3707 | DOI:
Customary Marriage Laws in the Commonwealth: A Comparison Between Papua New Guinea and Anglophonic Africa

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There are, it seems, more similarities than differences in the cultures and customary law systems of Papua New Guinean and African societies. However, the single most outstanding feature of the modern legal system in Papua New Guinea and those in Anglophonic Africa is their accommodation of a pluralist legal system. Under these systems, different sources of law are recognized as co-existing with each other, the most significant of which are imposed or written laws and customary laws including religious laws in many Anglophonic African jurisdictions. Since customary law is mainly about family law, the legal recognition of custom in these jurisdictions necessarily involves the recognition of customary marriage. All jurisdictions have provisions recognizing customary marriage provided they meet certain statutorily specified criteria but otherwise they are recognized as valid so long as they comply with relevant customary marriage requirements.

Societies in Papua New Guinea share many similarities in marriage practices with those in Africa. However, among the most striking features of customary marriage in these societies is the involvement of the extended family in the formation of such marriages, the practice of polygamy, and the payment of brideprice. Similarities in requirements for marriage formation also exist and although differences appear clearly to exist between different societies in both Papua New Guinea and Africa, these relate mainly to formal rather than substantive requirements of marriage such as age, consent, and prohibited degrees of relationship. There is generally limited state regulation of customary marriage and those that exist relate mainly to important substantive matters such as marital status, marriage age, and consent. However, even though the law has been used to intervene in these and other areas of customary marriage practices, the practices of polygamy and brideprice, despite having attracted much criticism from different quarters, have so far not been subjects of any serious state regulation or control. However, although greater state regulation of such practices can be expected in some jurisdictions, it is unlikely to involve the complete outlawing of these practices.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: Family Law ; Marriage and the Family

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