A Look at Legal Age of Marriage in Some Islamic...
Marriage is one of the most sensitive events of the life of humans, and one of the most important legal institutions of Mankind. The necessity for readiness and physical maturity and mental development of individuals for starting a mutual life and marriage is to an extent that many legal systems in the world, have deemed a minimum age for the beginning of this stage of life necessary. On this basis, legal age means the minimum permitted age of marriage for boys and girls which varies in different countries. While many countries have, in accordance with the law set an age for girls and boys, in some countries this takes place through parental consent. In this article we try to study the subject of age of marriage in the world by concentrating on some Islamic countries.
At the global level mostly the average legal age of marries for boys is 17 and for girls is 16, but most countries allow marriage in much younger ages, particularly girls. For example, in the United States in Alaska, South Carolina and Louisiana 12-year-old girls are allowed to marry and in Massachusetts 12-year-old girls can marry in special circumstances and judge’s approval. In fact, although the legal age of marriage in most States is 18, but each State is allowed exemptions such as parental consent or pregnancy, permits marriages in lower ages. According to studies, it shows that between 2000 and 2015 in the United States alone more than 200 thousand children below 18 were married.
According to UNICEF, globally 12 million girls under 18 marry. Even in England, Whales and Northern Ireland teenagers at the age of 16 can marry if they get their parents’ consent.
On the opposite end of the spectrum in China, due to population control policies the age of marriage is a little higher than other countries, 22 for men and 20 for women.
According to the Girls Not Brides nongovernmental organization figures there are currently more than 700 million women in the world who were married off in childhood. Currently the highest percentage of child marriages in the world (23 million marriages) belongs to Nigeria . According to the figures released by UN Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality, one third of girls in developing countries marry before reaching 18, this is while in some countries there are no census taken for births and marriages, there are not enough measures in these countries to prevent early marriages for girls either.
According to this UN body, although many countries have set legal age of marriage, but in practice they have turned a blind eye on existing realities with regards to underage marriage or are trying to suspend it due to various reasons. Several countries no longer punish child marriages, and only deem these marriages as illegitimate.
Marriages in lower ages are common in many Islamic countries also. Sudan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen are countries which do not prohibit girls from marrying in lower ages. According to the Population Reference Bureau figures which was published in 2013, one out of seven girls in the Arab world marries before reaching 18. In the same study 13 percent of married women in Morocco are under legal age, while this is 8 percent in Jorden. Also in most Arab countries women are still not allowed to sign their marriage contract, and for this they require father or male guardian’s consent.
Currently, the age of marriage in Saudi Arabia is 10 and it is said that girls even at lower ages can get married with their fathers’ permission, because the muftis of the country believe that there is no meaning for a minimum age of marriage for girls. On this basis, there have been several cases of child marriage, even below 8 which have been published by regional and international media in the recent years.
Following criticisms against Saudi Arabia in this regard, the current laws in the country impose restrictions for underage individuals such as prohibition of girls marrying below 15, unless following medical exams and proof of physical and emotional readiness of the individual for marriage, and furthermore the law states that the marriage contract should be done through the courts. Nonetheless, each year more than 5000 individuals below the legal age of marriage (below 15) are married, and among many of these marriages the couples’ age differences are more than 10 years and even at times 30 years.
On this basis the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia, approved a set of guidelines with the aim of banning girls and boys marriages under the age of 15. According to these guidelines under 18-year-old individuals who wish to get married must get permits from the courts. But since the ratifications of the Consultative Assembly do not have implementation guarantees and this body can only recommend the government to adopt new laws. Children and women’s rights activists say that the new guidelines which have been recommended to the government by the consultative body do not guarantee the prohibition of girls under 18 from getting married, because the families have the capacity to put pressure on the courts to get marriage permits for their daughter.
