Mapping the Ratification Status of the 1962 Convention on Consent to Marriage

Sanne Bloemendaal, Tumelo Modise & Casey Richardson

While this convention is not one of the core UN human rights instruments, it is an important element of the human rights regime promoting and protecting women’s rights. The convention has three essential goals. First, echoing Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the convention establishes that marriage is a legal contract “entered into” with the “full and free consent of both parties.” By challenging “certain customs, ancient laws or practices” that contradict these principles, the convention’s second goal is to obligate state parties to establish a minimum age for marriage. While each state is free to determine the minimum age a woman can enter a marriage, the convention’s preamble calls for the elimination of “child marriages and the betrothal of young girls before the age of puberty.” The convention’s last objective is for state parties to establish an “official register” to allow a “competent” authority to guarantee that officiated marriages are promoting the first two objectives.

To better understand which states have currently ratified this instrument, we created a choropleth map, using the ggplot2 package for R. We extrapolated the data from the UN Treaty Collection’s website and we classified UN member states into three distinct groups. We designate states that have not ratified or signed this instrument as having taken “no action”.  A “state party” is classified as a state that has ratified the treaty or acceded to its rules. A “signatory state” is a state which has signed but has not ratified the instrument. 

This map shows that a majority of UN member states, especially those located in Africa and Asia,  have not ratified this treaty. These traditions worsen gender inequality by mainly targeting girls who fall victim to these practices. 

While 121 states have failed to sign or ratify this instrument, it is worth noting that many of this treaty’s provisions are part of the 1979 Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which has been ratified or acceded by more than 185 countries. Yet the challenges this convention addresses still persist. For example, data collected by UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) argues that while declining “from one in four girls married a decade ago to approximately one in five today, the practice remains widespread.” This custom is not only practiced in Africa or Asia, but it is also prevalent in many developed states, as a recent investigation conducted by Al Jazeera demonstrates. For example, while the United States has signed the treaty, child marriage is still legal in 44 states, showing how the contrasting beliefs held by different states keep the country from reaching a consensus on an incredibly important topic. 

Questions regarding marriage are still controversial, clashing with more traditional social and religious traditions. These challenges are so acute that they are part of the UN’s 2030 Agenda. The fifth sustainable development goal, which addresses gender equality, includes a target of ending forced marriages, especially among minors. Although progress has been made on these issues, it is also important to recognize that the UN has been trying to address these challenges since the 1950s.

Want to learn more about this legal instrument?

Data on this convention’s ratification status is available on the World Politics Data Lab’s GitHub page. The most recent dataset was uploaded to the repository on October 25, 2022.

For more information on the convention’s history and for its current application, please refer to the following academic writings:

About the authors:

Sanne Bloemendaal is a senior at Drew University majoring in International Relations and Business, and minoring in Law, Justice, and Society. 

Tumelo Modise is a junior majoring in International Relations at Drew University.

Casey Richardson is a junior at Drew University majoring in International Relations and minoring in Russian Studies. 

Editor’s note: This post is part of a long-term project. Students enrolled in Drew University’s Semester on the United Nations, Principles in International Law and International Human Rights have been and will be collecting data on the ratification status of treaties deposited in the United Nations Treaty Collection. For more information on this project and its learning goals, click here.

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