Youth-Adult Marriages (often described with the objectifying and sometimes inaccurate term "child marriage"), have existed throughout history. We have documented evidence of many such marriages in Indian society, and while such couples must nowadays hide their existence, TV depictions appear to continue in the modern era - causing some controversy that has been confined to Western-dominated online spaces. Historically, the tradition also extends to the Western world and most certainly to the present in Islam. Within American society, "child marriage" refers 19 in every 20 times to the union of a 16-17 year old youth with another youth or adult.
There exists a body of obscure and sometimes questionable "scientific" content on "child marriage". For example, as late as 2023, scientists were attempting to link extreme weather to increased child marriage.
Among MAPs and Allies
Youth-Adult Marriage is a divisive topic among MAPs, with many left and libertarian MAPs opposing the idea of any marriage as a legally-recognized concept at any age. Nevertheless, pro-c MAP allies have made the argument that Youth-Adult Marriages are not inherently abusive, and that the institutionalization of abuse is dependent upon whether a culture permits or encourages it. These arguments are similar to the arguments already taking place within American society, where an alliance of conservatives and socially libertarian lobbying organizations acts against attempts to raise the age of marriage.
One such argument was mounted on the Heretic TOC blog in 2021:
Today we tend to romanticize marriage, thinking of it only in terms of “love”. This conception, however, risks obscuring what marriage is and what it involves other than “love”. Marriage is not “just a bit of paper”, it’s a contract that bestows recognition by a state, usually privileging the couple with rights that do not apply to unmarried persons. We might, therefore, ask whether MAPs should oppose child marriage by virtue of opposing marriage in general, in terms of equality under the law?
In the 19th century context concerning child brides, Syrett emphasises how marriage facilitated the movement of property / inherited wealth, asserting this to be a major consideration in marriages before the 20th century, particularly among elites. Making sure a man did not marry only to make-off with a girl’s fortune was partly why parents were the final arbiters to “okay” a marriage. Today, the requirement of parental consent to marry under the age of majority persists as a hangover of this provision.
If marriage was simply a dramatized expression of love, a fun ceremony-party where people come together, it becomes much harder to see why intergenerational couples would be prohibited from expressing themselves. At least, in a society where hostility and dismissal (coupled by prison-terms and iatrogenic harm / secondary victimization) were not the a priori response directed at such couples, the practice might find space for cultural sanction.
In Religions and Traditional Cultures
China's Yi people consider the minimum marriageable age for a man to be ten years old, and the minimum for a woman to be nine. In terms of marriageable age, an even number is the best age for the man, and an odd number is the best age for the woman. The ethnic minorities in Guangxi, such as the Zhuang, Miao, Yao and other ethnic minorities, also have a relatively low marriage age, mostly ranging from 7 to 15 years old, and the situation of each tribe is different. Han Chinese who have historically lived around minority areas are also affected and have a relatively low marriage age. After the founding of the Republic of China, the custom of early marriage was suppressed until it was completely banned during the Red China period. "Child marriage" still goes on in some parts of China. In one example in a remote mountainous village, the girl was 13 years old, and the boy 16. They used pseudonyms in the media to protect their privacy.
Contrary Academic Perspectives
Hoko Horii has written extensively, questioning assumptions about the agency of the younger partner in youth-adult marriages.
Nicholas Syrett has written nuanced accounts of Western youth-adult marriage.
There exist many historical examples of successful and productive youth-adult marriages, and others less so, or for which a full background is elusive.
- Prophet Muhammad and his six-year old wife.
- Hélène Boullé at 12, with 36-year old Samuel de Champlain.
- Sibylle of Cleves at 14, in a long marriage.
- Letizia Bonaparte (Napoleon's mother) was married on Corsica at the age of 14 to an 18-year old law student, going on to have eight children who survived infancy.
- Virginia Clemm, at 13 with Edgar Allan Poe.
- In 1937, Eunice (9) and Charlie Johns (24) split media opinion. However, the marriage went on to last until Eunice was widowed at the ripe old age of 70.
- Also in 1937, Geneva Peel, at the age of 12, married Homer Peel, 34 in Tennessee. An attempt to dissolve the illegal marriage failed in court, due to the child's vulnerable living situation. This legal challenge was put forward in line with legislation originating from public outrage at Eunice and Charlie Johns union.
