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Minimum Marriage Age Raised From 16 to 18 in England and Wales

Man putting engagement ring on womans hand for their marriage

The legal age of marriage and civil partnerships in England and Wales is to be raised from 16 to 18, in what is hoped will stop child brides from being forced into marriage.

Currently, 16 and 17-year-olds can get married with parental consent, but campaigners have warned this has been exploited and used to coerce some young people into child marriages.

The law will not only make it illegal for those younger than 18 to marry in England and Wales, but it will also make it a criminal offence to be involved in arranging the marriage of someone that young. Currently, parents who force their children to marry can be punished by up to seven years in prison under legislation passed in 2014.

The reform will not affect the validity of any marriages or civil partnerships that happened before the legislation comes into effect. The legislation does not apply to Northern Ireland, where at aged 16 you require parental consent or Scotland, where men and women can get married without parental consent.

The new law can also be enforced on cultural and religious marriages that are not registered with the local council and for adults who take children abroad to get married. Figures released by the ONS last year show 140 teenage girls and 43 teenage boys were married with parental consent in 2017. Whilst the statistics were generally declining, it is widely believed that this recorded data does not capture the scale of those being wed in non-legal, religious and customary ceremonies.

Saving Lives

Conservative MP for Mid Derbyshire, Pauline Latham OBE who proposed the bill said it would “transform the life chances of many girls”. Ms. Latham thanked supporters on Twitter: “thank you to all those who have supported the campaign to end child marriage once and for all in this country.”

Payzee Malika who was coerced into marriage aged 16 and campaigns against child marriage after her sister, Banaz, was murdered in a so-called “honour killing” joined Ms. Latham in Parliament for the final reading of The Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill.

“Every day I thought of her. I fought for her. This law could have saved her.”

Payzee Malika, 26 April 2022

Following the historic achievement, she tweeted: “today, tears of joy roll down my face because I know what this means for girls like me.” Malika who unrelentingly campaigned for change said she remembered her sister every step of the way.

Payzee Malik, 26 April 2022

Previous Attempts for Change

The bill, which had its third reading in the House of Lords on Tuesday, has sailed through Parliament with very little opposition and will now head for Royal Assent, its final stage before enaction in England and Wales.

It is not surprising there was little opposition to the bill, considering several previous private member’s bills have aimed to raise the minimum age of marital consent. A recent attempt came in 2021 from Sajid Javid, who drafted a bill to end a rule that allowed 16 and 17-year-olds to marry with their parents’ permission.

He argued that under-18s who marry were more likely to suffer domestic or sexual violence, be socially isolated, and drop out of education – even when marriages are not forced.

Mr Javid said raising the legal age to marry remained “one glaring thing that stands out” in the battle to stop forced marriages.

Final Thought

For those lucky enough to escape child marriages like Payzee Malika, this will surely be historic day which has been years in the making. The bill will empower young people who are at risk, and act as a deterrent for those trying to arrange any marriage for under-18s.

However, it will take time for that information to trickle through to the communities and vulnerable young people it will most effect. Raising awareness and keeping people informed of the laws in place to protect and support them will be vital in ensuring the legislation is as impactful as possible.

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