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Current Issues: Early Marriage

Bangalore, India. 2009. A Muslim bride, only hands seen, sports jewelry as she waits for her marriage to be solemnized. Photo Credit: Aijaz Rahi/AP Images.

The United Nations Child Summit Declaration of 1990, and the Child Rights Act 2003 state that a child is anyone under the age of 18. More than 60 million girls marry under the age of 18, many to men twice their age or older.1 Poverty plays a major role in child marriages, which are seen as a way to provide economic security to young girls. However, studies show that girls who marry at an early age remain poor, have little access to education and have their health endangered.2 The risk of death in pregnancy and delivery for girls under the age 15 is five times higher than for women in their twenties.3

Al-Azhar Al-Sharif in Egypt, a significant Islamic religious body, released a new manual on the rights of Muslim children that states; "Marriage in Islam is regulated by certain rules, namely, children must reach puberty and maturity so that they can get married."4 In November 2006, ministers, politicians and scholars from almost 50 Muslim states gathered for two days in Morocco for the first Islamic Childhood Conference, and called for "measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination against girls and all harmful traditional or customary practices, such as child marriage and female genital mutilation." In Islam intellectual and physical maturity and a woman’s credible permission are prerequisites for a marriage to be valid. There are some that argue the Prophet married Aisha bint Abu Bakr, at the age of 9 and therefore deduct that child marriage is permissible. However, some scholars question the authenticity of the Hadith that claims Aisha was 9 at the time of marriage as this would go against the just and merciful message of Islam, and most importantly, oppose a prerequisite of having a valid Muslim marriage.5

Even though in many countries the legal age of marriage is 18, governments enforce these laws loosely. The percentage of girls married before the age of 18 in Niger is 77 percent and in Mali 77 percent.6 In parts of Ethiopia, 50 percent of girls are married before the age of 15. In Mali, the president of a national women’s association of NGOs, Oumou Touré, states that: “Many girls married at 10, 11 or 12 have died in recent years in the region of Kayes. The new code [possible family law legislation] will put the brakes [on this] because the guilty will from now on be punished and fined.”7 According to Amnesty International, it is estimated that more than 60 percent of young women in Mali married before the age of 18 in 2005.8 Similarly, a 2009 Yemeni Ministry of Social Affairs report found that a quarter of all females in Yemen marry before the age of 15.9 In Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, personal status law is not passed and none of these countries have signed the CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.10 Often new bills are passed in parliaments in several Muslim-majority countries to set the minimum age of marriage to 17 or 18, but then are rejected and found to be ‘unIslamic’.

[1] CARE: Child Marriages
[2] ibid.
[3] ibid.
[4] Times of Nigeria: Yerima And The Issue Of Early Marriage
[5] Studying Islam: Was Ayesha A Six-Year-Old Bride?
[6] Center for Disease Control: Health Consequences of Child Marriage in Africa
[7] IRIN: Threats of violence greet new family code
[8] ibid.
[9] LA Times: Islamic lawmaker decries child marriage ban as part of 'Western agenda'
[10] Family Law Chart- Women’s Learning Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace.

Related Current Issues

Freedom to Choose Marriage Partner

Organizations Active on this Issue

Sisters in Islam


Newspaper/Magazine Articles

BBC: The Afghan women jailed for 'bad character'

Care. Child Marriages.

Disu, Kamor. Yerima And The Issue Of Early Marriage. Times of Nigeria

IRIN. MALI: Threats of violence greet new family code

IRIN. YEMEN: “I’d rather die than go back to him”

T.O. Shanavas. Was Ayesha A Six-Year-Old Bride?

Child Marriage: our commitment to ending it

Bilkisu, Hajiya. "Ethiopia: A Focus on Child Marriage." Daily Trust Newspaper.

Bilkisu, Hajiya, "Ethiopia: A Focus on Child Marriage II." Daily Trust Newspaper

Scholarly Articles

Norani, Othman. “Muslim Woman and the Challenge of Islamic Extremism.” Women Studies International Forum, 2006.

Relevant Books

Jamal, Badawi. “Gender Equity in Islam: Basic Principles.”, American Trust Publications, 1995.

Nujood, Ali & Delphine, Minoui. “I am Nujood Age 10 and Divorced.” Three Rivers Press, NY, 2010.

Ruqayyah Waris Maqsood. “The Muslim Marriage Guide.”, The Quilliam Press, 1995.


Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (1993)

Fourth World Conference on Women [FWCW]: Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (1995)

World Conference on Human Rights: Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (1993)

CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation 21: Equality in Marriage and Family Relations (1994)

Women's Learning Partnership for Rights, International Law

Women's Learning Partnership for Rights, Development and Peace, Family Law Charts

WISE Women Active on Issue

Sophia Abdi Noor

Fatima Outaleb