- Dec. 12, 1957, Rock icon, Jerry Lee Lewis marries his 13-year-old cousin, Myra Gale Brown. She gave birth to two of his six children from seven marriages, but goes on to divorce him following public furor and domestic abuse.
- Indian icons, Srinivasa Ramanujan, B. R. Ambedkar, Anandi Gopal Joshi, Rabindranath Tagore, and Chakravarti Rajagopalachari had 9, 9, 9, 10 and 10 year old wives respectively, as was normal in their culture at the time. Rani Laxmibai also married at 13.
The incendiary problematics of "child marriage"
As commonly defined, the term "child marriage" has little validity as a legal or ethical construct, all the more surprising given how popular it is among Western Nongovernmental Organizations. For example, the UN Human/Children's Rights framework, consultative bodies and affiliated NGOs pursue a prohibitionist policy on the topic of "child marriage":
- Regardless of whether the marriages are arranged or otherwise.
- Regardless of whether the marriage involves actual children, or (as is far more common) those arbitrarily deemed to be, by way of minority.
The "international community" therefore risk abandoning adult women who are subjected to arranged marriages, which one may assume there is always an ethical argument against.
After conducting a short literature review, Newgon found widespread evidence of anti "child" (youth-adult) marriage campaigners "overstepping the mark" with respect to their attempts to establish a base of "evidence". Claims made about the effect of "child marriage" on sexual health often recycle discredited tropes about "teen pregnancy" and unsubstantiated statistics from UN reports. It is often impossible to find any evidence these figures are based upon sound methodology and adequately controlled experimental designs. For example, one such paper (written by an activist Physician with no academic credentials) is used frequently by Wikipedia to make multiple such unsupported claims.
Since many countries have laws in place allowing girls in particular to be married in their mid-teens, the concept can also not be said to have any validity as a global legal construct. Such marriages are often deemed necessary for economic and cultural reasons. It appears the idea of combating "child marriage" is instead used to provide an all-too-often unchallenged veneer of credibility for Western Imperialism and arbitrarily define legal relationships in "lesser" cultures as a form of discrimination or violence against girls and women, while ignoring many that doubtless fulfill such criteria, including adult marriages. The intention here, is to promote adherence to a Westernized model of "education" that undermines local/traditional family customs among ethnic groups, and reduces the ability of communities to resist occupation by Western financial elites. This increases the economic dependency of subservient economies upon the US Dollar reserve currency, and may somewhat explain the reluctance of some developing economies to have Western-funded NGOs operating within their borders.
It is also unlikely that keeping all children in education is a "scalable" or sustainable solution for the poorer of these economies, at least for as long as they remain US dependencies with little economic independence. This leaves said economies in a "vicious cycle" whereby they are left with a "problem" (defined by the West) that can never be solved by the Western interventions offered as a solution. The winners in this scenario are Western NGOs that seek rent off the back of developing world problems.
Homer and Geneva Peel
Eunice and Charlie Johns
Eunice and Charlie Johns (continued)
Eunice and Charlie Johns (continued)
Jerry Lee Lewis and his 13-year-old wife, Myra
- Republicans are the real pedophiles - Cliché talking point, in which "Child Marriage" (usually of late teens) is always invoked.
- Smriti Irani Wants 'Immediate Action' Against Pehredaar Piya Ki That Shows Marriage Between Minor Boy And Woman
- Pehredaar Piya Ki goes off air, here’s what happened
- Extreme weather events linked to increased child marriage
- End child marriage in the U.S.? You might be surprised at who's opposed - NBC News
- Should a child ever get married? On Heretic TOC.
- Thighing - WikiIslam
- Paedophilia in Hinduism
- Morality of Marrying Aisha at an Early Age - Muhaddith
- 沙马鲁石 ‖ 康巴彝族婚俗文化（一）
- People.com account
- Bride May Be Only 9, But How She Can Cook!
- Eunice was just 9 when she was married off to a 22-year-old man. Here's what her life looked like.
- 1937: Homer Peel, 34, Kisses His 12-Year-Old Bride Geneva On The Steps Of A Tennessee Courthouse, June 26th, 1937 – Annulment Denied In Child Bride Case, and Homer and Geneva
- How Jerry Lee Lewis’ career was ruined when he married his 13-year-old cousin - NYP
- Nour, N. (2006). Health Consequences of Child Marriage in Africa. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 12(11), 1644–1649.