In England and Wales, the legal minimum age of marriage has been raised from 16 to 18. Its purpose is to better protect children from exploitation and the harmful effects of forced and early marriages. This means that 16 and 17 year olds will no longer be able to marry or enter into a civil marriage under any circumstances, not even with parental consent.
Conservative MP Pauline Latham, who introduced the bill, said: “This is a historic day for campaigners who have worked tirelessly for over five years to ban child marriage in this country.”
“Child marriage destroys lives and through this legislation we will protect millions of boys and girls in the coming years from this scourge,” it added.
Arranging child marriages in England and Wales is punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Child marriage, as defined by UNICEF, is a formal marriage or informal union with a person under the age of 18. The age of 18 is widely recognized as the age at which a person becomes an adult and receives full civil rights.
“Early marriage is synonymous with slavery”
The United Nations points out that the marriage of minors violates the rights of children and must be recognized as a form of slavery. Forcibly married girls become servants, sexual slaves, suffer violations of their rights to education, health and suffer physical and psychological violence.
According to the UN, the marriage of minors:
– Causes greater exposure to domestic violence. Increases the school dropout rate, which leads to a loss of autonomy and limits professional opportunities. Early pregnancy among girls increases the risk of maternal and infant mortality. Increases the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. Children develop feelings of anxiety stemming from isolation from family, friends, and social life.
The organization has set itself the goal of reducing child marriages to zero by 2030. It notes that research shows that ending child marriage, allowing girls to complete their education, delay childbearing, find paid work and fulfill their potential, manages to generate billions of dollars in revenue and productivity.
Although forced child marriage continues to be more prevalent in low-income countries, developed countries have not been spared either.
Minimum age for marriage in EU countries
In all EU Member States, the legal age of marriage is set at 18 years. However, many national laws contemplate the possibility of getting married before reaching the age of majority with the consent of the parents and/or of a judicial or administrative authority.
In Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden it is not possible to get married before the age of 18. Polish law distinguishes between men and women: a woman can apply for marriage at the age of 16, but there is no such exception for men.
And the EU candidate countries?
According to Serbian law, persons who have reached the age of majority (18 years) can marry. In exceptional cases, by court decision, marriage is allowed to persons who have reached the age of 16. In 2020, 47 minors who got married in Serbia were registered.
Marriage under the age of 16 is, in theory, impossible.
However, in 2020, the police determined 191 cases of minors in an illegal union. Of them, 11 were boys and 180 girls, and 134 were 16 or 17 years old.
According to the Albanian Family Code, a man and a woman over the age of 18 can marry.
The court of the place where the marriage was contracted may, if there are sufficient reasons, allow the marriage to take place before reaching this age. This exception does not specify a minimum age for marriage. Albania has committed to eradicating child, early and forced marriage by 2030.
Registered marriages involving girls under the age of 18 are known to have increased from 10 in 2016 to 34 cases in 2017, while the number of married children under the age of 18 remained at 46. However, these official data they do not provide an accurate picture of the prevalence of child marriage in Albania, as they only record marriages registered with the state. It does not record couples living in free union.
The Albanian Penal Code stipulates that the age of consent for sexual intercourse is 14 years. Any sexual activity with a child under the age of 14 is considered rape.
In Ukraine you have to be over 18 years old, prepare the documents and have no family ties to each other. A court decision may allow marriage to a person who has reached the age of 16, provided there are special reasons. Third party interference is not allowed.
According to the Moldovan Matrimonial Code, the minimum age for marriage is 18 years. However, persons may marry at the age of 16 with the consent of the local guardianship/guardianship authority and with the consent of the parents.
To get married you must be at least 18 years old, be in full use of your mental faculties and in the case of having had a previous marriage that was not dissolved, it is a condition that the spouse is not alive. A marriage certificate can also be issued to 17-year-old boys and girls, under certain conditions.