Marriageable age (or marriage age) is the age at which a person is allowed by law to marry, either as a right or subject to parental or other forms of consent. Age and other prerequisites to marriage vary between jurisdictions, but generally is set at eighteen. Until recently, the marriageable age for girls was lower in many jurisdictions than for boys, but in many places has now been raised to those of boys to further gender equality. Most jurisdictions allow marriage at a younger age with parental or judicial approval, and some also allow younger people to marry if the girl is pregnant. The marriage age should not be confused with the age of majority or the age of consent, though in some places they may be the same. In many developing countries, the official age prescriptions stand as mere guidelines. In some societies, a marriage by a person (usually a girl) below the age of 18 is regarded as a child marriage.
The 55 parties to the 1962 Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage, and Registration of Marriages have agreed to specify a minimum marriage age by statute law‚ to override customary, religious, and tribal laws. When the marriageable age under a law of a religious community is lower than that under the law of the land, the state law prevails. However, some religious communities do not accept the supremacy of state law in this respect, which may lead to child marriage or forced marriage. The 123 parties to the 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery have agreed to adopt a minimum age for marriage.
Historically, the age of consent for a sexual union was determined by tribal custom or was a matter for families to decide. In most cases, this coincided with signs of puberty: menstruation for a girl and pubic hair for a boy.
In Ancient Rome, it was very common for girls to marry and have children shortly after the onset of puberty. Roman law required brides to be at least 12 years old. In Roman law, first marriages to brides aged 12 through 24 required the consent of the bride and her father; but, by the late antique period, Roman law permitted women over 25 to marry without parental consent. The Catholic canon law followed the Roman law. In the 12th century, the Catholic Church drastically changed legal standards for marital consent by allowing daughters over 12 and sons over 14 to marry without their parents' approval, even if their marriage was made clandestinely. Parish studies have confirmed that late medieval women did sometimes marry against their parents' approval. The Catholic Church's policy of considering clandestine marriages and marriages made without parental consent to be valid was controversial, and in the 16th century both the French monarchy and the Lutheran church sought to end these practices, with limited success.
In western Europe, the rise of Christianity and manorialism had both created incentives to keep families nuclear and thus the age of marriage increased; the Western Church instituted marriage laws and practices that undermined large kinship groups. From as early as the fourth century, the Church discouraged any practice that enlarged the family, like adoption, polygamy, taking concubines, divorce, and remarriage. The Church severely discouraged and prohibited consanguineous marriages, a marriage pattern that has constituted a means to maintain clans (and thus their power) throughout history. The church also forbade marriages in which the bride did not clearly agree to the union. After the Fall of Rome, manorialism also helped weaken the ties of kinship and thus the power of clans; as early as the 800s in northwestern France, families that worked on manors were small, consisting of parents and children and occasionally a grandparent. The Church and State had become allies in erasing the solidarity and thus the political power of the clans; the Church sought to replace traditional religion, whose vehicle was the kin group, and substituting the authority of the elders of the kin group with that of a religious elder; at the same time, the king’s rule was undermined by revolts on the part of the most powerful kin groups, clans or sections, whose conspiracies and murders threatened the power of the state and also the demand of manorial lords for obedient, compliant workers. As the peasants and serfs lived and worked on farms that they rented from the lord of the manor, they also needed the permission of the lord to marry, couples therefore had to comply with the lord and wait until a small farm became available before they could marry and thus produce children; those who could and did delay marriage presumably were rewarded by the landlord and those who did not were presumably denied said reward. For example, Medieval England saw the marriage age as variable depending on economic circumstances, with couples delaying marriage until the early twenties when times were bad and falling to the late teens after the Black Death, when there were labor shortages; by appearances, marriage of adolescents was not the norm in England.
In medieval Eastern Europe, on the other hand, the Slavic traditions of patrilocality of early and universal marriage (usually of a bride aged 12–15 years, with menarche occurring on average at 14) lingered; the manorial system had yet to penetrate into eastern Europe and had generally had less effect on clan systems there and the bans on cross-cousin marriages had not been firmly enforced.
