Marriage Laws


 Marriage is the universal institution recognized in the society. It involves the union of one man and one woman (more than one woman in the case of polygamy) which establishes the right and obligations between them thereby elevating their status to be husband and wife.

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Types of Marriage

In Nigeria, we have different types of marriage which are generally recognized as a result of customs, laws and practices in the society. Schedule 2 item 61 of the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria as amended also recognized these three types of marriage. They include:

  1. Marriage under the Act (Statutory Marriage)
  2. Customary Law Marriage
  3. Islamic Law Marriage.

Marriage Act of Nigeria 2004, however, provides for two different type of marriage which are:

  1. Monogamous marriage and
  2. Customary marriage.

For the purpose of this informational note, we shall be discussing the three types of marriage earlier mentioned above. These three types of acceptable marriages appears to be different from each other in the following ways:

  1. Statutory Marriage / Marriage under the Act is governed by the Marriage Act, Matrimonial Causes Act and Matrimonial Causes Rules. The marriage is usually celebrated at the Marriage registry of a court, before the Court registrar and other witnesses.
  2. Customary marriage are marriage contracts which are binding on the parties in accordance to their customs and tradition. The payment of the bride price is the essential part of the marriage which symbolizes the engagement of the parties.
  3. Islamic Law Marriage is governed by Maliki Law in Nigeria. The father of a child is regarded as entitled to use his discretion to conclude marriages on behalf of his infant sons and daughters up to any age.

Validity of Marriage

For marriage to be considered as valid in Nigeria, the parties to the marriage must possess the necessary capacity to contract the marriage. Parties must satisfy the following requirements.

  1. Age: The parties to the union must be of age. Section 21 of the Child Right Act of Nigeria prohibits child marriage and prescribes that eighteen years is the minimum age of marriage. However, most systems of customary law in Nigeria do not prescribe an age for the solemnization of the couples. Islam law marriages do not also have a prescribed minimum age for marriage.

 Child Marriage

Note that while the Child Rights Act was adopted at the National Level in 2003, Nigerian law requires State to also pass the legislation. As at today, 24 of the Nigeria’s 36 states, with Enugu being the most recent to enact the law in December 2016. This means that marriage under the age of 18 in these 12 states namely Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kaduna state, Kano state, Katsina state, Kebbi state, Sokoto state, Yobe state, Zamfara state are valid.


2. Consent: Consent in this regard are of two-fold, that is:

  • Consent of Parties: – The modern trend is for the parties to agree to marry in advance between themselves. The agreement is then communicated to their parents, guardians, relatives and friends. Lack of consent of any of the parties renders the marriage voidable.
  • Consent of Parents: Consent of the parties is a requisite for a valid marriage to take place. Parental consent is required in customary marriage for a girl even when she has attained maturity. The reason for this is that her bride price cannot be paid properly without the father who receives it. Exceptions exist in Ogun and Oyo State where the Marriage, Divorce and Custody of Children Adoptive by-law 1958 is applicable. In this area, it is possible to marry without the consent of parents who are adamant.

3. Prohibited Degrees of Consanguinity And Affinity: The parties to the marriage must not be within the prohibited degrees of Consanguinity and affinity. Consanguinity here means relationship by blood while affinity means relationship by marriage. The prohibited degrees of consanguinity and affinity has been recognized in the Matrimonial Causes Act 2004 and listed in the First Schedule of the Act.

4. Sanity: Parties to a marriage contract must be sane at the time of contracting the marriage. If one of the parties is insane and incapable of understanding the nature of the marriage, the marriage will be void ab initio.

Invalid Marriage

Section 33(1) & (2) of the Marriage Act provides for invalid marriage which states that “no marriage in Nigeria shall be valid either of the parties thereto at the time of the celebration of such marriage is married under customary law to any person other than the person with whom such marriage is had”.

From the section above, it can be adduced that a marriage will be null and void when both parties knowingly and willfully acquiesced in its celebration:

  1. In any place other than the office of a registrar of marriage or a licensed place of worship (except where authorized by the license issued under SECTION 13 of the Act).
  2. Under a false name or names or
  3. Without a registrar’s certificate of notice of license issued under Section 13 of this act duly issued or
  4. By a person not being a recognized minister of some religious denomination or body or a registrar of marriages.


Article written by Chidinma Nwankwo, the Advocacy Fellow for The Women’s Advocate and edited by Faizat Badmus-Busari. Click here to view Chidinma’s Profile


Enforceability of Age Limit for Marriages in Nigeria

Image source: Daily mail

The issue of marriageable age has been a controversial topic in tropical regions like Nigeria. While the law stipulates something, the society gives its conventional rules or rather enforces its opinions on us. Part III, S21 of the Child’s Rights Act 2003 states that, ‘No person under the ages of 18 years is capable of contracting a valid marriage, and accordingly a marriage contracted is null and void and of no effect whatsoever.’ This implies that a child refers to person(s) under the ages of 18, hence, everyone below this age is a child and is incapable of contracting a valid marriage. This position has further been enunciated in Section 3(i) (e) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1970 which makes marriage void where either of the parties is not of ‘marriageable age’.

The basic idea of the phrasal term ‘age limit’ to marriage refers to the age deemed fit by the law makers of different countries for females to get married. We would be taking this article from a standpoint where ladies or rather girls are forced into marriage under the ages of 18.


Although the Nigerian government has tried to stamp out child marriage with the enactment of the Child’s Rights Act of 2003 (CRA), the practice of child marriage is still prevalent among the Hausa-Fulani tribe (predominantly Muslim) who occupy Northern Nigeria and where Shari’a law is in force. While the Child Rights Act has sharp teeth, it has no bite because the states have to enact the Act under its own state laws before it is enforceable. However, only 24 of Nigeria’s 36 states have adopted this act. 12 states namely Adamawa, Bauchi, Borno, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Kano, Kebbi, Sotoko, Yobe and Zamfara State are yet to adopted the CRA. As a result, in these states, the minimum age of marriage can be as low as 12 years old. Child marriage is fuelled by gender inequality, poverty, traditions, and insecurities. As in the case Senator Yerima who drew attention on the issue, when he married a 13 year- old girl in 2010.

It is important to note that the hazard of child marriage which is at 45% in Nigeria has huge adverse effects which include a large increase in brain drain, Visco Vagina Fistula (VVF) etc. Each year, 12 million girls are married before the age of 18. That is 23 girls a minute. Nearly 1 every 2 seconds.[1] Ending child marriage and an enforcement of age limit on marriage, requires work across all sectors and all areas. We would need to work it from top to the bottom. While the Government is working on the convoluted side of the law by amendment, there should be provision for the people too. Solutions should be attacked head on, as the protection, sanity and the sanctity of the future generations depend on it.


If you are voter for the above listed states, here’s your opportunity to ask your lawmaker why the Child’s Right Act has not been passed in your state. Your vote is your power. Use it wisely.


Alternatively, in your opinion, how can we tackle child marriage in Nigeria? Let’s discuss.


This article was written by Praise Allen, the Legal & Social Media Intern at The Women’s Advocate. Praise is a 200 level undergraduate of Law at Obafemi Awolowo University.  Click here to read her full profile