Child Marriage in Europe: Unveiling Its Dark Historical Roots

Child Marriage in Europe: Unveiling Its Dark Historical Roots


Child marriage, a practice where girls and boys under the age of 18 are married, has been a pervasive issue across many parts of the world. While the prevalence of this harmful practice has significantly reduced globally, it is surprising to discover that child marriages have occurred even in Europe, an area often considered more progressive and advanced in terms of human rights and gender equality. This article aims to delve into the history of child marriage in Europe, shedding light on its dark roots and exploring the factors that allowed this practice to persist in the past. By understanding the historical context, we can effectively address this issue and work towards its eradication.

The Historical Context of Child Marriage in Europe:

1. Cultural and Religious Norms: Child marriages were common in ancient civilizations, including Greece, Rome, and various medieval European societies. These marriages were rooted in cultural and religious norms that emphasized traditional roles and gender expectations. Girls were often seen as commodities that needed to be married off at a young age to ensure their future security and maintain family honor.

2. Political Alliances: Throughout history, child marriages had strategic importance, serving as a means to forge political alliances between powerful families or nations. The marriages of young princesses, for example, were used to solidify peace treaties and strengthen diplomatic relations. This practice was prevalent in medieval Europe, where marriages between young girls and adult men were arranged to strengthen political bonds and secure territorial claims.

3. Economic Factors: In agrarian societies, child marriages were often based on economic considerations. Families saw marrying their daughters at a young age as a way to alleviate the financial burden of raising them and providing dowries. These marriages were sometimes arranged in exchange for a payment or land from the groom’s family, thus benefiting both parties economically.

The Survival of Child Marriage in Europe:

Although child marriage is no longer legally permitted in Europe today, it is essential to recognize that this harmful practice persists in some communities due to various factors. These factors include:

1. Migration: Migration from regions where child marriage is still practiced, such as parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, has led to the continuation of this practice within diaspora communities in Europe. Cultural norms and traditions often transcend geographical boundaries, and migrants may continue to follow these traditions, including child marriages, within their new homes.

2. Social Pressure: In tight-knit communities where traditional values are deeply held, social pressure plays a significant role in perpetuating child marriages. Families may fear social ostracization if they do not conform to these customs, leading them to continue the practice despite its illegality.

3. Lack of Awareness: Limited knowledge and awareness about the consequences of child marriage contribute to its persistence. In some cases, families may genuinely believe that marrying off their daughters at a young age is in their best interest, based on cultural or religious beliefs. Combatting child marriage requires comprehensive education campaigns and promoting legal and social support systems that protect and empower young girls.


Q1: How prevalent is child marriage in Europe today?
A1: Exact statistics on the prevalence of child marriage in Europe are challenging to obtain due to its clandestine nature. However, available data suggests that child marriages occur, albeit rarely, in some marginalized and immigrant communities.

Q2: Is child marriage legal in Europe?
A2: Child marriage is illegal throughout Europe. The minimum age for marriage is typically set at 18 years, with some countries allowing exceptions in certain circumstances, but always requiring parental or judicial consent and comprehensive assessments of the child’s best interests.

Q3: What are the consequences of child marriage on the lives of young girls?
A3: Child marriage robs young girls of their childhood, education, and opportunities for personal and professional growth. They are often subjected to physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and are at an increased risk of experiencing complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

Q4: How can child marriage be effectively combatted in Europe?
A4: Combating child marriage requires a multi-faceted approach, including comprehensive sex education, awareness campaigns, legal reforms, and support systems for at-risk girls. Engaging the affected communities, religious leaders, and grassroots organizations is essential to effect lasting change.


Child marriage in Europe, despite no longer being legally permitted, continues to be an issue in certain communities due to historical and cultural factors. Understanding its dark historical roots helps us comprehend the complex dynamics behind this practice and develop effective strategies for eradication. By addressing the social, economic, and cultural factors that contribute to child marriages, Europe can work towards creating a future where all children are protected from this harmful tradition. It is crucial to establish robust networks of support and education, ensuring that no child’s future is sacrificed at the expense of tradition or convention.

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