Child marriage, as defined by UNICEF, is a formal marriage or informal union with a person under the age of 18.
In England and Wales, the legal minimum age for marriage has been raised from 16 to 18. Its purpose is to better protect children from the exploitation and harmful effects of forced and early marriages.
This means that 16- and 17-year-olds will no longer be allowed to marry or enter into a civil partnership under any circumstances, even with parental consent.
"This is a landmark day for the campaigners who have worked relentlessly for over 5 years to ban child marriage in this country," said Conservative MP, Pauline Latham, who introduced the bill.
“Child marriage destroys lives and through this legislation we will protect millions of boys and girls over the coming years from this scourge.”
Organising 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 recognised 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 underage marriage violates the rights of children and should be recognised as a form of slavery.
Girls who are forcibly married become servants, sex slaves, suffer violations of their rights to education, health and suffer from physical and psychological violence.
Problems associated with the marriage of minors, according to the UN:
- prompts increased exposure to domestic violence
- leads to an increase in school dropout rates, leading to loss of autonomy and limited career opportunities
- early pregnancy for girls increases the risk of maternal and infant mortality
- increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases
- children develop feelings of anxiety resulting from isolation from family, friends and social life
The organisation has set a goal of bringing child marriages to zero by 2030. It points to research showing that ending child marriage, allowing girls to complete their education, delay motherhood, find paid work, and fulfil their potential, has the potential to generate billions of dollars in income and productivity.
More than 650 million women and girls alive today were married before their 18th birthday. This represents one out of 5 young women in the world.
For boys, one in 25 boys is married before the age of 18.
Most child marriages occur between the ages of 16 and 17, but 5% of girls are married before the age of 15.
While forced child marriage is still 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. However, many national laws provide for the possibility of marriage before reaching the age of majority with parental consent and/or a judicial or administrative authority.
Only in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden is it not possible to get married before the age of 18. Polish law distinguishes between men and women -- a woman can apply for marriage at 16, but there is no such exception for men.
What about EU candidate countries?
In accordance with Serbian law, a person who has reached the age of majority (18 years) can enter into marriage. In exceptional cases, by decision of the court, marriage is allowed for people who have reached the age of 16. In 2020, 47 minors were registered as getting married in Serbia.
The marriage of anyone under the age of 16 is, in theory, impossible.
However, in 2020, the police determined 191 cases of children being in an illegal union. Of these, 11 were boys and 180 were girls, and 134 of them were aged 16 or 17.
According to the Albanian Family Code, marriage can be entered into between a man and a woman aged 18 or over. The court of the place where the marriage was contracted may, if there are sufficient grounds, allow the marriage to be entered into before reaching this age. This exception does not specify a minimum age for marriage. Albania has committed to eradicate child, early and forced marriage by 2030.
Registered marriages including girls under 18 are recorded to have increased from 10 in 2016 to 34 cases in 2017, while the number of boys married under 18 remained at 46. However, this official data does not provide an accurate picture of child marriage prevalence in Albania, as it only records marriages that are registered with the state. It does not record couples who are living in union.
The Albanian Criminal Code stipulates that the age of consent for sexual relations is 14. Any sexual activity with a child under the age of 14 is classed as statutory rape.
In Ukraine you must be aged 18 or over, prepare documents and not have family ties with each other. On the basis of a court decision, a marriage with a person who has reached the age of 16 can be allowed, provided there are special reasons. No third party interference is permitted.
According to the Moldovan Marriage 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 marry, you must be at least 18 years of age, of sound mind, and not have a living spouse from a previous undissolved marriage. A marriage certificate can also be issued to 17-year-old boys and girls, subject to certain conditions.