Vanuatu - Age of Consent

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Legal Literacy For Women - Know Your Rights


What if someone objects to my marriage?
What if my marriage is not recognised by law?
Is there anyone who I cannot legally marry?
Can I be forced to marry?
Where can we have the ceremony?
How old must I be to marry?
The Ceremony
What if my parents or guardians do not agree to me
What do I have to do to get legally married?


There are three types of marriage in Vanuatu - custom, civil and church marriages.

There is no legal difference between a church and a civil ceremony as long as the person who conducts the marriage is
registered by the government to perform marriages. Nearly all leaders of established churches are registered.

You should ask before you marry whether or not the person who will be conducting your marriage is registered. If you are
married by a person who is not registered you are not legally married.

This will be important for you later on if you decide to separate or divorce and make a claim for maintenance or
matrimonial property.

A custom marriage can only be performed in accordance with the local custom practices of the village or area.

What if my marriage is not recognised by law?

If you are a wife within a marriage that is not recognised by the law, the law calls you a de facto wife (a wife in fact as opposed
to wife in law). If you are a de facto wife and you separate from your husband you will not get any protection the law has to
offer to lawfully married women. For example the laws relating to divorce will not be available to you.

Can I be forced to marry?

No you cannot. The law says that marriage in Vanuatu must be voluntary. This means that both the man and the woman must
freely agree to the marriage.

If either the man or the woman is being forced into the marriage it will be an unlawful marriage. It can be declared a Nullity (of
no legal effect). Nullity is different from getting a divorce. When a marriage is declared a Nullity it is like the marriage never

A person who is found guilty of forcing another person to marry can be fined up to 100,000 vatu or put in prison for up to 2
years, or both.

How old must I be to marry?

The youngest age for marriage in Vanuatu, if one or both of your parents agree to the marriage, is:

* 16 years old for females

* 18 years old for males

If your parents are dead then whoever is looking after you (your guardian) must agree. If you have two guardians it is enough if
one of them agrees.

What if my parents or guardians do not agree to me marrying?

If both your parents (or guardians) do not agree then you must be 21 years old before you can marry.

This is because it is only once you reach the age of 21 years that you become an adult in the eyes of the law and legally
responsible for you own actions.

If you are under 21 years old and your parents or guardian will not agree to your marriage then you can ask the Magistrate's
Court to look at your case.

The Magistrate may allow you to marry even without your parents' or guardians' consent.

The Magistrate will need to hear evidence from you and from your parents or guardians.

The court will let you go ahead with the marriage if it believes that your parents or guardians have unreasonably withheld their
consent. This means that they do not have a good reason for refusing to agree to your marriage.

Just because your parents or guardians do not like the person you want to marry, or have organised an arranged marriage for
you, this is not a good enough reason for not agreeing to your marriage.

What do I have to do to get legally married?

If you are getting married in a civil ceremony you will have to give notice of your intended marriage on a form that you can get
from the District Registrar’s Office.

This may be filled out in Bislama, French or English. The notice must be signed by both parties to the marriage, and then posted
outside the place where the ceremony is to be held so that it can easily be seen by everybody.

For a church wedding you can do the same as for a civil ceremony, or the pastor at the church where you are going to marry
can "call the banns".

Calling the banns means that on three sundays (or three of your religions’ Sabbath days), one after the other, the pastor
announces at the public service of worship that you intend to marry.

The wedding must then take place in the same church within three months of the first announcement.

If more than three months have passed since you have posted the notice or had the banns called, you will have to post a new
notice or have the banns called again before you can marry.

What if someone objects to my marriage?

The public notice or calling of the banns is needed so that if there is someone who thinks that your marriage should not go
ahead, they have a chance to make an objection to the marriage.

This is very rare but if someone does object they must bring proof, or evidence of why they do not think that you should not

A person may object because they believe you :

* are being forced to marry; or

* are not old enough to marry; or

* are too closely related to the person you wish to marry; or

* are already married

Is there anyone who I cannot legally marry?

