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Togo: Polygamy among the country's ruling elite

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Publication Date 15 February 2012
Citation / Document Symbol TGO104028.FE
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Togo: Polygamy among the country's ruling elite, 15 February 2012, TGO104028.FE, available at: [accessed 21 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

According to Togo's Personal and Family Code (Code des personnes et de la famille), polygamy is legal in that country (Togo 2010, para. 2.2; Director 12 Feb. 2012, Togo 1980, s. 42). In correspondence sent to the Research Directorate, the Director Emeritus of research of the National Institute for Demographic Studies (Institut national d'études démographiques) in Paris, who has studied family structure in Africa and gender issues in Togo, stated, however, that the family code restricted the practice of polygamy to two spouses (12 Feb. 2012). According to the Director, polygamy is a [translation] "current practice" in Togo, in both urban and rural areas, although the most impoverished men "often" do not have the means to support a polygamous lifestyle (12 Feb. 2012).

Two sources indicate that approximately 54 percent of married women in the country are in a polygamous marriage (Togo 2010, para. 2.2; FIDH 5 Mar. 2009). According to the Director, most marriages in Togo are not registered with the civil registrar and people can freely declare whether they are monogamous or polygamous (12 Feb. 2012). Parrainage Africa-Suisse (PAS), a Swiss support organization for disadvantaged children in Togo (n.d.), stated in a briefing on Togolese family law that, in addition to civil marriages, there are traditional marriages and Christian or Muslim religious marriages (25 Mar. 2008, para. 2.1). According to PAS, traditional marriages are the most likely to be [translation] "forced and polygamous" unions (PAS 25 Mar. 2008, para. 2.1.1). PAS also indicated that Muslim marriage authorizes polygamy, as long as the husband is able to provide for the needs of all his wives, but that polygamy is [translation] "expressly forbidden" in Christian marriages (ibid., para. 2.1.1).

The Togolese Personal and Family Code requires that, during the wedding ceremony, future spouses commit to a monogamous or polygamous relationship before an officer of the civil court or, if they are outside the country, before a consular agent or a diplomatic officer [translation] "with territorial jurisdiction" (Togo 1980, art. 52). Similarly, PAS states that the spouses must declare their choice of marriage during the wedding ceremony (25 Mar. 2008, 6). The Director at the National Institute for Demographic Studies, however, stated that during the wedding ceremony, the groom makes the choice of marriage for the couple (12 Feb. 2012). The Code states that, if monogamy is chosen, a first marriage must be dissolved before another marriage can be celebrated (Togo 1980, art. 50; PAS 25 Mar. 2008, 6). However, the Code also provides the option for a man who chose monogamy to marry again if there is medical confirmation that his first wife is sterile (Togo 1980, art. 51; PAS 25 Mar. 2008, 6; FIDH and LTDH 24 Oct.-7 Nov. 2011, 12). According to the Director, if a man opts for polygamy after having chosen a monogamous marriage, this can be used as grounds for divorce; but she added that it takes [translation] "a lot of courage for a woman to ask for a divorce for this reason" (12 Feb. 2012).

According to the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), a proposed amendment to the law that would have prohibited polygamy was not adopted in 2007 (FIDH 5 Mar. 2009). In a 2010 progress report, written as a follow-up to the Statement of Undertaking regarding HIV and AIDS that Togo adopted in 2001 during the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly on HIV and AIDS, the Togolese authorities stated that [translation] "the Personal and Family Code has been under revision since 2007 with the aim of imposing monogamy in Togo" (Togo 2010, 2, 10).

2. The Practice of Polygamy among the Country's Ruling Elite

According to the Director Emeritus of research at the National Institute for Demographic Studies in Paris, although polygamy may be publicly [translation] "ridiculed" among educated people, it is possible, even without any statistics on this topic, to [translation] "deduce from the socio-cultural context that the practice of polygamy is still quite common among the elite" (Director 12 Feb. 2012). She stated that some practise polygamy more openly than others, and that [translation] "many ministers, elders and liberal professionals, who function within restricted circles, entrance to which is mostly based on money and social status, are polygamists, both officially and unofficially" (ibid.).

According to the Director, polygamy among the ruling elite is [translation] "most often" practised without cohabitation, since "these men have enough income to set up their wives in separate residences" (ibid.). The Director stated that some wives do not or pretend not to know that their husbands are polygamous, while others accept the situation with more or less reluctance; [translation] "some even oppose it, but they do so more by running away than by seeking the legal remedies available to them" (ibid.). The director also indicated the following:


... in Togo, it is frowned upon for a woman to show jealousy or to oppose polygamy. Powerful men, even if they are no longer attached to a wife, do not allow a wife to get out from under their thumb, because this is seen as a loss of prestige of which they would rather the public not be aware. Their family generally rallies together to rebuke the wife who does not consent to the arrival of a second wife (ibid.).

The Director also stated that, because the possibility of polygamy always weighs heavily upon them, [translation] "the primary objective for almost all women-even those with significant social status (university professors, doctors, lawyers)-is to build a house for themselves in case...their husband imposes another wife on them in the future" (ibid.). In response to the Research Directorate's question about whether there are any particular signs that a man practises polygamy, the Director provided the following information:


If a person does not make it known himself, there is no particular sign indicating that an individual practises polygamy. There are women who discover that their husband had another wife and other children when her husband dies and his second family comes forward to claim their part of the inheritance. A man's daily behaviour, his absences from home, the things he forgets and public gossip are often the "warning signs" that a wife notices (ibid.).

Additional information on the practice of polygamy among Togo's ruling elite could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Director Emeritus of research, Institut national d'études démographiques, Paris. 12 February 2012. Correspondence sent to the Research Directorate.

Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'homme (FIDH) and the Ligue togolaise des droits de l'homme (LTDH). 24 October-7 November 2011. Note sur la situation des droits de l'homme au Togo : Les engagements des autorités doivent se transformer en actes concrets. [Accessed 13 Feb. 2012]

Fédération internationale des ligues des droits de l'homme (FIDH). 5 March 2009. "Le Togo doit réformer son droit de la famille et condamner les violences envers les femmes et les pratiques traditionnelles néfastes." (Africa for Women's Rights) [Accessed 9 Feb. 2012]

Parrainage Africa-Suisse (PAS). 25 March 2008. Droits de la famille au Togo. [Accessed 13 Feb. 2012]

_____. N.d. "Status de l'Association P.A.S.: Parrainage Africa Suisse au Togo." <> [Accessed 13 Feb. 2012]

Togo. 2010. Suivi de la déclaration d'engagement sur le VIH et le sida: rapport 2010. (ONUSIDA) [Accessed 13 Feb. 2012]

_____. 1980. Ordonnance n° 80-16 du 31 janvier 1980 portant code des personnes et de la famille. Journal officiel de la République togolaise, no 4. [Accessed 13 Feb. 2012]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including:; Africa Intelligence; African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights; Agence de presse africaine;;; European Country of Origin Information Network; Factiva; Groupe presse liberté; Jeune Afrique; NATLEX; Panapress; Radio Gameli; Radio Lomé; Télévision togolaise; Togo-Presse; Le Togolais; Togolese Republic — Lois, règlements et jurisprudences du Togo, Portail des ministères,; United Nations — Refworld, Integrated Regional Information Networks; Women, Law and Development in Africa.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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