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Marriageable age (or marriage age) is the age at which a person is allowed to marry, either as of right or subject to parental or other forms of consent. The age and other requirements vary between countries, but generally it is set at 18, although most jurisdictions allow marriage at slightly younger ages with parental and/or judicial approval, or in case of pregnancy. The marriage age should not be confused with the age of majority or the age of consent, or the actual age at first marriage in a particular society.

55 countries are parties to the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage, and Registration of Marriages, which requires them to specify a minimum marriage age by law, and thus abolishing customary and tribal practices.

When the marriageable age under a law of a religious community is lower than that of the state ("country"), the state law prevails. However, some religious communities do not accept the supremacy of State law in this respect.

History and social attitudes

Traditionally, across the globe, the age of consent for a sexual union was a matter for the family to decide, or a tribal custom. In most cases, this coincided with signs of puberty, menstruation for a woman and pubic hair for a man.[1]

In Ancient Rome, it was very common for girls to marry and have children shortly after the onset of puberty.

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.[2]

In the 12th century Gratian, the 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 that said 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.[1]

The American colonies followed the English tradition, and 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."[1]

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 comes 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 centuries' historians have sometimes shown reluctance to accept data regarding young ages of marriage, and would instead explain the data away as a misreading by a later copier of the records.[1]

By country

The following is an incomplete list of marriageable ages in various countries. The list is current, and does not treat the topic in history.

Africa

Asia

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)

Europe

North America

Oceania

South America

See also

References

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  4. ^ a b Do African Children Have Rights? (by Stephen Nmeregini Achilihu)
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  10. ^ Legal Profiles: Somalia
  11. ^ Marriage Act, No. 25 of 1961, section 24.
  12. ^ Children's Act, No. 38 of 2005, section 17
  13. ^ Marriage Act, No. 25 of 1961, section 26.
  14. ^ Civil Union Act, 2006, section 1
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