The first recorded age-of-consent law dates back 800 years. In 1275, in England, as part of the rape law, a statute, Westminster 1, made it a misdemeanor to "ravish" a "maiden within age", whether with or without her consent. The phrase "within age" was interpreted by jurist Sir Edward Coke as meaning the age of marriage, which at the time was 12 years of age. In the 12th century, the jurist Gratian, an influential founder of Canon law in medieval Europe, accepted the age of puberty for marriage to be between 12 and 14, but acknowledged consent to be meaningful if the children were older than 7. There were authorities with a claim that consent could take place earlier. Marriage would then be valid as long as neither of the two parties annulled the marital agreement before reaching puberty, or if they had already consummated the marriage. It should be noted that Judges honored marriages based on mutual consent at ages younger than 7, in spite of what Gratian had said; there are recorded marriages of 2 and 3 year olds.
Still, in most of Northwestern Europe, marriage at very early ages was rare. One thousand marriage certificates from 1619 to 1660 in the Archdiocese of Canterbury show that only one bride was 13 years of age, four were 15, twelve were 16, and seventeen were 17 years of age while the other 966 brides were at least 19 years of age at marriage. And the Church dictated that both the bride and groom must be at least 21 years of age to marry without the consent of their families; in the certificates, the most common age for the brides is 22 years. For the grooms 24 years is the most common age, with average ages of 24 years for the brides and 27 for the grooms. While European noblewomen married early, they were a small minority and the marriage certificates from Canterbury show that even among nobility it was very rare to marry women off at very early ages.
The American colonies followed the English tradition, but the law was more of a guide. For example, Mary Hathaway (Virginia, 1689) was only 9 when she was married to William Williams. Sir Edward Coke (England, 17th century) made it clear that "the marriage of girls under 12 was normal, and the age at which a girl who was a wife was eligible for a dower from her husband's estate was 9 even though her husband be only four years old". Reliable data for when people would actually marry is very difficult to find. In England, for example, the only reliable data on age at marriage in the early modern period come from records that involved only those who left property after their death. Not only were the records relatively rare, but not all bothered to record the participants' ages, and it seemed that the more complete the records are, the more likely they are to reveal young marriages. Additionally, 20th- and 21st-century historians have sometimes shown reluctance to accept data regarding a young age of marriage, and would instead explain the data away as a misreading by a later copier of the records.
In France, until the French Revolution, the marriageable age was 12 years for girls and 14 for boys. Revolutionary legislation in 1792 increased the age to 13 years for girls and 15 for boys. Under the Napoleonic Code in 1804, the marriageable age was set at 15 years for girls and 18 for boys. In 2006, the marriageable age for girls was increased to 18, the same as for boys.
There has been a movement in recent years for the marriage age for girls and boys to be equalized, and for that age to be set at 18 years. In jurisdictions where the ages are not the same, the marriageable age for girls is more commonly two or three years lower than that for boys.
Marriageable age as a right vs exceptions
In the majority of countries the marriageable age as a right is 18. However, most of these countries have exceptions for minors, usually requiring parental and/or judicial authorization. These exceptions vary considerably by country. The United Nations Population Fund stated the following:
- "In 2010, 158 countries reported that 18 years was the minimum legal age for marriage for women without parental consent or approval by a pertinent authority. However, in 146 countries, state or customary law allows girls younger than 18 to marry with the consent of parents or other authorities; in 52 countries, girls under age 15 can marry with parental consent. In contrast, 18 is the legal age for marriage without consent among males in 180 countries. Additionally, in 105 countries, boys can marry with the consent of a parent or a pertinent authority, and in 23 countries, boys under age 15 can marry with parental consent."
In Western countries, marriages of teenagers have become rare in recent years; with their frequency having rapidly declined during the past few decades. For instance, in Finland, where underage youth can obtain a special judicial authorization to marry, today there are only 30—40 such marriages per year (with most of the spouses being aged 17), while in the early 1990s, more than 100 underage marriages were registered each year.
