Throughout the world, marriage arguably is one of the most important social and legal institutions. The socially and legally recognised bond between a man and a woman lies at the heart of most families. However, there is no globally uniform understanding of marriage. Its meaning is inseparably linked to culture, religion and social class. The purpose of this essay is limited to providing a comparative perspective on the situation in five different Arab and Islamic countries. The main focus is on the minimum age for marriage. Child marriages are a major concern of both human rights organisations and international treaties. There is a strong link between marriageable age and the overall status of women in society: the earlier a woman marries, the more the time for her education, employment and personal development is constrained.
In many countries, various attempts have been made to ban marriages between minors. In Arab and Islamic countries, difficulties in this area also arise from tensions between traditional interpretations of religious sources on the one hand, and international treaty commitments on the other.
The first section of this paper introduces the classical Islamic law position on marriageability. The second part provides a brief outline of the international framework with regard to the age at which marriage is permitted. The third and central part is dedicated to an analysis of legal developments in five different Islamic countries - Morocco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan – as well as a consideration of the political, historical and social framework of marriage in those countries and the current legal situations which apply there. The fourth and final part of the paper recapitulates the results of this analysis and presents the conclusions drawn from it.