Legal Age For Marriage: Ministry Against Change

The Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection has waded into ongoing arguments by some people who are calling on the government to increase the age for which a person may legally enter into marriage, from the present 18 years to 23 years.

A statement issued on behalf of the ministry by Matilda Tettey of the Communications and Media Unit indicated that 23 years may not be desirable because it could not guarantee that at that age, a person would be fully prepared for marriage as argued.

It said at the international level, there were several Declarations and Covenants at both the global and regional levels that dealt with the issue of marriage. The Convention directly addressing the issue of marriage is the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age and Registration of Marriages 1964, which obliges States to stipulate the minimum age for marriage.

According to that statement, marriage is a union between two adults with their consent. The important elements in the union are the consent of the parties getting married and their ages, adding that having regard to the implications attendant upon marriage, it is a matter which is highly regulated by law at both the international and national levels.

Under the laws of Ghana, the relevant laws are the Marriages Act 1884-1985 and the Children’s Act 1998. The Children’s Act 1998 provides in section 13(2) that a person of 18 years and above may legally enter into marriage. This is because the laws of Ghana recognise a person who attains 18 years as an adult, devolving unto him or her the right to vote.

Apart from Ghana considering an 18-year-old capable of entering into marriage, the prescribed age is also in conformity with international practice, as 82 per cent of the world’s countries prescribe 18 years as the marriageable age. Sixty-seven percent of the countries in Africa also prescribe 18 years as the marriageable age.

This common international practice is justified not only because it is practised by a large proportion of the world’s countries indicating acceptance, but because the difficulties in enforcing a higher marriageable age is acknowledged and age 18 is better than below 18 years.

In fact, in Africa, 13 countries prescribe a lower age for marriage, some prescribing as low as 13 years or even lower if a girl attains puberty at an earlier age. Five African countries prescribe above 18 years with the highest prescription being 21 years.

According to the statement, the argument that increasing marriageable age to 23 years will ensure that young women will become physically, socially and psychologically prepared before they bear children is firstly, suggestive of discrimination against women.

It asked whether “the law is to be amended to increase the age for marriage for only women? If the change is recommended for both sexes, what will be the justification for men? Can we say as a fact that at a particular age persons will be fully prepared for marriage?”

It said secondly, it could not be true for every woman that at the age of 18 years, she would not be physically, socially and psychologically prepared for child bearing.

It is often said that maturity is not commensurate with age. Increasing the marriageable age may not necessarily mean a person will be prepared at age 23 for the responsibilities attendant upon marriage.

Additionally, certain traditional practices in Ghana require young girls to get married even earlier than 18 years. Increasing the marriageable age will therefore increase the number of child marriages which we are striving to curtail.

It said it was important to note that under the country’s laws, anyone who compels a person below 18 years to get married, with or without the child’s consent commits an offence and is liable to suffer not less than six months or more than three years imprisonment. “As a nation, we need to focus on the effective implementation of this law to address the issue of child marriage rather than compounding the issue. It is therefore recommended that the marriageable age be maintained at 18 years.