Family Laws

January 23, 2006
The following charts which compare the family laws of a number of countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East have been compiled based on information obtained from the Islamic Family Law project of Emory University.

AFRICA

Marriage Age for Females Marriage Age for Males Polygamy permitted? Is notification of first wife and justification required? Do men and women have equal rights to divorce? Divorced woman's right to custody of son till age Divorced woman's right to custody of daughter till age Signatory to CEDAW? With reservations to which articles?
Ethiopia 15 18 No N/A Yes Decision made only with consideration for interests of ward Decision made only with consideration for interests of ward Yes 29(1)
Kenya 16 16 Yes Governed by classical law According to various Muslim traditions 7 14 Yes none
Senegal 16 20 Yes Yes Judge grants according to best interests of ward Yes none
Somalia 18 (16 with guardian consent) 18 Yes No 10 (18 by judge) 15 (18 by judge) No N/A
Sudan puberty puberty Yes No 7 (puberty by judge) 9 (marriage by judge) No N/A
Tanzania 15 (12 if of African descent) 18 (14 by judge) Yes Yes No 7 7 Yes none

In Gambia and Nigeria, classical Maliki fiqh is applied to matters of personal status. In Ghana, personal status law is governed by classical or customary law, and until now, no single body of law regulates personal status matters. The colonial legislation applicable to Muslims, the Marriage of Mohammedans Ordinance 1907, is limited to administrative or procedural matters such as providing for registration of marriage and divorce. All three nations have signed and ratified CEDAW.

ASIA

Marriage Age for Females Marriage Age for Males Polygamy permitted? Is notification of first wife and justification required? Do men and women have equal rights to divorce? Divorced woman's right to custody of son till age Divorced woman's right to custody of daughter till age Signatory to CEDAW? With reservations to which articles?
Bangladesh 18 21 Yes Yes No 7 puberty Yes 2 & 16(1c)
Brunei none none Yes No Governed by classical law Governed by classical law Yes 9(2) & 29(1)
India 18 21 Yes No 7 puberty Yes 29(1)
Indonesia 16 19 Yes Yes Yes Court decides Court decides Yes 29(1)
Malaysia 16 18 Yes Yes 7 (9 by judge) 9 (11 by judge) Yes 5(a), 7(b), 9(2), & 16(1a, c, f and 2)
Maldives 15 15 Governed by shari'a law Governed by shari'a law No 7 (then ward chooses) 7 (then ward chooses) Yes General reservations regarding any provisions contradictory to the shari'a or Maldivian tradition, and legal and constitutional autonomy
Pakistan 16 18 Yes Yes No 7 puberty Yes 29(1) and accession with general declaration that Pakistan's accession is subject to the provisions of the national constitution
Philippines puberty (12-15) 15 Yes No 7 (then ward chooses) 7 (then ward chooses) Yes none
Singapore 16 16 Yes No Judge grants according to best interests of ward Judge grants according to best interests of ward Yes 2, 11(1), 16 & 29(1)
Sri Lanka 18 (12 minimum for Muslims) 18 Yes No Governed by shari'a classical law (Shafi'ie majority) Governed by shari'a classical law (Shafi'ie majority) Yes none

MIDDLE EAST

Marriage Age for Females Marriage Age for Males Polygamy permitted? Is notification of first wife and justification required? Do men and women have equal rights to divorce? Divorced woman's right to custody of son till age Divorced woman's right to custody of daughter till age Signatory to CEDAW? With reservations to which articles?
Algeria 18 21 Yes Yes No 16 (10 if remarries) 18 (if remarries & spouse within prohibited deg to daughter) Yes 2, 9(2), 15(4), 16 & 29(1)
Egypt 16 18 Yes Yes No 10 (15 by judge) 12 (age of marriage by judge) Yes 2, 9(2), 16 & 29(2)
Iran puberty puberty Yes Yes No 2 (reverts to father if she remarries) 7 (reverts to father if she remarries) No N/A
Iraq 18 (15 with guardian consent) 18 (15 with guardian consent) Yes 10 (extendable to 15 when ward decides) 10 (extendable to 15 when ward decides) Yes 2(f,g), 9(1,2), 16 & 29(1)
Israel 17 (younger with guardian consent) 18 Yes No 6 (then based on ward's best interests) 6 (then based on ward's best interests) Yes 7(b), 16, & 29(1)
Jordan 15 (18 by temporary Royal Decree in December 2001) 16 (18 by temporary Royal Decree in December 2001) Yes No puberty puberty Yes 9(2), 15(4) & 16(1 c,d,g)
Kuwait 15, for marriage registration 17, for marriage registration Yes No puberty majority/ marriage Yes 9(2), 16(f) & 29(1)
Lebanon 18 (17 with guardian consent); 15 for Shi'a; 18(16) for Druze 17 (9 with guardian consent);9 for Shi'a; 17(15) for Druze Yes Yes No 7; 2 for Shi'a; 7 for Druze 9; 7 for Shi'a; 9 for Druze Yes 9(2), 16(1 c,d,f,g) & 29(1)
Libya 20 20 Yes No puberty marriage Yes 2 & 16(c,d)
Morocco 18 18 Subject to judge's authorization and to strict legal conditions N/A Yes Judge grants according to best interests of ward Judge grants according to best interests of ward Yes 9(2), 16 & 29(1)
Palestine 15 (West Bank); 9 (Gaza) 16 (West Bank); 12 (Gaza) Yes No puberty (West Bank); up to 9(Gaza) puberty (West Bank); up to 11(Gaza) N/A N/A
Syria 17 (13 with judicial consent) 18 (15 with judicial consent) Yes No 9 11 Yes 2, 9(2), 15(4), 16(1c, d, f, g, 2) & 29(1)
Tunisia 17 18 No N/A Yes 7 (then father if he requests) 9 (then father if he requests) Yes 9(2), 16(c,d,f,g,h) & 29(1)
Yemen 15 15 Yes Yes No 9 (then ward chooses) 12 (then ward chooses) Yes 29(1)

In Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) personal status law remains unlegislated. The shari'a courts apply classical Islamic personal status laws to Muslims. In Oman, Ibadi fiqh is applied while Hanbali fiqh is applied in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Moreover, none of these nations has signed CEDAW.


Glossary of Islamic Terms

Fiqh means understanding, comprehension, knowledge, and jurisprudence in Islam. It refers to the legal rulings of the Muslim scholars, based on their knowledge of the shari'a and as such is the third source of rulings.

Madhab means school of thought. There are four Sunni schools of thought: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'ie and Hanbali. Differences existed from the very beginning not only between the two sects of Islam, Sunni and Shi'a, but also among the different schools of thought of each tradition, and indeed within the same school of thought.

Shari'a refers to the revealed and the canonical laws of Islam which are derived from two major legal resources of Islamic jurisprudence: (1) the Qur'an, the holy book of Islam which is believed by Muslims to be the direct word of God; and (2) the Sunnah. General principles of shari'a are supposed to govern such matters as marriage, divorce, maintenance, paternity and custody of children for more than a billion Muslims around the world. This does not mean that identical principles apply everywhere or in the same manner. Clear variations exist not only because of significant theological, legal, and other differences among and within Muslim societies and communities, but also because shari'a principles are often in practice modified by customary practices, or as a matter of state policy.

Sunnah means habit, practice, or action, norm and usage sanctioned by tradition. It refers to the sayings, practices and habits of Prophet Muhammad, whom Muslims believe is the final messenger of God. The hadith are reports of the sunnah. The sunnah is one of the two major legal sources of jurisprudence in Islam.

Source: The Islamic Family Law project of Emory University.

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