You cannot marry the following people:

* your mother or father, including your adopted mother or father;

* your child or your adopted child;

* your brother or sister, including half brothers and sisters (that is, if the person has either the same mother or the same father as

* your grandparent;

* your grandchild.

Where can we have the ceremony?

The wedding must take place in a public place. This means that it must be performed openly in front of witnesses.

You will normally marry in the church where the banns were called or in the office of the District Registrar. However, you can
marry somewhere else if this is necessary. Usually there has to be a good reason for this, and the District Registrar or pastor
will decide if this is possible.

For a custom marriage you must follow the customary practice in deciding where your marriage ceremony will take place.

The Ceremony

There must be at least two witnesses who are over the age of 21 years at the wedding.

Witnesses are people who can see and hear all of the marriage ceremony. Both you and your husband-to-be must swear that
you wish to marry in front of these witnesses.

If the ceremony takes place in secret then it is not a legal marriage.


The laws relating to civil and church marriages also apply to custom marriages.

In the past custom allowed practices that the law has now made illegal.

For example, the law says that a woman cannot marry until she is 16 years old. Women often married in custom at a much
younger age. This is against the law. A person who acts against this law can be fined up to 20,000 vatu.

Arranged marriages will also be illegal if either the woman or the man does not want to marry.

Anyone found guilty of forcing someone to marry against their will can be imprisoned by the Court.

A custom marriage must also be registered to be recognised by the law. This will be important if the marriage breaks down as
you will need to ask for maintenance for yourself and for any children of the marriage.

You only need to register your custom marriage if you are not going to have a church marriage as well.

In Vila you can register your custom marriage at the Civil Status Office. Outside of Vila you can go to the Court House to
register your custom marriage.


Nullity is different from getting a divorce.

A divorce is granted by the Court because of something that has happened after you are already legally married.

A nullity is granted because there was a reason why you and your husband should not have been allowed to get married, or
something was wrong with your marriage ceremony.

When a marriage is declared a nullity it is like the marriage never really happened. This means that if your marriage is declared a
nullity you will not be able to claim maintenance or a share of property for yourself.

The court will make this order if you can prove that when the marriage took place one of the

following was true :

* One of you was already married;

* You were not allowed to marry because you are too closely related by blood;

* The proper form of marriage was not carried out by the person performing the ceremony;

* You were forced to marry against your will;

* Either of you was not old enough to marry;

*Either you or your husband was of an unsound mind and not capable of understanding the


*You were mistaken about what the ceremony was and did not realise that you were getting married;

*The marriage was not consummated (you never had sex) because one of you could not or would not;

* At the time you married, one of you was either insane or suffering from epilepsy and the other did not know;

* Either you or your husband was suffering from a venereal disease and the other did not know;

*If you were pregnant by another man at the time and your husband did not know.

Some words explained:

consent - to consent to something means to agree to it freely, honestly, without being forced and with a clear mind.

de facto - existing as a matter of fact rather than of legal right. A de facto wife is not legally married.

divorce - the legal ending of a marriage in the courts (a marriage can also end either because of a Degree of Nullity or death).

evidence - proof of what the facts are; for example, a birth certificate could be used as evidence of what someone’s age is.

maintenance - the food, clothing and other basic needs that a husband must provide for his wife and children, even after
divorce or separation.

matrimonial property - this is the goods, money and property owned or acquired by a husband and wife together in a
marriage that are to be divided up between them if they separate or divorce

separate - when a married couple separate it means that they are n longer living together as husband and wife

venereal disease - any infectious disease that is passed on by having sex, such as syphilis.

witness - a witness is someone who can go to Court and say what they saw or heard with their own eyes or ears (give

You can get help from the following places:

Your local Police Station

Legal Rights Information Office
Port Vila, PO Box 1016
Phone: 23940

Ombudsman’s Office
Port Vila

Public Solicitor’s Office
Port Vila
Phone: 23450

Sanma Counselling Centre,
Phone 36157

Vanuatu Women’s Centre
Port Vila, PO Box 1358
Phone: 25764

This leaflet is one of a series published by the Vanuatu Legal Rights Information Office to help you to understand
and to use the law. Other leaflets available to you are:

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