Marriageable age

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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.[1]

History and social attitudes[edit]

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.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4] Parish studies have confirmed that late medieval women did sometimes marry against their parents' approval.[5] 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.[6]

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,[citation needed] 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.[7] The church also forbade marriages in which the bride did not clearly agree to the union.[8] After the Fall of Rome, manorialism also helped weakened 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.[9] As the peasants and serfs lived and worked on farms that they rented from the lord of the manor, and 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.[10] 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;[11] by appearances, marriage of adolescents was not the norm in England.[12]

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;[13] 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.[14]

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.[15] In the 12th century the jurist Gratian, an influential founder of Canon law in medieval Europe, accepted 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.[2]

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.[16] While European noblewomen married early, they were a small minority[17] and the marriage certificates from Canterbury show that even among nobility it was very rare to marry women off at very early ages.[16]

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."[2] 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 which 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.[2]

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.[18] 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 equalised, 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 and that for boys.

By country[edit]

Africa[edit]

Country Male consent Female consent Notes
Algeria 22 18 Lower with judicial permission if necessity or benefit is established.[19]
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.[20]
Egypt 18 The age was raised in 2008 from 16 to 18 for females.[21]
Ethiopia 18 [22]
Kenya 16 [23]
Libya 20 But lower with judicial permission on grounds of benefit or necessity and with wali's agreement.[24]
Madagascar 18 17 [25]
Mali 15 or 18 (Proposed by the Malian Family Code)
Mauritania 18 Despite legislation defining marriageable age, judges can use their discretionary powers to marry even minors.[26]
Morocco 18 [27] This is not always followed in rural areas and many judges do not uphold this law and let women younger than 18 marry.[citation needed]
Niger 15 [28]
Nigeria 18 [22]
Senegal 20 16 [29]
Somalia 18 16 For females with guardian's consent. Court may grant exemption from minimum age requirements in case of necessity.[30]
South Africa 18 15
Sudan Puberty With requirement for willing consent of both parties.[35]
South Sudan 18 With the consent of both parties, under the South Sudan Child Act 2008.[36]
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.[37]
Tunisia 20 18 Lower with judicial special permission for pressing reasons and with a clear interest for both spouses.[38]
Zimbabwe 18 16 The Marriages Act [Chapter 5:11].[39]

Asia[edit]

The sign painted on a building in a village in Hubei, China, informs of the marriageable age in the country (22 for men, 20 for women).
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.[40] Despite the law, child marriage rates in Bangladesh are among the highest in the world. Every 2 out of 3 marriages involve child marriages.[41]
Brunei None [42]
China 22 20 [43]
Hong Kong 21 16 with parental consent.[44]
India 21 18 16 with parental consent. 18 with out parental consent.[45] 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.[46] Official policy automatically declares marriages under 16 as "null and void", while marriages at the age of 16 or 17 are "voidable". In 2012, high court has declared that Muslim women can marry at 15.[46] 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."[46]
Indonesia 19 16 Marriage at younger ages is legal with parental consent and judicial approval.[47]
Iran 15 13 [48]
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.)[49]
Israel 18 [50]
Japan 20 18 for males and 16 for females with parental consent.[51]
Jordan 16 15 Court permission is required for females under 18 to marry men older by 20 years or more.[52]
Kazakhstan 18 16 with parental consent.[53]
South Korea 18 18 for males, 15 for females with parental consent
Kuwait 17 15 [54]
Kyrgyzstan 18 [55]
Lebanon 18 17 15, or 9 with judicial permission for Shi'a. 18 or 17 and 16 or 15 with judicial permission for Druze.[56]
Malaysia 21 18 with parental consent. Muslim girls under 16 can marry with the permission of sharia authorities.[57]
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.[58]
Nepal 21 18 18 for males and 16 for females with parental consent.[59]
Pakistan 18 16 (18 in Sindh)[60] Despite the law[61] 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.[62][63] Another UNICEF report claims 70 per cent of girls in Pakistan are married before the age of 16.[64] 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.[64][65]
Palestine 16 15 Lunar calendar
Mongolia 18 [66]
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.[67] 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.[68]
Russia 18 16 in special circumstances; may vary in different regions.
Saudi Arabia None
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.[69]
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.[70]
Taiwan 20 [71] 18 for males, and 16 for females with parental consent.[72]
Thailand 17 In certain circumstances earlier with judicial permission.[73]
Uzbekistan 18 17 17 and 16 correspondingly in special conditions.[74]
Vietnam 20 18
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'."[75] 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.[76][77][78]

Europe[edit]

