Spain’s legal marriage age increased from 14 to 16 on Thursday, bringing the country’s policies in line with the majority of Europe. The law also raises the legal age of sexual consent to 14 years old from 13.
The previous policy allowed some of the earliest marriages on the continent. Now, the only exceptions are Andorra and the Ukraine (age 14) and Estonia (age 15), El País reports.
Marriage at such early ages has declined significantly in recent years. Of the more than 28,000 people under 16 to get married in the country since 1975, only 365 of those did so after 2000 and less than ten in the last year, according to Spain’s National Institute of Statistics. With these trends in mind, politicians and activists alike say the new law is a mostly symbolic move against pedophilia and forced marriage. Even so, unions at 16 will require special permission from a judge; otherwise, the minimum will be 18.
The country’s sizable Gypsy population, known for its tradition of early marriage, has expressed support for the new measure. “It’s the 21st century and it’s normal for young people to take longer to get married,” Mariano González, manager of the Roma Union of Madrid, told El País. “In past decades, it was normal for any couple, Gypsy or not [to get married early]. Although our tradition is what it is, now we get married later. This law is a step forward.”