|Country||Male consent||Female consent||Notes|
|Algeria||21||18||Lower with judicial permission if necessity or benefit is established.|
|Angola||15||Parental consent, although this restriction is not enforced effectively and the traditional age of marriage in lower income groups often coincides with the onset of puberty.|
|Egypt||18||The age was raised in 2008 from 16 to 18 for females.|
|Libya||20||But lower with judicial permission on grounds of benefit or necessity and with wali's agreement.|
|Mali||15 or 18[clarification needed]||According to the Malian Family Code|
|Mauritania||18||Despite legislation defining marriageable age, judges can use their discretionary powers to marry even minors.|
|Morocco||18|| This is not always followed in rural areas and many judges do not uphold this law and let women younger than 18 marry.|
|Somalia||18||16||For females with guardian's consent. Court may grant exemption from minimum age requirements in case of necessity.|
|Sudan||Puberty||With requirement for willing consent of both parties.|
|South Sudan||18||With the consent of both parties, under the South Sudan Child Act 2008.|
|Tanzania||18||15||15 with court permission if specific circumstances make marriage appear desirable. The Penal Code provides that persons of "African or Asiatic descent" may marry or permit marriage of a girl under 12 in accordance with their custom or religion if marriage is not intended to be consummated before she is 12.|
|Tunisia||18||Lower with judicial special permission for pressing reasons and with a clear interest for both spouses.|
|Zimbabwe||18||16||The Marriages Act [Chapter 5:11].|
|Country||Male consent||Female consent||Notes|
|Afghanistan||18||16||In some cases, even younger girls are forced to marry at the age of 8.|
|Bangladesh||21||18||Bangladeshi law provides penal sanctions for the contraction of under-age marriages, although such unions are not considered invalid. Despite the law, child marriage rates in Bangladesh are among the highest in the world. Every 2 out of 3 marriages involve child marriages.|
|Hong Kong||21||16 with parental consent.|
|India||21||18||16 with parental consent. If any partner(s) engages in marriage at a younger age, (s)he can ask for the marriage to be declared void. A recent recommendation by the Law Commission aims to equalize the marriage age for males and females to 18. Official policy automatically declares marriages under 16 as "null and void", while marriages at the age of 16 or 17 are "voidable". In 2012, the high court declared that Muslim women can marry at 15. Additionally, the report declares that "In spite of these legal provisions, child marriage is still widely practiced and a marriage solemnized in contravention of these provisions is not void even under the new PCMA, 1929, the Hindu Marriage Act, 1955 and also under the Muslim Law."|
|Indonesia||19||16||Marriage at younger ages is legal with parental consent and judicial approval.|
|Iran||see note||unclear: some sources say 15 for males and 13 for females, others say 18 for males and 15 for females|
|Iraq||18||15 with judicial permission if fitness, physical capacity and guardian's consent (or unreasonable objection on part of guardian) are established. (These rules may have been revised after Saddam Hussein's fall.)|
|Japan||20||18 for males and 16 for females with parental consent.|
|Jordan||16||15||Court permission is required for females under 18 to marry men older by 20 years or more.|
|Kazakhstan||18||16 with parental consent.|
|South Korea||19||18 with parental consent|
|Lebanon||18||17||15, or 9 with judicial permission for Shi'a. 18 or 17 and 16 or 15 with judicial permission for Druze.|
|Malaysia||21||18 with parental consent. Muslim girls under 16 can marry with the permission of sharia authorities.|
|Maldives||18||According to custom, the minimum age for marriage is 15. The Law on the Protection of the Rights of the Child discourages marriage before the age of 16.|
|Nepal||21||18||18 for males and 16 for females with parental consent.|
|Pakistan||18||16 (18 in Sindh)||Despite the law against child marriage, the practice is widespread. According to two 2013 reports, over 50% of all marriages in Pakistan involve girls less than 18 years old. Another UNICEF report claims 70 per cent of girls in Pakistan are married before the age of 16. Another custom in Pakistan, called swara or vani, involves village elders solving family disputes or settling unpaid debts by marrying off girls. The average marriage age of swara girls is between 5 and 9.|
|Palestine||16||15||with parent consent|
|Philippines||18||If any spouse is 18–20 years and the consent of "parental" authority is not met, marriage may be prevented or annulled by any party that demands it. On the other hand, Muslim marriages in the Philippines is based on the sharia: 15 years for males and as for females, the onset of puberty to age 15, whichever comes first.|
|Russia||18||16 in special circumstances; may vary in different regions.|
|Singapore||21||18 with parental consent; below 18 with special marriage license.|
|Sri Lanka||18||However, the parties must have a Quazi's permission to marry before contracting into marriage if they are Muslims.|
|Syria||18||17||Judicial discretion for males of 15 and females of 13; judge may withhold permission for marriage if court finds incompatibility in age between betrothed parties.|
|Taiwan||20||18 for males and 16 for females with statutory agent's consent.|
|Thailand||17||In certain circumstances earlier with judicial permission.|
|Uzbekistan||18||17||17 and 16 correspondingly in special conditions.|
|Yemen||None||In practice, "Yemeni law allows girls of any age to wed, but it forbids sex with them until the indefinite time they are 'suitable for sexual intercourse'." Following the widely publicised divorce of a 10 year-old girl in 2008, and a 6 year old married, there have been public and parliamentary efforts to raise the age to 17 or 18.|
The marriageable age as a right is 18 in all European countries, with the exception of Andorra, Malta and Scotland where it is 16 (for both sexes) and Azerbaijan where it is 17 for females. Existing exceptions to this general rule (usually requiring special judicial and/or parental consent) are discussed below. In both the European Union and the Council of Europe the marriageable age falls within the jurisdiction of individual member states. The Istanbul convention, the first legally binding instrument in Europe in the field of violence against women and domestic violence, only requires countries which ratify it to prohibit forced marriage (Article 37) and to ensure that forced marriages can be easily voided without further victimization (Article 32), but does not make any reference to a minimum age of marriage.