The legal age of marriage for girls and boys in Malaysia is also 18, although Muslim girls can get married at 16 with courts’ permission, and a marriage that takes place without the religious court’s permit is deemed illegal, and the groom might get six months’ jail sentence. Of course this law in Malaysia has plenty of loopholes. According to activists, to-date 16 thousand Malaysian girls under 15 have got married. In 2017, the Sexual Crimes against Children Act was ratified in Malaysia, but still no laws have been adopted for legal age of marriage for children. In 2013 the marriage of a 40-year-old man with a 13-year-old girl as his second wife was followed by widespread objections. Also according to the announcement of the Malaysian Women and Family Deputy, at the end of July 2018 it was announced that approximately 14,999 child marriages were registered for the 2007-17 decade.
The legal age of marriage in Pakistan is 16 for girls and 18 for boys. But this law is rarely applied, because child marriages in Pakistan are intertwined with traditions. Pakistani civil society activists have on numerous occasions tried to change the legal age of marriage for girls from 16 to 18, but the proposal was rejected by the Pakistan National Assembly twice. By calling the recommended proposal un-Islamic, the Assembly representatives rejected raising the legal age of marriage for women. According to UNICEF, 21 percent of Pakistani girls marry before reaching 18 and 3 percent marry before reaching 15. Child marriages mostly occur among the marginalised and vulnerable communities in the country.
Just as in Pakistan, the legal age of marriage for girls in Afghanistan is set at 16, but underage marriages are still one of the challenges that Afghan girls are faced with. One out three girls get married below 18. Traditional principles are dominant in the country and many children get married in the country, marriages that are not registered. The Independent Human Rights Commission of Afghanistan in this regard has declared that in view of the reduction in the number of underage marriages registrations, the figures for these types of marriages remain high in the country. The Commission is particularly concerned about the rise in the number of underage marriages in the unsafe regions of the country. According to this Commission last year 108 underage marriages were registered in the Afghanistan.
The legal age of marriage in Iraq for men and women is 18, but girls can get their marriage permits at 15 from competent courts, although some religious activists in Iraq are trying to reduce the legal age of marriage in the country. In this regard the suggestions of one of these groups to reduce the legal age of marriage for girls to 9 was rejected by the Iraqi parliament. According to the Iraqi government in 1997, 15 percent of marriages included women under the age of 18. In 2012 the figures increased by 20 percent and almost 5 percent of them got married before the age of 15. In view of the political instability in the country, civil society’s efforts to put an end to child marriages have been futile, because due to the domination of terror groups in some regions, families are faced with the crisis of abduction of their daughters and underage marriages, although some active organizations such as UNICEF continue to educate in regions under Kurdish control and refugee camps.
According to Syrian laws, the legal age of marriage for girls is 16 and boys 17. Nevertheless, with the start of the destructive civil was in Syria, since 2011 millions of Syrian girls have become vulnerable towards underage marriages, and currently child marriages have become an increasing problem for refugee Syrian girls in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey. According to figures in 2011, 12 percent of registered marriages were with girls under 18. In 2012 the figure reached 18 percent and in 2013, 25 percent, and in early 2014 reached 32 percent. In Lebanon 41 percent of young Syrian refugee women got married before the age of 18. Considering most of these marriages have not been registered, the figures can in fact be much higher. Girls who are internally displaced in Syria too might be facing these same problems, because child marriage is not a new subject in Syria. Before the conflict, 13 percent of Syrian women aged 20-25 got married before the age of 18, nonetheless there is no accurate information available in the ongoing conditions. Currently, several factors such as spread of conflicts, growing poverty, gender discrimination, families’ efforts to protect their girl children particularly against sexual abuse and help to accept families of girls in other countries as refugees, have caused an increase in child marriages among Syrian girls.
The Islamic Republic of Iran
According to Article 1041 of the Iranian Civil Code, the minimum age of marriage for girls is 13 and for boys 15 and marriage under these ages are conditional to parental consent and the observation of the best interest via a competent court.
Finally while pointing out UN High Commissioner for Human Rights report on early marriage which says 147 countries have exemptions in their domestic laws for marriage, which give permission to individuals under 18 to marry , the request of UN experts can also be pointed out who believe that countries that have accepted the MDG be pressured to suspend the under 18 legal age of marriage for girls by 2030. Nonetheless, Human Rights Watch recently reassured that many countries do not follow up on their MDG commitments, and approximately every two seconds one girl under 18 gets married in the world.