Country Male consent Female consent Notes
Albania 18 [79]
Armenia 18 [80]
Austria 18 16 with parental consent but the other partner must be 18 or older.[81]
Azerbaijan 18 17 17 or 16 correspondingly in special cases.[82]
Belarus 18 [83]
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.[84]
Bulgaria 18 16 with parental consent and permission of the Regional court.[85]
Croatia 18 16 with court permission.
Cyprus 18 [86]
Czech Republic 18 16 with parental consent but the other partner must be 18 or older.
Denmark 18 15 with an exemption named "Kongebrev" (which is a "letter from the king [granting an exemption]"). Today, local authorities may give approval if the couple has their own home. A foreigner marrying a Dane does not receive residency permission, unless both spouses are at least 24 years old under the 24 year rule.
Estonia 18 15 with parental or court consent.[87]
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 [88] but the age condition may be waived with a special dispense granted by the authorities if at least one parent consents to the marriage (or one grandparent if both parents are dead or unable to give consent, or a family council if all parents and grandparents are dead or unable to give consent). After 18, parents (or grandparents) may still prevent the marriage by refusing their consent, but their opposition may be waived by the authorities, whereas before 18, their consent is absolutely needed.[89]
Georgia 18 15 with parental consent.
Germany 18 16 with court permission and parental consent.
Gibraltar 18
Greece 18 16 with consent from both parents and court permission.
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.[90]
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.[91]
Netherlands 18 Under 18 with permission from the Minister of Justice; 16 with parental consent in case of pregnancy.[92][93]
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'.[94][95]
Malta 18 17 with parental consent.[citation needed]
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.[96]
Russia 18 16 in special circumstances, but different rules apply in some regions.[97]
Serbia 18 16 with court consent.
Slovakia 18 16 with court consent, with a serious reason such as pregnancy.[98]
Slovenia 18 15 with parental consent.
Spain 18 16 with parental consent.
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.
Switzerland 18 [99]
Turkey 18 17 with parental consent, 16 in special circumstances with court approval.
Ukraine 18
United Kingdom 18 (16 for Scotland)

England and Wales: 16 with parental consent.[100]

Scotland:16[101]

Northern Ireland: 16 with parental consent (with the court able to give consent in some cases).[102]

North America[edit]

Country Male consent Female consent Notes
Canada 18 Varies by province, but generally 18 years old, 16 years with parental consent, and 15 years with judicial consent.
Mexico 16 15 [103]
Puerto Rico 21 (Younger parties may obtain license in case of pregnancy or birth of child), and 18 with parental consent.[104]
United States 18 Generally 18, but varies by state. Most states allow minors to marry with judicial and/or parental consent.

Oceania[edit]

Country Male consent Female consent Notes
Australia 18 16 with permission from a court and both parents (only granted in exceptional circumstances).[105]
Fiji 18 [106]
Nauru 18 16 [107]
New Zealand 18 16 with parental consent.[108]
Papua New Guinea 21 [109]

Nauru is seventeen. The minimum legal age for marriage without parental consent is sixteen for girls and eighteen for boys

South America[edit]

Country Male consent Female consent Notes
Argentina 18 Lower with judicial consent only in exceptional cases.[110]
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 16 14
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.[citation needed]
Ecuador 18
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”.
Peru 18
Venezuela 18 15 for females and 16 for males with parental consent.

By religion[edit]

Catholic Church[edit]

Male consent Female consent Notes
Catholic Church 16 14 Diriment impediment (can. 1083 § 1).[111] Conferences of Bishops can adopt a higher age for liceity[112] (§ 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[edit]

Male consent Female consent Notes
Canada 18 18 [113]
England and Wales 16 16 [114]
Gambia 18 16 [115]
Liberia 18 16 [115]
New Zealand 18 18 [113]
Nigeria see note see note Each bishop has the authority to set a higher prohibitive minimum age.[116]
Philippines 21 18 [117]
Sierra Leone 18 16 [115]

See also[edit]

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  102. ^ "CÓDIGO Civil Federal". Retrieved 9 April 2012. 
  103. ^ "Marriage Laws of the Fifty States, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico". * Cornell University Law School. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  104. ^ Commonwealth Marriage Act 1961 s.10-21
  105. ^ Fiji Live, 17 July 2009: Fiji legal marriage age now 18
  106. ^ Global Resource and Information Directory: Nauru - Country Profile
  107. ^ The Department of Internal Affairs: Births Deaths and Marriages - How to Get a Marriage Licence
  108. ^ Child laws less known
  109. ^ See Articles 166, 167 and 168 - Marriage Section of the Argentine Civil Code
  110. ^ http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P3Y.HTM
  111. ^ While a diriment impediment invalidates a marriage, here the marriage if contracted nevertheless will be valid but illicit.
  112. ^ a b Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., pp. 1669 and 1717.
  113. ^ Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., p. 1677, and Canon Law Digest, v. 11 (1983–1985), p. 263.
  114. ^ a b c Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., p. 1689
  115. ^ Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., p. 1741.
  116. ^ Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., p. 1762, and Canon Law Digest, v. 11 (1983–1985), p. 264.

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