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Small child brides

Child marriage usually refers to two separate social phenomena which are practised in some societies. The first and more widespread practice is that of marrying a young child (generally defined as below the age of fifteen) to an adult. Due to women's shorter reproductive life period (relative to men's), perhaps, the practice of child marriage tends to be of young girls to fully-grown men.

The second practice is a form of arranged marriage in which the parents of two children from different families arrange a future marriage. In this practice, the individuals who become betrothed often do not meet one another until the wedding ceremony, which occurs when they are both considered to be of a marriageable age.

An increase in the advocation of human rights, whether as women's rights or as children's rights, has caused the traditions of child marriage to decrease greatly as it was considered unfair and dangerous for the children.

Child marriages may have many purposes. The aristocracy of some cultures tend to use child marriage among different factions or states as a method to secure political ties between them. For example, the son or daughter of the royal family of a weaker power would sometimes be arranged to marry into the royal family of a stronger neighbouring power, thus preventing itself from being assimilated. In the lower classes, if they were fortunate, families could use child marriages as means to gain financial ties with wealthier people, ensuring their successions.

In child betrothals, a child's parents arrange a match with the parents of a child from another family (social standing, wealth and expected education all play a part), thus unilaterally determining the child's future at a young age. It is thought by adherents that physical attraction is not a suitable foundation upon which to build a marriage and a family.[citation needed] A separate consideration is the age at which the wedding, as opposed to the engagement, takes place.

Families are able to cement political and/or financial ties by having their children inter-marry. The betrothal is considered a binding contract upon the families and the children. The breaking of a betrothal can have serious consequences both for the families and for the betrothed individuals themselves.

Child marriage by religion

In Judaism

Child marriage was possible in Judaism, due to the very low marriageable age for females. A ketannah (literally meaning little [one]) was any girl between the age of 3 years and that of 12 years plus one day;[1] a ketannah was completely subject to her father's authority, and her father could arrange a marriage for her, whether she agreed to it or not.[1] According to the Talmud, if the marriage did end (due to divorce or the husband's death), any further marriages were optional; the ketannah had the right to annul them.[2] If the father was dead, or missing, the brothers of the ketannah, collectively, had the right to arrange a marriage for her, as had her mother,[1] although in these situations a ketannah would always have the right to annul her marriage, even if it was the first.[2]

The choice of a ketannah to annul a marriage, known in Hebrew as mi'un (literally meaning refusal/denial/protest),[2] lead to a true annulment, not a divorce; a divorce document (get) was not necessary,[3] and a ketannah who did this was not regarded by legal regulations as a divorcee, in relation to the marriage.[4] Unlike divorce, mi'un was regarded with distaste by many rabbinic writers,[2] even in the Talmud;[5] in earlier classical Judaism, one major faction - the House of Shammai - argued that such annulment rights only existed during the betrothal period (erusin), and not once the actual marriage (nissu'in) had begun.[6]

In Islam

According to Sunni sources, Muhammad consummated his marriage with Aisha, when she was nine years old. Template:Hadith-usc[7][8] Islamic scholars state that no age limits have been fixed by Islam for marriage. Children of the youngest age may be married or promised for marriage, "although a girl is not handed over to her husband until she is fit for marital congress".[9]

Child marriage by region


Despite many countries enacting marriageable age laws to limit marriage to a minimum age of 16 to 18, depending on jurisdiction, traditional marriages are widespread. Poverty, religion, tradition, and conflict make the incidence of child marriage in Sub-Saharan Africa similar to South Asia.[10]

In many tribal systems, a man pays a bride price to the girl's family in order to marry her. (Compare with the customs of dowry and dower.) In many parts of Africa, this payment, in cash, cattle, or other valuables, decreases as a girl gets older. Even before puberty it is common for a married girl to leave her parents to be with her husband. Many marriages are poverty related, with parents needing the bride price to feed, clothe, educate, and house the rest of the family. Meanwhile, a male child in these countries is more likely to gain a full education, gain employment and pursue a working life, thus tending to marry later. In Mali, the female:male ratio of marriage before age 18 is 72:1; in Kenya, 21:1.[10]

