Under-16s no longer allowed to marry in Spain as new law comes into force

Previous legislation permitted 14-year-olds to wed on a case-by-case basis

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Marriages in which one or both partners are under 16 are no longer allowed in Spain.Getty Images

Youths under 16 years of age will no longer be allowed to marry in Spain. The Voluntary Jurisdiction Law, which goes into effect on July 23, raises the minimum legal marriage age and eliminates the possibility of a judge allowing 14-year-olds to wed on a case-by-case basis, as the previous legislation permitted.

Under the new rules, only emancipated over-16s will be allowed to marry.

We’re in the 21st century and it’s normal for young people to marry later”

Mariano González, Roma Union of Madrid

Marriages where one or both partners are legally still children have been declining steeply since 1975. The peak year since then was 1979, when there were 2,837 unions of this type. In most of those cases, the minors were girls who married older men.

By comparison, over the last 14 years just 365 under-16s have entered into wedlock.

Carlos Martínez-Almeida, president of advocacy group Childhood Platform told news agency Europa Press that even though the number of marriages involving under-18s these days was statistically “irrelevant,” the law would place “one more hurdle in the way of occasional but enormously serious practices such as forced marriage.”

“It expands the protection of children in Spain, preventing abuse against minors by adults, facilitating the fight against pedophilia and forced marriages, and making national legislation more coherent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” he added.

The change comes accompanied by an alteration to the penal code that raises the minimum age of consent in Spain from 13 to 16. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Council of Europe had repeatedly asked Spain to raise this age, which was the lowest in the whole of the EU.

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Sara Giménez, director of the equal rights department at the Gypsy Secretariat Foundation, supports the new threshold because “it is an age limit that brings us in line with other European countries.”

Although couples from Roma communities traditionally marry younger than other groups in Spain, “it is reasonable to make it 16 because that is an age when people are able to make their own informed decisions,” added Giménez.

Mariano González, manager of the Roma Union of Madrid, also welcomed the new rules.

“We’re in the 21st century and it’s normal for young people to marry later,” he said. “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.”

English version by Susana Urra.

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