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Guinea: President Refuses to Approve New Civil Code Legalizing Polygamy

(Jan. 28, 2019) On December 29, 2018, the Guinean Parliament adopted a new Civil Code to replace the one that Guinea has had since 1983. (Guinean Civil Code: Some Advances for Women, but Polygamy Legalized, RFI AFRIQUE (Dec. 31, 2018) (in French); NEW CIVIL CODE (DRAFT), Feb. 2016, Guinea Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC Guinée) website.) However, Guinea’s president, Alpha Condé, has refused to sign the bill instituting the new Civil Code because it would legalize polygamy. (Amara Moro Camara, Breaking – Guinea: Alpha Condé “Refuses” to Sign New Civil Code, GUINÉENEWS (Jan. 4, 2019) (in French).)

Objections to Polygamy by Women’s Rights Advocates

The new Civil Code includes some moves towards gender equality, such as the recognition of equal parental authority over children and the freedom of married women to choose a profession without their husband’s authorization. (Sandrine Berthaud-Clair, Guinea Restless over New Civil Code Legalizing Polygamy, LE MONDE (Jan. 1, 2019) (in French).) However, women’s rights groups and women members of Parliament strongly object to articles 281 and 282 of the proposed Civil Code, which recognizes polygamy as a legally valid form of marriage. (Id.) Polygamy is formally prohibited by the 1983 Civil Code and is theoretically punishable by up to ten years of jail time. (CIVIL CODE OF THE REPUBLIC OF GUINEA, Feb. 16, 1983, arts. 315, 318, Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Republic of Guinea website (in French).) In reality, however, polygamy is widely practiced throughout the country and is never punished. (Sandrine Berthaud-Clair, supra.) Indeed, women’s rights advocates point out that many members of Parliament and government officials practice polygamy. (Id.) While advocates of the new Civil Code claim the new provisions would merely recognize a widely accepted social custom and therefore not really change anything, critics counter that legally recognizing polygamy would be a step in the wrong direction. (Id.) Critics also argue that recognizing polygamy would go against the Guinean Constitution, which guarantees equality between men and women. (CONSTITUTION (2010), art. 8, International Committee of the Red Cross website (in French); Diawo Barry, Guinea: Will Alpha Condé Succeed in Cancelling the Legalization of Polygamy?, JEUNE AFRIQUE (Jan. 9, 2019) (in French).)

The President’s Opposition to Polygamy  

President Condé expressed his opposition to polygamy and sent the new Civil Code back to Parliament for reconsideration. (Guinea: Alpha Condé Wants to Withdraw the Legalization of Polygamy, RFI AFRIQUE (Jan. 6, 2019) (in French).) However, it is unclear whether Condé’s opposition to polygamy will be successful in the long run, or if Parliament will confirm its legalization. (Barry, supra.) In the meantime, the 1983 Civil Code will continue to be applicable until at least January 31, 2019, which is the earliest that Parliament could schedule a new vote on the question. (Id.)