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The legal regulation of the family under customary law is characterized by complexity within particular traditional legal systems and by diversity across the wider range of such systems within Africa. Customary law may determine the rights and obligations of spouses, the terms of marriage formation and dissolution, the implications of marriage for family membership, parental rights and obligations regarding children, custody of children upon marital dissolution, land acquisition, ownership and inheritance, and often governance structures within the community. Virtually all of these legal norms have implications for gender equality.
Customary laws and traditional institutions in Africa constitute comprehensive legal systems that regulate the entire spectrum of activities from birth to death. Once the sole source of law, customary rules now exist in the context of pluralist legal systems with competing bodies of domestic constitutional law, statutory law, common law and international human rights treaties. This book promotes discussion and understanding of customary law and explores its continued relevance in sub-Saharan Africa. The volume considers the characteristics of customary law and efforts to ascertain and codify customary law, and how this body of law differs in content, form and status from legislation and common law. It also addresses a number of substantive areas of customary law including the role and power of traditional authorities; customary criminal law; customary land tenure, property rights and intestate succession; and the relationship between customary law, human rights and gender equality.
Pluralism is part of the fabric of legal systems in most, if not all, African countries. The traditional institutions and customary law that regulated ancient civilizations and societies on the African continent have changed over the years to keep pace with historical events and the evolution that the continent has witnessed. Once the sole source of law, customary rules have had to adapt to significant change brought by colonial rule and then decolonization. In addition to customary law, most sub-Saharan African countries are now bound by domestic constitutional law, statutory law, and common law, as well as international and regional human rights treaties.