The missing link between legal age of sexual consent and age of marriage in sub-Saharan Africa: implications for sexual and reproductive health and rights

Ahinkorah, Bright Opoku, Okyere, Joshua, Hagan, John Elvis, Seidu, Abdul Aziz, Aboagye, Richard Gyan, and Yaya, Sanni (2021) The missing link between legal age of sexual consent and age of marriage in sub-Saharan Africa: implications for sexual and reproductive health and rights. Reproductive Health, 18. 128.

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Child marriage is a fundamental violation of human rights and a threat to access to education, sexual and reproductive health care, and employment. It also threatens freedom from violence, reproductive rights, movement, and the right to consensual marriage. In most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, the legal age of marriage is 18 years. Hence, girls who marry before 18 years are considered as victims of child marriage. Closely knitted to legal age for marriage is the issue of age for sexual consent, which refers to the minimum age at which a person is considered to have the legal capacity to consent to sexual intercourse. While there seem to be a standard legal age for marriage, the legal age for sexual consent varies in most countries in sub-Saharan Africa and is often lower than the legal age of marriage. In this commentary, we argue that the gap between the legal age of sexual consent and marriage partly accounts for some of the sexual and reproductive health challenges such as intimate partner violence, sexually transmitted infections, adolescent pregnancy, early childbirth, including unsafe abortions among adolescent girls in sub-Saharan Africa and infringements on their sexual and reproductive health rights. This commentary highlights strategic potential interventions that could help address the identified gaps. We argue that aligning the age for sexual consent and marriage is not the solution to the problem. However, what is critical is the education of young people about sexual and reproductive health issues and comprehensive sexuality education through advocacy networks at the national and local levels. Thus, the key is to provide accurate, timely, and non-judgmental sexual and reproductive health and rights information to young people irrespective of the prevailing age of consent. This provision will empower them to make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health.

Item ID: 69968
Item Type: Article (Commentary)
ISSN: 1742-4755
Keywords: Adolescents, Age of marriage, Sexual consent, Sub-Saharan Africa
Copyright Information: © The Author(s) 2021, corrected publication 2021. Open Access This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.
Date Deposited: 25 May 2022 03:39
FoR Codes: 42 HEALTH SCIENCES > 4206 Public health > 420606 Social determinants of health @ 100%
SEO Codes: 20 HEALTH > 2005 Specific population health (excl. Indigenous health) > 200509 Women's and maternal health @ 100%
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