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Côte d’Ivoire: Bill to Amend Marriage Law Approved

(Aug. 9, 2019) On March 27, 2019, the Council of Ministers of Côte d’Ivoire approved a bill that would substantially amend the country’s marriage law. It must now be presented to the Parliament, where, if adopted, it will become law following its promulgation by the President. The bill, which was drafted as part of a package of new laws in the areas of family and inheritance law, aims to encourage equality between men and women, particularly by curbing traditional practices that undermine the formal guarantee of equality set out in article 4 of the Ivorian Constitution.  At the same time, however, the bill would explicitly prohibit same-sex marriage.

The proposed law addresses two issues. One is that, under current law, men and women are considered capable of consenting to marriage at different ages: 20 for men and 18 for women.  The other issue is that current law allows for underage persons to marry if granted a “dispensation” by the public prosecutor (Procureur de la République), a controversial loophole given the persistence of child marriage in Côte d’Ivoire, where over a quarter of women are married before their 18th birthday.  By contrast, the bill would set the minimum age of consent for marriage to 18 years for both sexes and would do away with special dispensations. (Bill of March 27, 2019, art. 2.) It would also impose additional duties on the civil registrar, whose presence during the celebration of a marriage is required in order for it to produce legal effects. Before celebrating a marriage, the registrar would have to verify that the basic conditions for a valid marriage—namely, that both participants are of age—have been observed. Among the new precautions imposed on the registrar would be the publication, a month before the wedding, of a notice in the district where it is to take place, and the districts where the spouses reside.

The bill, if adopted, would also give married women equal say in how joint marital property is managed.  By contrast, current law provides that the property of a married couple who have opted for a “joint property regime” is to be “administered by the husband.” (Law Concerning Marriage art. 79.) The new law would amend this provision to include the wife.

The bill also introduces new grounds for the nullity of a marriage. Under current law, a marriage can be nullified in cases of incest or when one of the spouses is not of age, is still married, was coerced, made a mistake as to the identity of their spouse, or did not “personally consent” to the marriage. (Law Concerning Marriage arts. 31, 35.) In an effort to ensure the “overriding interest of the family,” the framers of the proposed law would also allow a spouse to request an annulment should his/her partner be “physically unable to consummate the marriage” or infertile. (Bill of March 27, 2019, art. 4.)

Finally, the proposed law would explicitly define marriage as being “the union between a man and a woman,” thus ruling out same-sex marriages. A prior draft of the bill omitted this provision, but it was reinserted into the final draft following pressure from religious authorities. In a statement concerning the explicit prohibition of same-sex marriage contemplated in the final bill, the government announced its intention to “respect the social values of the state of Côte d’Ivoire.”

Prepared by Henri Barbeau, Law Library intern, under the supervision of Nicolas Boring, Foreign Law Specialist.