A man was arraigned before a court in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja for reneging on his promise to marry a woman. The defendant allegedly got the woman pregnant and promised to marry her after she gave birth.

After she gave birth, the defendant reneged on his promise, rather than marry her, he sent her out of his home. He was charged with deceitful inducement under section 383 of the Penal Code Act. This section will be examined.

When the story of the man’s arraignment was reported in the newspapers, many people reached out inquiring what exactly his crime was.

People inquired if it was a crime to refuse to marry a lady one had formerly promised marriage, while others wondered if it was wrong to choose to stop co-habiting with a former lover, even if a child is involved. All these concerns will be addressed, however, this article will specifically address the issue of criminal liability for breach of promise to marry.

Generally, under the Nigerian law, a breach of promise to marry is not a crime. There can therefore be no criminal liability for a breach of promise to marry.

This means that a person cannot be sentenced to prison for refusing to marry another person. A breach of promise to marry is however a civil wrong for which an aggrieved person may sue.

It becomes an entirely different case where the breach of promise to marry is tainted with fraud or deceit. Where there is fraud or deceit, a crime may be committed and a person if convicted, punished.

The case referred to above cannot be commented on, since it is pending before a court, but section 383 of the Penal Code Act can be examined.

Section 383 of the Penal Code states that:

‘Every man who by deceit causes a woman who is not lawfully married  to him to believe that she is lawfully married to him and to cohabit or have sexual intercourse with him in that belief, shall be punished with imprisonment for  a term which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine.’

An offence is committed contrary to section 383, where a man makes a woman who is not married to him to believe that she is married to him and based on that false belief, she goes ahead to cohabit with him or have sexual intercourse with him.

One might wonder how it is possible to make a woman believe she is married to a man when she is not. There have been a few cases of men falsifying marriage registry papers, while organising bogus wedding receptions to make the women believe they have been lawfully wedded.  Some also go the route of hiring ‘parents’ and ‘elders’ just to perpetrate a marriage scam.

This form of deceit is usually used by men who need to create the illusion of the existence of a marriage in order to achieve an unfair advantage or exploit or defraud the women they claim to have married. This offence is punishable by ten years imprisonment by the Penal Code as well as a fine.

When a person sets up a scam of this nature, the offence committed is not necessarily a criminal breach of promise to marry (because there is no such offence) rather, it could be the crime of obtaining by false pretence, the crime of deceit, fraud, or other offences. The offence with which a person will be charged is dependent on the particular facts of each case.