Spain raises minimum marriage age from 14 to 16 to stop forced unions and sexual exploitation

It comes months after the age of sexual consent was raised from 13

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The Independent Online

Spain has raised the minimum age of marriage from 14 to 16 in a move human rights groups hope will crack down on forced marriage and exploitation.

Over-16s still need parental consent or judicial authorisation to wed as the legal marrying age in most cases is still 18.

The change comes months after the government raised the age of consent for sexual relations from 13 to 16.

The United Nations and children’s charities had urged Spain to bring the figures in line with other European countries, arguing that the law left children vulnerable to abuse.

Ana Sastre, from Save the Children from Spain, previously said: “Fundamentally it's a measure of protection to avert possible forced marriages, sexual exploitation or offences against children, especially girls.”

Unicef also welcomed the change after years of campaigning, raising concerns over interrupted education and abuse alongside the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and Council of Europe.

Until Thursday, 14-year-olds were permitted to marry with permission from a judge, while those aged 16 or over needed parental consent.

Very few under 16s have married in Spain in recent years - just five last year and two in 2013, according to official statistics.

Since 1975, 28,690 minors have married in Spain and the highest peak was recorded in 1979, with 2,837 such unions involving 2,763 girls.

High youth unemployment rates combined with the recession means that more young Spaniards are living with their parents and delaying tying the knot until much later - 37 on average for men and 34 for women.

Couples from Spain’s Roma community traditionally marry younger than other groups but leaders said it was time to change.

Mariano González, manager of the Roma Union of Madrid, told El Pais: “We’re in the 21st century and it’s normal for young people to marry later.

“In past decades, it was normal for any couple, whether Gypsy or not, to marry younger. Although our own tradition is what it is, now we are marrying later. This law is a step forward for the times we live in.”

Marriage and civil partnerships is legal from the age of 16 with parental consent, and 18 without, in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In Scotland people can marry from 16 with no permission needed.

Additional reporting by Reuters