However, most national legislation allows children to marry at a younger age with the consent of a public authority and/or the consent of their parents. This lower age is mostly set at 16 years. Seven Member States have not regulated any lower age for these exceptions.
- In all Member States, the minimum age required for marriage coincides with the age of majority and is set at 18 years – with the exception of Scotland, where the age of marriage is 16 years, which is also the age of majority.
- Most national legislation provides for the possibility to marry before reaching the age of majority with the consent of the parents and/or a judicial or administrative body. Only in Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden (as well as in Poland, but only with regards to men), no possibility to marry below 18 years exists, as recommended by the CRC Committee.
- For most of the other Member States, the absolute minimum age explicitly set for marriage with consent, either parental or by a public authority, is 16 years. Only Estonia sets the minimum age at 15 years. In Belgium, Finland, France, Greece, Ireland, Luxembourg and Slovenia, no minimum age for marriage is stipulated in the legislation.
- Poland’s legislation makes a distinction between men and women – a woman may request to get married at 16 years, however, there is no such exception for men.
- Some Member States provide for certain exceptions to the minimum age. In Lithuania, a child can marry with consent from the age of 16 years; however, in the case of pregnancy, the court may allow the pregnant child to marry even before that age. In Croatia, a civil court may allow a person who has reached the age of 16 to marry if the judge determines that the child is physically and mentally mature enough for marriage and that the marriage will not jeopardise the child’s well-being.
Latest developments: In Finland, policymakers are assessing whether to set an absolute minimum age for marriage, without any room for dispensation. In Ireland, a bill proposes to remove all exemptions that currently enable children to marry.
Type of consent required for children to marry
- Seven Member States (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Luxembourg, Spain and Romania) require children to obtain both parental and judicial approval if they want to get married before the age of 18 years. However, in some cases, the court can authorise the marriage if it considers the parental refusal to have been unfounded or abusive.
- In Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Poland and Slovakia, a judicial body needs to consent, but parental consent is not needed. In the Czech Republic, Finland and Greece, for example, parents or guardians are heard but their consent is not required.
- In three Member States (Finland, Hungary and Slovenia), an administrative body – rather than a judicial body – approves marriages of children. In Hungary and Slovenia, the parents are heard.
- When a competent body needs to approve a child marriage, the laws provide rather vague criteria that the competent body has to consider, such as ‘serious reasons’ or ‘good cause’, or whether the applicant is considered to be mature for marriage and it is in their best interest. In Cyprus, Latvia, Malta and the United Kingdom, a marriage may be solemnised by parental consent only, and no approvals from further bodies are needed.
Differentiations among religious marriages and registered civil partnerships
- In all of the 18 Member States where religious marriage is legally recognised, the same minimum age requirements apply as for civil marriage.
- Out of the 22 Member States that provide for registered civil partnerships, in 13 Member States – Austria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Greece, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Luxembourg and Slovenia – rules allowing persons under 18 years to marry do not apply to registered civil partnerships.
- In Malta and the United Kingdom, no such differentiation exists; the same rules apply for civil partnerships and marriage.
The UN Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages states that all States parties shall “specify a minimum age for marriage and that 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” (Article 2).
The Joint General Recommendation/General Comment No. 31 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination/General Comment No. 18 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child on harmful practices clarifies that “child marriage is considered to be a form of forced marriage, given that one and/or both parties have not expressed full, free and informed consent” (para. 20). Clear rules related to exceptions permitting marriage for persons under 18 years are essential to ensure that Member States and the EU safeguard the free will of the child and to combat forced marriage, which qualifies as a form of gender-based violence under the Victims’ Rights Directive (2012/29/EU). (See also FRA’s publication Addressing forced marriage in the EU: legal provisions and promising practices). Furthermore, in view of the migration situation in the EU, this issue is increasingly significant in terms of recognition of third-country child marriages as well as of child marriages in a Member State other than the Member State of residence or relocation.