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Citing legal, educational and health factors, the government moved on Thursday to raise from 17 to 18 years the minimum age at which women in Armenia are allowed to marry.

The age limit is set by the Armenian Family Code. The minimum legal age of marriage for men is 18 years.

According to Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasian, international human rights groups regard this age disparity as gender discrimination. “International structures have been urging us to ensure gender equality [in marriage regulation,]” Tovmasian said, presenting a corresponding amendment to the code approved by Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s cabinet. “International experience also shows that that age [for women] is 18,” he added.

Tovmasian argued that the measure is also necessary because of Armenia’s recent transition to a 12-year education cycle, which means that young Armenians are likely to finish high school at the age of 18. Young girls must not be allowed to get married before graduation so that they complete their studies, he said.

Under the previous, Soviet-era system of 10-year schooling the vast majority of Armenian students finished school before coming of age.

Tovmasian also cited health factors behind the government decision that will be sent to the Armenian parliament for approval soon. “We have the Health Ministry’s conclusion that women’s marriage and pregnancy at an early age leads to a number of health problems in the future,” he told fellow ministers.

Government data cited by the justice minister shows that underage girls were involved in roughly 1.5 percent of officially registered marriages in Armenia in the 1990s. The annual number of underage female marriages has shrunk by more than half since then.
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