UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds
Defined as any marriage where one or more parties are under 18, child marriage is documented in cultures across almost every continent. Photo: Pixabay

Canada and other surprising countries where child marriage is still a thing

Widely associated with Muslim-majority and African countries, child marriage isn’t limited to a single religion, ethnicity or socio-economic background.

By Al Donato

Every year, over 12 million girls are married around the world. Yes, that includes North America.

Defined as any marriage where one or more parties are under 18, child marriage is documented in cultures across almost every continent. The Pew Research Center reports the practice is allowed in 117 countries (many have laws that prevent marriage until 18 but allow exemptions.)

While boys are affected, the clear majority entering these unions are girls. Widely associated with Muslim-majority and African countries, child marriage isn’t limited to a single religion, ethnicity or socio-economic background.

Canada is considered a leader in the movement to eliminate child marriage, for committing millions to prevention initiatives and co-sponsoring the United Nations’ first resolution against child marriages. However, the issue still hits close to home. Marriage is governed by the provinces and territories, and most allow those as young as 16 to be joined in matrimony if they have their parents’ permission. This includes Saskatchewan, Ontario, British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Nunavut. In the Yukon, 15 year olds can get married with parental consent.

Here are five other countries where child marriage is surprisingly happening all too often.

1. United States: Even though the legal marrying age is 18, certain circumstances like parental consent, petitioning a judge or pregnancy are legal exceptions to the rule. According to data collected by advocacy group Unchained at Last, around 248,000 children were married in the U.S. from 2000 to 2010. More than three quarters occurred between girls and adult men. According to a Frontline report, the youngest brides were 10-year-old girls from Tennessee who married in 2001.

2. United Kingdom: Minors can marry as young as 16 with parental consent in the UK, except in Scotland where parental consent isn’t required. The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office says it dealt with 371 child marriage cases in 2016.

3. Mexico: In spite of a 2014 federal law prohibiting child marriages, Mexico has the eighth highest number of child marriages in the world. According to a report by the television network Telesur, some states continue to validate child marriages. With parental consent, girls can be married at 14 and boys at 16. One in four Mexican women say they were married before turning 18, Girls Not Brides reports.

4. Turkey: The legal age to marry is 18, but a law passed in 2017 has angered activists for permitting mufti marriages. The law allows unions performed by religious scholars instead of civil courts, who have married girls as young as 12. Many fear this will lead to a further increase in child marriage, which is already on the rise in Turkey. Girls Not Brides notes that 15 percent of girls in the country are married before their eighteenth birthday.

5. Norway: In Norway, the legal marrying age is 18, however 16- and 17-year-olds with parental permission can apply to be exempted from the law. Teen advocates have led a campaign against these exceptions. News agencies report that thousands of youth wrote to their local government representatives, urging them to rewrite the marriage laws. On March 6, Norway’s government voted to postpone the decision to cease exemptions to the legal marrying age.


Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!

Interviews

Photo: Flip Schulke Archives/Corbis via Getty Images

Martin Luther King Jr: Remembering an icon

by Kenneth Bagnell

On the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, we republish highlights of his 1962 interview with The Observer.

Promotional Image

Observations

Jocelyn Bell%

Observations: Our magazine's plastic problem

by Jocelyn Bell

"While I can easily defend the use of a polybag on financial grounds, it would be unconscionable to deliver a cover story about plastics . . . in plastic."

Promotional Image

Video

ObserverDocs: Playing by Heart

by Observer Staff

Kara Shaw was born prematurely, became almost totally blind and was later diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. The 28-year-old also has a unique musical ability, serving as a United Church music director, and performing piano on local and national stages.

Promotional Image

Faith

April 2018

Churches respond to fentanyl crisis

by Lois Ross

Three United churches have learned how to administer naloxone, the drug overdose antidote.

Ethics

March 2018

Sweden’s governing party pledges to abolish religious schools

by Al Donato

Should they be re-elected in September, the Swedish Social Democrats announced that their education policy would eliminate gender and religious segregation in schools.

Ethics

March 2018

Canada and other surprising countries where child marriage is still a thing

by Al Donato

Widely associated with Muslim-majority and African countries, child marriage isn’t limited to a single religion, ethnicity or socio-economic background.

To the Point

April 2018

Teaching sex-ed in schools is no sin

by Michael Coren

"Unfortunately, much of the resistance to teaching schoolchildren about sex and sexuality comes from Christians, and the general view out there is that all Christians fall into this camp."

Society

May 2017

Family without borders

by Sara Jewell

The writer’s younger sister and her husband have seven children. Four of the kids were adopted internationally. Four have special needs. It all adds up to one boisterous household full of love.

Justice

April 2018

How families cope when a loved one goes missing

by Justin Dallaire

A Quebec man went for a walk in the early morning of March 16, 2016, and hasn’t been seen since. His family, like many loved ones of the missing, finds it impossible to grieve — or give up hope.

Promotional Image