Legal Minimum Marriage Age; Past and Present

There is a lot of criticism on marriage age in Islam. Some allege that Muslim marriage law allows marriage of minors. However, Quran indicates at least on one place that there is definite age which can be termed as age of marriage:
“Make trial of orphans until they reach the age of marriage; if then ye find sound judgment in them, release their property to them; but consume it not wastefully, nor in haste against their growing up.”
(Quran 4: 6 Abdullah Yusufali)
The Muslim jurists agree that the ‘age of marriage’ mentioned here is age of puberty. Shafis alone declare that age of 15 years should be taken as age of marriage. Other branches of Islam don’t give any specific age but agree that age of marriage can be different in different regions depending upon the age of puberty. Furthermore, consent of a Muslim marriage partner is not recognized unless she reaches to the age of puberty.

Recent History

Different societies have been accepting different levels of age as marriage age in different times. When Quran was revealed the world society was passing through dark ages. Slavery was institution of the day. Women were treated like any other commodity. Islam not only revolted
against these social evils but also allowed the women to enter into marriage contract with their free consent. Quran seems the first book ever that talks about age of marriage.
But marriage age was not a problem till the dawn of 20th century…
English Common Law had allowed a male at the age of 14 and female at the age of 12 years to marry with consent of their parents. The English Marriage Act of 1753 abolished English Common Law but still permitted previously established marriage age. In 1927, the English legislature raised the marriage age to 16 years for the both sexes.
The U.S society followed the English Common law initially and allowed the male of 14 and female of 12 to enter into a marriage contract. However, the law continued changing and today the marriage age for both sexes is different in different states of the United States. The marriages with consent of parents are allowed much earlier than fixed by statutory provisions in different countries and states of the United States.

Today Trends

In 1962 the UNO adopted a ‘Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages’ and stated that men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. The article 2 of the resolution states that parties to the Convention shall take legislative action to specify a minimum age for marriage. No marriage shall be legally entered into by any person under this age, except where a competent authority has granted a dispensation as to age, for serious reasons, in the interest of the intending spouses.
The states who have not fixed the marriage age, whether signatories or not, have legislated differently for age of marriage. This list includes most of countries and states of the United States for minimum legal marriage age for men and women. However, different countries have lower bar for male and female to marry with consent of their parents. The Muslim living in these countries are bound to follow the coded marriage age.
Male 22, Female 20
China (PRC),
Both 21
Puerto Rico, Philippines, Singapore,
Male 21, Female 18
Algeria, Bangladesh, India,
Male 21, Female 17
Mississippi,
Male 16, Female 16
Hong Kong (without parent consent it is 21 for both genders), SAR of China,
Both 20
Senegal, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand,
Male 20, Female 17
Tunisia
Male 20, Female 15
Thailand
Male 19, Female 17
Nebraska
Both 18
Ethiopia, Morocco, Chile, Peru, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming, Venezuela, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka, Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Republic of Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Netherland, Norway, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine
Male 18, Female 17
Indiana, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Uzbekistan, Northern Ireland,
Male 18, Female 16
Pakistan, Egypt, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Ohio, Indonesia, Poland, Portugal, England and Wales, Jersey, Australia, New Zealand,
Male 18, Female 15
Tanzania, Georgia, Hawai, Missouri,
Male 18, Female 14
Afghanistan,
Male 17, Female 14
Madgascar,
Both 16
Kenya, Maldives, Scotland,
Puberty
Sudan, Yemen
Male 16, Female 16
Jordan
Male 16, Female 14
Paraguay
Male 15, Female 13
Iran

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