The various UN commissioned reports indicate that in many Sub-Saharan countries, there is a high incidence of marriage among girls younger than 15. Many governments have tended to overlook the particular problems that child marriage has resulted in, including obstetric fistulae, prematurity, stillbirth, sexually transmitted diseases (including cervical cancer), and malaria.[10]

In parts of Ethiopia and Nigeria, quite a number of girls are married before the age of 15 and some girls are married as young as the age of 7.[11] In parts of Mali, 39% of girls are married before the age of 15. In Niger and Chad, over 70% of girls are married before the age of 18.[10]

In South Africa, there are legal provisions made for respecting the marriage laws of traditional marriages whereby a person might be married as young as 12 for females and 14 for males.[10]

Early marriage is cited as "a barrier to continuing education for girls (and boys)". This includes absuma (arranged marriages set up between cousins at birth), bride kidnapping, and elopement decided on by the children.[12]

South Asia

The Child Marriage Restraint Act, 1929 was passed during the tenure of British rule on pre-partition India, and forbade a male younger than twenty-one or a female younger than eighteen to get married. A marriage fell under the scope of this Act if either of the contracting parties met the established criterion of a child.[13]

South Asia has the highest prevalence of child marriage of any region in the world.


According to “National Plan of Action for Children 2005,” (published by the Department of Women and Child Development of India) a goal has been set to eliminate child marriage completely by 2010. This plan is proving to be successful, though it is still difficult to monitor every child due to the sheer population of India.[14]

According to UNICEF’s “State of the World’s Children-2009” report, 47% of India's women aged 20–24 were married before the legal age of 18, with 56% in rural areas.[15] The report also showed that 40% of the world's child marriages occur in India.[16]


Despite the aforementioned Act, the tradition is still practised in some areas through Vani and other customs like Watta satta and Swara.[17] The minimum legal age for marriage is 18 for men and 16 for girls.[18]

On May 21, 2010, a six month old baby was married to a 25 year old man.[19][20][21]


According to statistics from 2005, 45% of women then between 25 and 29 were married by the age of 15 in Bangladesh.[11] According to the “State of the World’s Children-2009” report, 63% of all women aged 20–24 were married before the age of 18.[15]

The Ministry of Women and Children Affairs is making progress in increasing women's education and employment opportunities. This, combined with specific education about child marriage and cooperation with religious leaders, is hoped to decrease child marriage.[citation needed]


"Yemen is full of child brides. Roughly half of Yemeni girls are married before 18, some as young as eight."[22] Until recently, Yemeni law set the minimum age for marriage at 15. But tribal customs and interpretations of Islam often trump the law. In practice, "Yemeni law allows girls of any age to wed, but it forbids sex with them until the indefinite time they’re 'suitable for sexual intercourse.'"[22] In 1999, the minimum marriage age of fifteen for women, rarely enforced, was abolished; the onset of puberty, interpreted by conservatives to be at the age of nine, was set as a requirement for consummation of marriage.[23]

In April 2008, the case of Nujood Ali, a 10 year-old girl who successfully obtained a divorce, sparked headlines around the world, and prompted calls to raise the legal age for marriage to 18.[24] Later in 2008, the Supreme Council for Motherhood and Childhood proposed to define the minimum age for marriage at 18 years. The law was passed in April 2009, with the age voted for as 17. But the law was dropped the following day following manoeuvers by opposing parliamentarians. Negotiations to pass the legislation continue.[25] Meantime, Yemenis inspired by Nujood's efforts continue to push for change, with Nujood herself involved in at least one rally.[26] And one awareness campaign claims to have prevented some early marriages in the Yemen governate of Amran.[27]

Middle East

Saudi Arabia

The widespread prevalence of child marriage in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been documented by human rights groups [1] [2]. Saudi clerics have justified the marriage of girls as young as 9, with sanction from the judiciary [3].There are no laws defining the minimum age for marriage in Saudi Arabia, and girls as young as eight years of age can marry [4].

