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 12–25 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]

Among ancient Germanic tribes, the bride and groom were roughly the same age and older than their Roman counterparts. According to Tacitus:

The youths partake late of the pleasures of love, and hence pass the age of puberty unexhausted: nor are the virgins hurried into marriage; the same maturity, the same full growth is required: the sexes unite equally matched and robust; and the children inherit the vigor of their parents.[7]

Where Aristotle had set the prime of life at 37 years for men and 18 for women, the Visigothic Code of law in the 7th century placed the prime of life at twenty years for both men and women, after which both presumably married. It can be presumed that ancient Germanic brides were on average in their early twenties and were roughly the same age as their husbands.[8]

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.[9] 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.[10] While European noblewomen married early, they were a small minority[11] and the marriage certificates from Canterbury show that even among nobility it was very rare to marry women off at very early ages.[10]

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.[12] 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]


CountryMale consentFemale consentNotes
Algeria2218Lower with judicial permission if necessity or benefit is established.[13]
Angola15Parental 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.[14]
Egypt18The age was raised in 2008 from 16 to 18 for females.[15]
Libya20But lower with judicial permission on grounds of benefit or necessity and with wali's agreement.[18]
Mali15 or 18(Proposed by the Malian Family Code)
Mauritania18Despite legislation defining marriageable age, judges can use their discretionary powers to marry even minors.[20]
Morocco18[21] (This is not always followed in rural areas and many judges do not uphold this law and let women younger than 18 marry.)
Somalia1816For females with guardian's consent. Court may grant exemption from minimum age requirements in case of necessity.[24]
South Africa1815
SudanPubertyWith requirement for willing consent of both parties.[29]
South Sudan18With the consent of both parties, under the South Sudan Child Act 2008.[30]
Tanzania181515 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.[31]
Tunisia2017Lower with judicial special permission for pressing reasons and with a clear interest for both spouses.[32]
Zimbabwe1816The Marriages Act [Chapter 5:11]. Under this legislation, a man may marry at the minimum age of 18 while a woman may marry at the minimum age of 16.[33]


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).
CountryMale consentFemale consentNotes
Afghanistan1816In some cases, even younger girls are forced to marry at the age of 8.
Bangladesh2118Bangladeshi law provides penal sanctions for the contraction of under-age marriages, although such unions are not considered invalid.[34] Despite the law, child marriage rates in Bangladesh are among the highest in the world. Every 2 out of 3 marriages involve child marriages. [35]
BruneiNo minimum marriage age[36]
People's Republic of China2220[37]
Hong Kong2116 with parental consent.[38]
India2118You can get married at 16 with parental consent. 18 with out parental consent.[39] 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.[40] 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.[40] 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."[40]
Indonesia1916Marriage at younger ages is legal with parental consent and judicial approval.[41]
Iraq1815 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.)[43]
Japan2018 for males and 16 for females with parental consent.[45]
Jordan1615Court permission is required for females under 18 to marry men older by 20 years or more.[46]
Kazakhstan1816 with parental consent.[47]
Korea18With parental consent
Lebanon181715, or 9 with judicial permission for Shi'a. 18 or 17 and 16 or 15 with judicial permission for Druze.[50]
Malaysia2118 with parental consent. Muslim girls under 16 can marry with the permission of sharia authorities.[51]
Maldives18According 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.[52]
Nepal211818 for males and 16 for females with parental permission.[53]
Pakistan1816 (18 in Sindh)[54]Despite the law[55] 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.[56][57] Another UNICEF report claims 70 per cent of girls in Pakistan are married before the age of 16.[58] 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. [59][58]
Palestinian territories1615Lunar calendar
Philippines18If 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.[61] 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.[62]
Russia1816 in special circumstances; may vary in different regions.
Saudi ArabiaNone currently
Singapore2118 with parental consent; below 18 with special marriage license.
Sri Lanka18However, the parties must have a Quazi's permission to marry before contracting into marriage if they are Muslims.[63]
Syria1817judicial discretion for males of 15 and females of 13; judge may withhold permission for marriage if court finds incompatibility in age between betrothed parties.[64]
Republic of China (Taiwan)20[65] 18 for males, and 16 for females with parental consent.[66]
Thailand17In certain circumstances earlier with judicial permission.[67]
Uzbekistan181717 and 16 correspondingly in special conditions.[68]
YemenNoneIn 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'."[69] 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.[70][71][72]


