Brunei is a multi-racial and multi-religious society and in 2020, 65% population was of Malay ethnicity and 80% of the population belonged to the Islamic faith. Brunei is one of the few absolute monarchies as well as one of the few states in the world that formally styles itself ‘Islamic and ‘non-secular’– a position that has been consistently maintained by Brunei since its declaration of independence from the British in 1984. The authority of Brunei’s absolute monarchy is today formally enshrined in the state ideology of Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB, ‘Malay Muslim Monarchy’), which explicitly equates sovereignty and political legitimacy with the Sultanate, Islam and Malay identity. As such Islamic traditions have taken centre stage in the legal and political framework.

Information About Muslim Family Laws And/or Practices In Brunei

Brunei like other Southeast Asian countries, has a plural legal system in regard to family laws, depending on religion/ ethnicity, i.e. for Muslims codified in the Bruneian Islamic Family Law Act (BIFLA) and for Chinese codified in the Chinese Marriage Act and one where religious/ ethnicity based laws are not applicable are codified in the Marriage Act and Married Women Act. For Muslim Family Laws, the Syariah Court decide over matters of Muslim personal status.

Human Rights

In relation to international human rights treaties in general, Brunei has been described as one of the “most reluctant ratifiers” of the AC countries, together with Singapore and Myanmar. Moreover, Brunei’s Constitution does not contain any human rights guarantees. 

As such reference to international human rights obligations are of limited assistance as Brunei has not ratified either ICCPR or ICESCR and made reservations to CEDAW based on the Islamic nature of the state.

Minimum Age of Marriage

The minimum marriage age differs depending on the applicable law based on ethnicity and/ or religion.

  • The Marriage Act provides that the minimum age is 14 years.
  • The Chinese Marriage Act states that a female must be at least 15, and is silent on the minimum age for a male.
  • The BIFLA does not expressly provide for a minimum legal age for marriage.

Equal Rights in Marriage

BIFLA does not explicitly mention anything about the marital framework unlike for instance the Married Women Act which states that ‘the husband and the wife shall be mutually bound to cooperate with each other in safeguarding the interests of the union and in caring and providing for the children’.

Instead, it has an implicit marital framework based on the premises of what can be called ‘reciprocal’ or ‘complementary’ rights (as opposed to ‘equal’ rights) between the two spouses.  A wife is expected to obey her husband and is returned assured maintenance and protection by her husband.

Domestic Violence

Brunei has not adopted specific legislation to criminalise acts of domestic violence. However, the BIFLA contains provisions on “Dharar Syar’ie” that are specifically applicable to domestic violence.

Administration Of And Access To Justice On Marriage And Family Matters

Brunei has a similar three-tier system to the Malaysian one, with the Syariah Subordinate Court, the Syariah High Court and a Syariah Appeal Court.

The jurisdiction of the Syariah courts in Brunei has undergone significant statutory changes. It was regulated in Religious Council and Kadis Courts Act (Brunei), only to be replaced by the short-lived Syariah Courts Emergency Order of 1998, which was superseded by Syariah Courts Act, cap 184, of 2000. The Act effectively abolished numerous provisions regarding the judiciary, while other  provisions of Religious Council and Kadis Courts Act (Brunei) remain in force unless specifically repealed by another written law. Of importance is section 5 of the Syariah Courts Act of 2000, which invests the Syariah courts with exclusive jurisdiction; that is, where there is a jurisdictional conflict, the Syariah court will now overrule other courts.

Regional or International Human Rights Principles

As stated before, Brunei is a reluctant ratifier of international human rights treaties and a reluctant participant in review processes as such. Still, Brunei has participated in three Universal Periodic Reviews, with documents being available here.

The reviews took place in 

  • 3rd  UPR in 2019
  • 2nd UPR in 2014
  • 1st UPR in 2009

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

Brunei has signed CEDAW in 2006 with several reservations on Article 9(2) and Article 29(1).

It has only submitted one report so far

  • Links to  to CEDAW reports that refer to Muslim family laws and practices
    1. 3rd State Report was due in 2018 but not submitted 
    2. 1st and 2nd State Reports due in 2007, submitted in 2014
    3. State report as a follow-up to Concluding Observations, due 2016, submitted in 2017 file:///C:/Users/USER/Downloads/N1726588.pdf
  • Links to Concluding Observations That Refer to Reform of Muslim Family Laws and Practices
    1. Concluding observations on the combined initial and second
      periodic reports of Brunei Darussalam
  • Link to Musawah’s CEDAW reports on Brunei
    1. Musawah Thematic Report on Brunei 2014

Any other relevant regional or international treaty or convention signed by Brunei

  1. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), ratified in 1995.Articles 14, 20 and 21: Reservations to paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article 20, as well as paragraph (a) of Article 21, were withdrawn in 2014. 
  2. Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Child Prostitution and Child Pornography (CRC-OP-SC), ratified in 2006
  3. Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified in 2006.
  4. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), signed in 2015. 



This country page was prepared by Dr. Kerstin Steiner as a collaboration under the Campaign for Justice in Muslim Family Laws.