|Country||Male consent||Female consent||Notes|
|Andorra||16||14 with judicial authority|
|Armenia||18||The age was set at 18 for both sexes in 2012, prior to that date it was 17 for females and 18 for males. However, marriage at age 17 is allowed with parental consent, and at age 16 with parental consent and the condition that the other intending spouse is at least 18.|
|Austria||18||16 with parental consent but the other partner must be 18 or older.|
|Azerbaijan||18||17||17 or 16 correspondingly in special cases.|
|Belgium||18||Younger with judicial consent (with no strict minimum age). With parental consent, serious reasons are required for a minor to marry; without parental consent, the unwillingness of the parents has to constitute an abuse.|
|Bulgaria||18||The new 2009 Family Code fixes the age at 18, but allows for an exception for 16 years olds, stating that "Upon exception, in case that important reasons impose this, matrimony may be concluded by a person at the age of 16 with permission by the regional judge". It further states that both persons wanting to marry, as well as the parents/guardians of the minor, must be consulted by the judge. (Chapter 2, Article 6) |
|Croatia||18||16 with court permission.|
|Cyprus||18||16 with parental consent, if there are serious reasons for the marriage.|
|Czech Republic||18||Article 672 of Act No. 89/2012 Coll. the Civil Code (which came into force in 2014) states that the court may, in exceptional cases, allow a marriage of a 16 years old, if there are serious reasons for it.|
|Denmark||18||15 with an exemption named "Kongebrev" (which is a "letter from the king [granting an exemption]").|
|Estonia||18||15 with court permission.|
|Finland||18||Under 18 with the consent of the ministry of justice in extraordinary circumstances, in which case parents or other guardian must be heard, but actual parental consent is not required.|
|France||18||Under 18 permission from a court and both parents.|
|Georgia||18||16 with parental consent.|
|Germany||18||16 with court permission and parental consent.|
|Greece||18||Under 18 requires court permission, which may be given if there are serious reasons for such a marriage|
|Hungary||18||16 with parental consent.|
|Iceland||18||Under 18 with parental consent and permission of the Ministry of the Interior.|
|Ireland||18||Under 18 with the court's permission.|
|Italy||18||16 with court consent.|
|Latvia||18||16 with court and/or parental permission.|
|Lithuania||18||15 with court permission, minors can only marry below 15 if they are pregnant females with court permission.|
|Luxembourg||18||New laws of 2014 fixed the marriageable at 18 for both sexes; prior to these regulations the age was 16 for females and 18 for males. The new laws still allow both sexes to obtain judicial consent to get married under 18.|
|Netherlands||18||Under 18 with permission from the Minister of Justice; 16 with parental consent in case of pregnancy.|
|Norway||18||16 with consent from parents (guardian) and permission from the County Governor. The County Governor may only give permission when there are 'special reasons for contracting a marriage'.|
|Malta||16||the age is 16, regardless of parental consent.|
|Poland||18||16 for women with judicial approval.|
|Portugal||18||16 with parental consent (or if this is unattainable, the court can provide the consent).|
|Romania||18||16 with permission from the district's administrative board.|
|Russia||18||16 in special circumstances, but different rules apply in some regions.|
|Serbia||18||16 with court consent.|
|Slovakia||18||16 with court consent, with a serious reason such as pregnancy.|
|Slovenia||18||15 with parental consent.|
|Spain||18||14 with waive from the First Instance Judge, 'just cause' and audience to the minor's parents (or carer).|
|Sweden||18||Under 18 with permission from the county administrative board (LST). The county administrative board may only give permission when there are 'special reasons' but although the custodians of the underage should be heard if possible, the consent of the custodians is not required. Although the law specifies no lower age limit to enter into marriage, the policy of the LST is to not grant any permission to a person under 15 years of age.|
|Turkey||18||17 with parental consent, 16 in special circumstances with court approval.|
|Ukraine||18||Age was equalized at 18 for both sexes in 2012, but courts may still grant permission from age 16 if there are special reasons.|
|United Kingdom||18 (16 for Scotland)|
|Country||Male consent||Female consent||Notes|
|Canada||18/19||Varies by province (either 18 or 19 years old), generally 16 years with parental consent and 15 years with judicial consent.|
|Puerto Rico||21||(Younger parties may obtain license in case of pregnancy or birth of child), and 18 with parental consent.|
|United States||18||Generally 18, but varies by state. Most states allow minors to marry with judicial and/or parental consent.
