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.
Get The Observer’s latest stories on justice, faith and ethics by signing up for our e-newsletter. It only takes a few seconds to join and we’ll deliver award-winning content to your in-box.