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The "Appropriate Ages" For Marriage From Cultures Around The World

In the United States, the legal age of consent for marriage depends on the state. The average age is 18 to tie the knot without parental consent. But what is the average age in other areas of the world? While there's no set marriage age in many other cultures, there are certainly norms. Some countries base marriage laws on specific ages, while others require parties to have reached puberty before they can be legally wed.

When discussing marriage and sex culture around the world, it's important to acknowledge how different perceptions of maturity and religious beliefs can affect views. Many nations continue to have higher-than-usual rates of child brides, though human and women's rights activists are working to change that. The nuances of what is considered marriage-ready in terms of age varies widely from area to area - and even from person to person - but most would agree that the willingness and understanding of both parties is crucial to such a commitment.

Marriage age around the world is often higher than the age of sexual consent, sometimes even within in the same country. But regardless of your personal views on intimacy and matrimony, learning about marriage culture around the world can provide an intriguing look at how other societies live.

  • There's No Set Marriage Age In Yemen

    Photo: Rod Waddington / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    Yemen's has no minimum age when it comes to marriage; instead, laws allow for the parents to decide the appropriate age for marriage of their children. Unfortunately, child marriage is deeply ingrained in Yemen, with causes like poverty and religious tradition reinforcing the practice. UNICEF estimates that 32% of girls in the country are married before age 18.

  • In Massachusetts, Boys Must Be 14 And Girls Must Be 12 To Marry With Parental Consent

    Photo: Fotasca / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    Many American states have a legal marrying age of 18. However, some states allow minors to marry with certain restrictions. Massachusetts, for instance, does not set a specific minimum age for marriage. According to a controversial precedent set in 1854, boys as young as 14 and girls as young as 12 are allowed to get married in the state.

    There are caveats before those of age can say "I do." A court order is required, and before a judge will grant an order for a minor to wed, both parents of the child must appear and give their consent. If one or both parents live outside of Massachusetts, a court may order notice of the hearing be sent to them. However, no court order is required if a parent has deserted the minor, if the parent cannot give permission due to mental illness or other incapacity, or if the parent has been deemed unfit to have custody.

  • Girls Who Hit Puberty Can Be Married In Sudan

    Photo: Fabian Lambeck / via Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

    Marriage laws in Sudan vary based on religion. The Personal Status Law of Muslims allows a girl to get married once she reaches puberty, and states that 10-year-olds can be married by their guardians with a judge's permission. However, the Marriage of Non-Muslims Act of 1926 sets marriage age at 13 for non-Muslim girls, and 15 for non-Muslim boys.

    Regardless of their religion, UNICEF studies estimate that one in three Sudanese girls marry before the age of 18.

  • Japan's Age Of Consent Is 13

    Photo: keroyama / flickr / CC-BY 2.0

    The age of consent in Japan is 13. However, some regions also have "corruption of minors" or "obscenity" statutes that raise the age of consent to 16 to 18 years old. 

    In terms of marriage, girls of 16 and boys of 18 may get married with parental consent. At age 20, they can be married without parental consent.