Main article: Age of marriage in United States of America
|Country||Male consent||Female consent||Notes|
|Australia||18||16 with permission from a court and both parents (only granted in exceptional circumstances).|
|Micronesia||18||16||Under 16 for females with parental consent |
|New Zealand||18||16 with parental consent.|
|Papua New Guinea||21|||
|Country||Male consent||Female consent||Notes|
|Argentina||18||Lower with judicial consent only in exceptional cases.|
|Brazil||18||16 with parental or guardian consent. The marriage of someone who is under 16 years can also be authorized, but only in cases of pregnancy, or to avoid the imposition of a criminal penalty (statutory rape).|
|Bolivia||21||Men can marry at 16 and women at 14 with permission from parents or guardians. Exceptions can be made for pregnant minors.|
|Chile||18||16 with parental consent.|
|Colombia||14||If married under 18 and without parents' consent, the minor can lose from half to all their inheritance rights. However, the marriage will still be valid.|
|Paraguay||16||14||Article 39, clause "b", of the Paraguayan Civil Code reads: “The legal incapacity of minors will cease: ...(b) for gentlemen of 16 and for women of 14 years completed, through marriage, with the limitations established in this Code”.|
|Venezuela||18||15 for females and 16 for males with parental consent.|
|Male consent||Female consent||Notes|
|Catholic Church||16||14||Diriment impediment (can. 1083 § 1). Conferences of Bishops can adopt a higher age for liceity (§ 2). Marriage against the worldly power's directive need permission by the ordinary for liceity (can. 1071 § 1 no. 2), which in case of sensible and equal laws regarding marriage age is regularly not granted. The permission by the ordinary is also required in case of a marriage of a minor child (i.e. under 18 years old) when his parents are unaware of his marriage or if his parents reasonably oppose his marriage (can. 1071 § 1 no. 6).|
Higher ages set by Conferences of Bishops
|Male consent||Female consent||Notes|
|England and Wales||16||16|||
|Nigeria||see note||see note||Each bishop has the authority to set a higher prohibitive minimum age.|
|Sunni||Puberty is the requirement for consent. However, for the female a condition is applied. If she has not been previously married then both her male guardian and herself are required to accept (not the case for divorced or widowed females-in that case she is independent to give consent).|
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- "Marriage Laws of the Fifty States, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico". * Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 2009-11-10.
- Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961 s.10-21
- Fiji Live, 17 July 2009: Fiji legal marriage age now 18
- "MICRONESIA 2012 HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT". United States Department of State. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
- Global Resource and Information Directory: Nauru - Country Profile
- The Department of Internal Affairs: Births Deaths and Marriages - How to Get a Marriage Licence
- Child laws less known
- See Articles 166, 167 and 168 - Marriage Section of the Argentine Civil Code
- "Getting Married in Bolivia". Embassy of the United States, La Pas, Bolivia. U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 30 November 2014.
- While a diriment impediment invalidates a marriage, here the marriage if contracted nevertheless will be valid but illicit.
- Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., pp. 1669 and 1717.
- Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., p. 1677, and Canon Law Digest, v. 11 (1983–1985), p. 263.
- Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., p. 1689
- Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., p. 1741.
- Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., p. 1762, and Canon Law Digest, v. 11 (1983–1985), p. 264.
- Age at 1:st marriage in Gapminder World
- Cornell Law table of marriage age by state and territory for The United States