Law requires free and full consent of parties to a marriage

Law requires free and full consent of parties to a marriage

Law requires free and full consent of parties to a marriage

The country has passed legislation at the national level that requires the free and full consent for marriage of both female and male parties.

Data Requirement(s):

Evidence of legislation with supporting documentation that includes clear requirements for non-coercive consent of both parties for marriage, the minimum age for consent, how this consent shall be given by the parties through written or oral means, and how consent is to be witnessed and legally registered.

National legislative documentation on consent for marriage and any amendments

This indicator measures national-level legislative compliance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which recognizes the right to “free and full” consent to a marriage and acknowledges that consent cannot be “free and full” when one of the individuals involved is not sufficiently mature to make an informed decision about a life partner (UNICEF, 2005). Early marriage or child marriage is defined as the marriage or union between two people in which one or both parties are younger than 18 years old (McIntyre, 2006; ICRW, 2005). However, women over the age of 18 can also be forced into marriages without their consent, especially in low-income settings and where women’s education is limited. In a number of countries, particularly in poorer rural areas, girls are often betrothed or committed to an arranged marriage without their knowledge or consent. Such an arrangement can occur as early as infancy. Parents often see marriage as providing protection for their daughter from sexual assault and offering the care of a male guardian (McIntyre, 2006). Many parents often feel that a young girl is an economic burden and therefore wish to marry off their young daughters before they become an economic liability (CGD, 2008; McIntyre, 2006) or before they shame the family with an out-of-wedlock birth. In addition to the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child  guarantees the rights of children and adolescents, including freedom from discrimination, abuse and exploitation; participation in decisions affecting their lives; privacy; and access to education, health information and services for their well-being. All of these rights have direct implications for adolescent and young women’s reproductive health (UNFPA, 2005).

Adolescent girls who are married often find it difficult to access reproductive health services, negotiate the use of family planning methods with their partners, and marriage to older men may make girls more vulnerable to STIs and HIV. About 14 million women and girls between ages 15 and 19 (both married and unmarried) give birth each year and, for this age group, complications of pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death, with unsafe abortion being a major factor (UNFPA, 2005). Adolescent mothers are more likely to have children with low birth weight, inadequate nutrition and anemia, and these young women are more likely to develop cervical cancer later in life. Moreover, early childbearing is linked to obstetric fistula, a devastating and socially isolating condition that can leave women incontinent, disabled, and in chronic pain. An analysis of DHS data from 10 countries and related research show that early marriage is associated with gender-based violence (Hindin et al., 2008).  Helping girls go to and stay in school may be one of the best ways to foster later, chosen marriage, and is in keeping with achieving MDG #3, to promote gender equality and empower
women through seeking to eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education and improve ratios of females to males in tertiary education (UNDP, 2007).

While this indicator demonstrates the existence of legislation on the books to protect free and full consent of both parties for marriage, it does not measure the implementation and prosecution of these laws.

policy, women’s status, empowerment, violence

The indicator specifies the importance of free and full consent of both male and female partners, yet cultural gender norms generally place the female in the disadvantaged position of being forced into marriage without their consent and often the case is young girls with older men.

Center for Global Development (CGD). 2008. Girls Count: A Global Investment & Action Agenda. Washington, DC: CGD.

Hindin, M., S. Kishor, and D. Asara. 2008. “Intimate Partner Violence among Couples in 10 DHS Countries: Predictors and Health Outcomes.” DHS Analytical Studies No. 18. Calverton, MD: Macro International.

International Center for Research on Women (ICRW). 2005. Too Young to Wed: Education and Action toward Ending Child Marriage. Washington, DC: ICRW.

McIntyre, P. 2006. Married Adolescents: No Place of Safety. Geneva: WHO.

U.N. Development Program, 2007, Tracking the Millennium Development Goals, MDG Monitor, New York: UNDP.

UNFPA, 2011, Child Marriage Fact Sheet, New York: UNFPA.

UNFPA, 2005, ‘The Promise of Gender Equality: Gender Equity, Reproductive Health and the MDGs’, State of the World Population 2005, New York; UNFPA.

UNICEF, 2005, Early Marriage: A Harmful Traditional Practice. New York: United Nations.

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