CountryMale consentFemale consentNotes
Austria1816 with parental consent but the other partner must be 18 or older.[75]
Azerbaijan181717 or 16 correspondingly in special cases.[76]
Belgium18Younger 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.[78]
Bulgaria1816 with parental consent and permission of the local court but the other partner must be 18 or older.[79]
Croatia1816 with court permission.
Czech Republic1816 with parental consent but the other partner must be 18 or older.
Denmark1815 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.
Estonia1815 with parental or court consent.[81]
Finland18Under 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.
France18[82] 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.[83]
Georgia1815 with parental consent.
Germany1816 with court permission and parental consent.
Greece1816 with consent from both parents and court permission.
Hungary1816 with parental consent.
Iceland18Under 18 with parental consent and permission of the Ministry of the Interior.
Ireland18Under 18 with the court's permission.[84]
Italy1816 with court consent.
Latvia1816 with court and/or parental permission.
Lithuania1815 with court permission, minors can only marry below 15 if they are pregnant females with court permission.[85]
Netherlands18Under 18 with parental consent; in case of pregnancy or with personal permission from the Minister of Justice.
Norway1816 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'.[86][87]
Malta1817 with parental consent.[citation needed]
Poland1816 for women with judicial approval.
Portugal1816 with parental consent (or if this is unattainable, the court can provide the consent).
Romania1816 with permission from the district's administrative board.[88]
Russia1816 in special circumstances, but different rules apply in some regions.[89]
Serbia1816 with court consent.
Slovakia1816 with court consent, with a serious reason such as pregnancy.[90]
Slovenia1815 with parental consent.
Spain1816 with parental consent.
Sweden18Under 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.
Turkey1817 with parental consent, 16 in special circumstances with court approval.
United Kingdom18 (16 for Scotland)

England and Wales: 16 with parental consent.[92]


Northern Ireland: 16 with parental consent (with the court able to give consent in some cases).[94]

North America[edit]

CountryMale consentFemale consentNotes
Canada18Varies by province, but generally 18 years old, 16 years with parental consent, and 15 years with judicial consent.
Mexico1816 for males, 15 for females.[95]
Puerto Rico21(Younger parties may obtain license in case of pregnancy or birth of child), and 18 with parental consent.[96]
United States18Generally 18, but varies by state. Most states allow minors to marry with judicial and/or parental consent.


CountryMale consentFemale consentNotes
Australia1816 with permission from a court and both parents (only granted in exceptional circumstances).[97]
New Zealand1816 with parental consent.[100]
Papua New Guinea21[101]

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

South America[edit]

CountryMale consentFemale consentNotes
Argentina18Lower with judicial consent only in exceptional cases.[102]
Brazil1816 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).
Chile1816 with parental consent.
Colombia14If married under 18 and without parents' consent, the minor can lose from half to all his inheritance rights. However, the marriage will still be valid.
Paraguay1614Article 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”.
Venezuela1815 for females and 16 for males with parental consent.

By religion[edit]

Catholic Church[edit]

Male consentFemale consentNotes
Catholic Church1614Diriment impediment (can. 1083 § 1).[103] Conferences of Bishops can adopt a higher age for liceity[104] (§ 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 consentFemale consentNotes
England and Wales1616[106]
New Zealand1818[109]
Nigeriasee notesee noteEach bishop has the authority to set a higher prohibitive minimum age.[110]
Sierra Leone1816[112]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, Article 2
  2. ^ Anti Arjava, Women and Law in Late Antiquity Oxford, 1996, pp. 29–37.
  3. ^ John Noonan, "The Power to Choose" Viator 4 (1973) 419–34.
  4. ^ J. Sheehan, "The formation and stability of marriage in fourteenth century England" Medieval Studies 33 (1971) 228–63.
  5. ^ Beatrice Gottlieb, The family in the Western World from the Black Death to the Industrial Age Oxford, 1993, pp. 55–56.
  6. ^ Tacitus (by commentator Edward Brooks). 2013. The Germany and the Agricola of Tacitus. Project Gutenberg. Footnotes 121-122.
  7. ^ Herlihy, David. 1985. Medieval Households. Harvard University Press. 73-75
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  9. ^ a b Laslett, Peter. 1965. The World We Have Lost. New York, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. p 82
  10. ^ Coontz, Stephanie. 2005. Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage. New York, New York: Viking Press, Penguin Group Inc. p 125-129.
  11. ^ Art. 144 of the Civil Code
  12. ^ Legal Profiles: Algeria
  13. ^ 2011 Human Rights Reports: Angola
  14. ^ Profiles:Egypt
  15. ^ a b Do African Children Have Rights? (by Stephen Nmeregini Achilihu)
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  17. ^ Legal Profiles: Libya
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  19. ^ Mauritania: Prevalence of forced marriage; information on legal status, including state protection; ability of women to refuse a forced marriage
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  21. ^ Prévention du mariage précoce au Niger et au Bénin
  22. ^ Legal Profiles:Senegal
  23. ^ Legal Profiles: Somalia
  24. ^ Marriage Act, No. 25 of 1961, section 24.
  25. ^ Marriage Act, No. 25 of 1961, section 26.
  26. ^ Civil Union Act, No. 17 of 2006, section 1.
  27. ^ Recognition of Customary Marriages Act, No. 120 of 1998, section 3.
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  65. ^ Civil Code Part IV Family Articles 980 and 981.
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  100. ^ Child laws less known
  101. ^ See Articles 166, 167 and 168 - Marriage Section of the Argentine Civil Code
  102. ^
  103. ^ While a diriment impediment invalidates a marriage, here the marriage if contracted nevertheless will be valid but illicit.
  104. ^ Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., pp. 1669 and 1717.
  105. ^ Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., p. 1677, and Canon Law Digest, v. 11 (1983–1985), p. 263.
  106. ^ Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., p. 1689
  107. ^ Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., p. 1689
  108. ^ Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., pp. 1669 and 1717.
  109. ^ Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., p. 1741.
  110. ^ Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., p. 1762, and Canon Law Digest, v. 11 (1983–1985), p. 264.
  111. ^ Canon Law Annotated, Caparros, et al., p. 1689

External links[edit]