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Contemporary Marriage And Family Patterns

Another powerful influence on the family in Togo is an awareness of alternative lifestyles. Awareness of these lifestyles is one thing; their adoption is quite another. Togolese families, however, are adopting them, and they are displaying a spectrum of patterns that do not necessarily converge into the Western nuclear family model. Current and emerging marriage and family patterns are the result of an adaptation of traditional values, beliefs, and customs to the realities and constraints of modern life (Locoh 1984; Assogba 1990; Ekouevi 1994).

Especially in urban areas, features of the traditional marriage, such as the strong role of lineage members in marriage decisions, virginity of the bride, and elaborate marriage ceremonies, have altered over time. Social background and socioeconomic status now exert a more powerful influence on the mate selection process. A bride-wealth is still given to the bride's blood relatives as a symbolic gesture.

Three main forms of marriage co-exist in Togo: the traditional marriage, the Christian marriage, and the city hall, or official, marriage. According to the Togolese Family Code, constructed as a compromise between the law of custom and the French Law, a marriage performed by a traditional chief is validated as legal if reported to the municipal government. Under this condition, the traditional marriage is as valid as the civil marriage performed by a government official. The Family Code, however, does not validate a marriage performed by a Christian priest as legal (Pokanam 1982). Couples can perform all three of these forms of marriage either in a relatively short time or throughout the duration of their marriage. Often, the customary marriage is the first one, followed by either a Christian one, a civil one, or both.

The practice of polygamy has persisted over time despite different attempts to eradicate it. However, in urban areas, polygamy has mainly survived because spouses adopt separate living arrangements. A husband in a polygamous union visits his wives; often, he lives with one wife, and in addition, he has another wife in a different area of the city. In 1998 about 34 percent of women between fifteen and forty-nine years of age were in polygamous unions in urban areas and 47 percent in rural areas (Anipah et al. 1999).

A growing number of young men, even if they have university degrees, are finding it difficult to find employment. They cannot afford to marry and start families. One result is a growing number of pseudofamilies, in which the husband lives with his parents and the wife and children live with the wife's parents. The couple stays in this separate living arrangement hoping for better days when they can afford housing and live together. Informal unions exist also with women having a status of a mistress. In difficult economic circumstances, a relationship with a man (usually married) can improve a woman's financial situation and is part of her survival strategy. At the same time, as families face severe economic difficulties, a growing number of unmarried couples are having children.

Another indication of family breakdown is the high number of female heads of households. About 29 percent of households are headed by females in urban areas and 22 percent in rural areas (Anipah et al. 1999). In some cases, women choose to have children and cannot live with their children's fathers, especially if the man is already married. More and more well-educated women and women with successful businesses are finding themselves in this situation. They want to have children, but their pool of prospective husbands is small. They end up settling with a married man, and they have to raise their children by themselves. Most often, however, women are pushed to face the responsibilities of raising children alone because husbands cannot play the role of breadwinner anymore, due to economic difficulties.

Another shift in family behavior is that parents are having a harder time exercising their authority over their children, which is being eroded by hard times and poverty. They are failing to provide their children with basic necessities, and children have to try to meet these needs on their own.

See also: KINSHIP


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Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaMarriage: Cultural AspectsTogo - Traditional Features Of Marriage And Family, Factors In Change Of Family Life, Contemporary Marriage And Family Patterns