Married at 12 years old

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Married at 12 years old

Post by tandrea » 17 Mar 2019, 04:08


It appears that when my great grandparents married in 1872 in Sicily, my great grandmother was only 12 years old. I understand that although this was not common it did happen occasionally. My question is why would she get married so young and what would be the reaction of the community? would they be accepting of this?


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Re: Married at 12 years old

Post by erudita74 » 20 Mar 2019, 11:33


Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a great deal written about this subject, so it’s difficult to draw a lot of general conclusions. Here’s some info I have gathered though:

Just to give some background information first, there had been a code in existence for southern Italy and Sicily, or for the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, from 1819 until 1860, or right before the unification of Italy in 1865. According to article number 152 of that code, a male could not contract marriage until he had reached the age of fourteen, and a female could not contract marriage until she had reached the age of twelve. With regard to parental consent, article number 163 of that same code, dictated that a male, who had not yet reached the age of twenty-five, and a female, who had not yet reached the age of twenty-one, could not marry without the consent of both the father and the mother. In cases where the parents were in disagreement, the consent of the father was sufficient for the marriage to take place.

From the year 1865, or the time of the unification of Italy, article number 55 of the civil code of the Kingdom of Italy dictated that a male could not contract marriage until he had reached the age of eighteen, and the female until she had reached the age of fifteen. Article 63 of that same code dictated that the male could not contract marriage without the consent of the father and mother until he had reached the age of twenty-five, and the female could not contract marriage without the consent of both parents until she had reached the age of twenty-one. There were exceptions to these rules, however, provided by article number 68 (the link to the code is below but in Italian-pp. 19 and 17) ... 0/mode/2up

Now as to some specific factors, which might have resulted in a young girl marrying at age 12, in a Sicilian town.

1. Family honor was a very important factor in Sicilian culture. So, if your ancestor had gotten herself pregnant, either by being violated, or through consensual sex, then her parents could have arranged for her to marry at such an early age in order to preserve her honor and that of the family. A Sicilian girl’s readiness for marriage, her conduct, her sobriety, and her modesty were the principle indicators of a family’s honor. If she had been raped or sexually violated, she could have been forced to marry the man responsible as, in Sicilian society, to not marry that man would have left her a shameless woman, or a woman without honor, and she and her family, in addition to being disgraced, would have been ostracized by their local community. To remedy the situation, her family could have resorted to a shotgun church marriage for her at age 12, agreed to by a local parish priest (a dispensation from the bishop was needed, not due to the young age of the bride who had parental consent, but because the priest, in order to marry the couple quickly, needed to reduce the number of required banns from three to probably just one. We also don’t normally find ages of the spouses in church marriage records. For a civil marriage, her age of twelve would have been acceptable, but only through a dispensation from the king. While the 1865 civil code doesn’t specify that pregnancy outside of marriage constituted one of the “motivi gravi,” or “serious motives,” for a dispensation to allow a female to marry at age 12, such a situation may have been something that did. Both church and civil marriages required dispensations for blood relations in certain degrees.

2. Another reason for a girl to be married at age twelve may have simply been that her family was extremely poor and needed to get their young daughter out from under their financial support as soon as possible. As one author stated, because of their misery, agricultural laborers marry their daughters off as quickly as possible, as “they consume without producing.” Unmarried sons would go out on their own to find jobs and support themselves, whereas unmarried daughters constituted a financial burden for extremely poor families. So, her family may have arranged for her to marry at such a young age, even without them being able to provide her with a dowry, particularly if the prospective groom was on older man who was willing to do so. I think though that, in the case of your ancestor, since the marriage took place in the early 1870s, when propertied peasant women had an average age of marriage below that of land poor peasants, it’s safe to say that her family probably had some land ownership, regardless of how small, and were financially able to provide her with a sufficient dowry for her marriage. The dowry would normally consist of linens, many of which the girl had even embroidered herself in her younger years, furnishings, and a small house on a small plot of land. In any case, once married, she and her new groom would set up their own separate household (as was the case in Sicilian culture), and she no longer would be a financial burden to her family who now had one less mouth to feed. Related to the economic issue was the fact that the houses of the poor consisted mostly of one room, where all family members slept together, regardless of age and sex. So it was also natural, for this reason as well, for the young girl’s parents to want to get her out of the house.

3. Another reason might have been the prevailing prejudice that women of age twenty were no longer good for marriage, so this may have also motivated families to marry off their daughters at a very young age.

Yes, marriage for a female at age 12 was not the norm in Sicily in 1872, but possibly one of the above reasons applied to your ancestor's situation.


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Re: Married at 12 years old

Post by EllenCatusco » 21 Mar 2019, 19:26

I have recently found out my great aunt was only 13 when she married. And that was here in the US, in 1892.

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