China to reduce marriage age?

family law

The marriage age in China should be reduced to encourage people to have more children, a lawmaker insists.

Huang Xihua is a member of the National People’s Congress representing Huizhou, a city in the south-eastern Guangdong province. She has proposed legislation which would lower the minimum age for marriage across the country to 18 years old for men and women.

Currently, Chinese men need to be 22 and women must be at least 20 years old before they can legally marry. These are among the highest age requirements in the world. In an interview Huang said that this high marriage age was introduced at the same time as the ‘one child’ policy as a means of population control.

However the Chinese population is getting older. The National Bureau of Statistics, Zhōnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó Guójiā Tǒngjìjú, estimates that by 2030 as much as a quarter of the country’s population will be 60 or older. In response the government has taken steps to encourage women to have more children. These include bringing the ‘one child’ policy to an end, allowing married couples to have two children.

Huang has proposed a reduction of the marriage age before. The idea was called “absurd” by critics when she suggested it back in 2012. The subsequent online debate put her off pursuing the notion for several years but now she believes the time is right to revisit the issue. This change would not require people to marry earlier she insisted, adding that many people in China are choosing to marry later in life and “lowering the limits won’t change that trend”.

Fellow Guangdong delegate He Youlin has joined Huang in calling for something to be done to encourage more births. Speaking to the media about the proposal, He said that people “won’t have many babies if the government doesn’t provide ample measures to help”. Women “who are willing to have babies but dare not do so” must be supported so they become women “who are happy and assured to have babies” he said.

Marriage has become increasingly difficult for men in rural areas of the country. With approximately 118 men for every 100 women in China, families can demand a higher ‘bride price’ from potential suitors. Similar to dowries, these are gifts offered by men to the family of a woman they wish to marry before they are given permission to do so. As a result, poorer rural men have been effectively priced out of marriage.

Photo of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, home of the National People’s Congress, by Jack Versloot via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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