North America


Template:Ambox/small In Canada, individuals must be 18 or older (19 in British Columbia) to be married, unless they have parental permission. However, parental permission is not always necessary if the courts consent. People under 16 can only get married if they are pregnant and have the court's approval .[28] In Canada, people are on average 33 when they are married.[29]

United States

Laws regarding child marriage vary in the different states of the United States. Generally, children 16 and over may marry with parental consent, with the age of 18 being the minimum in all but two states to marry without parental consent. Those under 16 generally require a court order in addition to parental consent.[30]

Until 2008, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints practiced child marriage through the concept 'spiritual (religious only) marriages,' as soon as girls are ready to bear children, as part of its polygamy practice and laws have raised the age of legal marriage in response to criticism of the practice.[citation needed] In 2008, the Church changed its policy in the United States to no longer marry individuals younger than the local legal age.[citation needed]

In 2007, church leader Warren Jeffs was convicted of being an accomplice to statutory rape of a minor due to arranging a marriage between a 14-year-old girl and a 19-year-old boy.[31] In March 2008, the state of Texas believed that children at the Yearning For Zion Ranch were being married to adults and were being abused.[32] The state of Texas removed all 468 children from the ranch and placed them into temporary state custody.[32] FLDS denied the charges. The charges were eventually dropped in court as there was no solid evidence in support of this, and it was determined that the state entered the ranch illegally.[citation needed]

Historical custom


  • Among the Vedda of tropical Sri Lanka, girls married before the age of nine and had relations with their husbands before sexual maturity.[33]
  • In Chiras in Persia, girls married before puberty.[33]
  • Among the Atjeh of Sumatra, girls married at an age before that of puberty. The husbands, though usually older, were still unfit for sexual union[33]
  • Among the islanders of Fiji, marriage took place before puberty.[33]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Template:Jewish Encyclopedia
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Template:Jewish Encyclopedia
  3. Yebamot 107a
  4. Yebamot 108a
  5. Yebamot 109a
  6. Yebamot 107a
  7. D. A. Spellberg, Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past: the Legacy of A'isha bint Abi Bakr, Columbia University Press, 1994, p. 40
  8. Karen Armstrong, Muhammad: A Biography of the Prophet, Harper San Francisco, 1992, p. 157.
  9. Levy, Reuben (2000. First published 1957), "The Social Structure of Islam", Orientalism: Early Sources, XII, London & New York: Routledge, p. 106, ISBN 9780415209106,
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Nour, Nawal M. (2006), "Health Consequences of Child Marriage in Africa", Emerging Infectious Diseases 12 (11): 1644–1649, ISSN 1080-6059, PMID 17283612,
  11. 11.0 11.1 Child Marriage Factsheet: State of World Population 2005 - UNFPA
  13. Child Marriage Restraint Act,1929
  14. Status of children in India
  15. 15.0 15.1
  16. "40 p.c. child marriages in India: UNICEF". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 18 January 2009.
  17. BBC NEWS | World | South Asia | Forced child marriage tests Pakistan law
  18. .,21985,24589595-5005961,00.html.[dead link]
  22. 22.0 22.1 Power, Carla (12 August 2009), Nujood Ali & Shada Nasser win “Women of the Year Fund 2008 Glamour Award”, Yemen Times,, retrieved 16 February 2010
  23. Human Rights Watch (2001), "Yemen: Human Rights Developments", World Report 2001, Human Rights Watch,, retrieved 8 April 2010
  24. Daragahi, Borzou (June 11, 2008), Yemeni bride, 10, says I won't, Los Angeles Times,, retrieved 16 February 2010
  25. Mahmoud Assamiee and Nadia Al-Sakkaf (25 March 2010), Relative breakthrough in Yemen’s early marriage dilemma, Yemen Times,, retrieved 8 April 2010
  26. Sadeq Al-Wesabi (25 February 2010), Yemen’s children say no to early marriage, Yemen Times,, retrieved 9 April 2010
  27. Mo’ath Monassar (22 March 2010), Awareness campaign stops early marriages in Amran, Yemen Times,, retrieved 9 April 2010
  29. Statistics Canada
  30. "Marriage Laws in the US by age"
  31. Dobner, Jennifer. Polygamist Leader Convicted in Utah. Associated Press. ABC News. 2007-09-25.
  32. 32.0 32.1 Blumenthal, Ralph. Court Says Texas Illegally Seized Sect's Children. 'The New York Times. 2008-05-23. Retrieved 2008-05-24.
  33. 33.0 33.1 33.2 33.3 Elie Metchnikoff : The Nature of Man : Studies in Optimistic Philosophy. Putnam, New York, 1903. p. 90

External links

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