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Bhutan: Marriage and Family Life
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and its Environment > Social System > Marriage and Family Life

MARRIAGE AND FAMILY LIFE


The traditional practice, arranged marriages based on family and ethnic ties, has been replaced in the late twentieth century with marriages based on mutual affection. Marriages were usually arranged by the partners in contemporary Bhutan, and the minimum age was sixteen for women and twenty-one for men. The institution of child marriage, once relatively widespread, had largely declined as Bhutan modernized, and there were only remnants of the practice in the late twentieth century. Interethnic marriages, once forbidden, were encouraged in the late 1980s by an incentive of a Nu10,000 (for value of the ngultrum -- see Glossary) government stipend to willing couples. The stipend was discontinued in 1991, however. Marriages of Bhutanese citizens to foreigners, however, have been discouraged. Bhutanese with foreign spouses were not allowed to obtain civil service positions and could have their government scholarships cancelled and be required to repay portions already received. Foreign spouses were not entitled to citizenship by right but had to apply for naturalization.

Polyandry was abolished and polygamy was restricted in the midtwentieth century, but the law in the 1990s still allowed a man as many as three wives, providing he had the first wife's permission. The first wife also had the power to sue for divorce and alimony if she did not agree. In the 1980s, divorce was common, and new laws provided better benefits to women seeking alimony.

Family life, both traditionally and in the contemporary period, was likely to provide for a fair amount of self-sufficiency. Families, for example, often made their own clothing, bedding, floor and seat covers, tablecloths, and decorative items for daily and religious use. Wool was the primary material, but domestic silk and imported cotton were also used in weaving colorful cloth, often featuring elaborate geometric, floral, and animal designs. Although weaving was normally done by women of all ages using family-owned looms, monks sometimes did embroidery and appliqué work. In the twentieth century, weaving was possibly as predominant a feature of daily life as it was at the time of Bhutan's unification in the seventeenth century.

Landholdings varied depending on the wealth and size of individual families, but most families had as much land as they could farm using traditional techniques. A key element of family life was the availability of labor. Thus, the choice of the home of newlyweds was determined by which parental unit had the greatest need of supplemental labor. If both families had a sufficient supply of labor, then a bride and groom might elect to set up their own home.

Data as of September 1991




Last Updated: September 1991


Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Bhutan was first published in 1991. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on Factba.se.

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