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Papua New Guinea: Changes to Marriage Laws to be Introduced

(Aug. 23, 2016) On August 22, 2016, it was reported that the Papua New Guinea government will soon introduce legislation to amend the country’s marriage and divorce laws.  (Nellie Setepano, PNG Marriage Laws to Be Amended as Part of Reform Bundle to Legally Recognize Traditional Marriage and Protect Minors, PNG POST-COURIER (Aug. 22, 2016).)  Two bills, the Marriage (Amendment) Bill 2015 and the Matrimonial (Clauses) Bill 2015, were discussed at a child protection workshop in the capital, Port Moresby, which was attended by Religion, Youth and Community Development Secretary Anna Solomon.  (Id.)  It appears that these bills would amend the Marriage Act 1963 and the Matrimonial Causes Act 1963.  (Marriage Act 1963 & Matrimonial Causes Act 1963, Pacific Legal Information Institute website.)

The news report stated that proposed clauses 2A and 2B of Matrimonial (Clauses) Bill 2015 contain a definition of marriage that would be applicable to both customary and non-customary marriages, with the goal of ensuring that all marriages “meet certain basic requirements regarding consent and marriage age.”  (Setepano, supra.)  Currently, the Marriage Act 1963 recognizes customary marriages as valid and excludes them from certain statutory requirements, including the minimum age requirements.  (Marriage Act 1963, ss 3 & 6(3).)  The amendments would also set a new standard minimum age for all marriages at 18 years; the Marriage Act 1963 currently contains a marriageable age of 18 years for men and 16 years for women, with judges able to allow marriages involving boys aged 16 years and a girls aged 14 years.  (Id. s 7.)

The news report noted that the minimum age of 18 years would make the marriage law consistent with the Lukautim Pikinini Act 2015 (child protection legislation), which included provisions that made marriage of minors under 18 years of age illegal.  (Setepanosupra; Under-Age Marriage Ban in PNG, PNG POST-COURIER (Mar. 12, 2015); Michael Walsh, PNG Anti-Child Marriage Bill Expected to Pass, ABC NEWS (May 31, 2015).)  Under the new marriage law amendments, the penalties for persons who force an underage marriage would include fines between K10,000 and K20,000 (about US$3,200-$6,400) and prison terms of between five and seven years.  (Setepano, supra.)

Other changes discussed at the workshop include greater recognition in the divorce law of the contributions of stay-at-home spouses.  Under the proposals, “a spouse’s indirect contributions as home-maker to the economic stability and security of the family, including in particular the acquisition of the property, will be recognised.  The court is required to take into account any financial and non-financial contribution made by a party to the marriage.”  (Id.)