A new law came into force in February which raises the legal age of marriage to 18 in England and Wales. The introduction of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 means that 16 and 17 year olds will no longer be able to marry or enter a civil partnership, even with parental consent. Girls forced into child marriage are often subjected to domestic abuse, leading to long term physical and mental health problems. They may be made to leave education early and consequently have limited career opportunities, or coerced into starting a family before they are physically or emotionally ready.
The new law aims to protect vulnerable children from exploitation and makes it a criminal offence to bring about an arranged marriage even if there is no force or duress involved. Prior to this forced marriage was only an offence if threats had been used to coerce someone into entering into the arranged marriage. The Act includes ‘traditional’ marriage ceremonies which although not legally-binding would still be viewed as such by the families involved. Tackling the issue of forced child marriage forms part of the government’s commitment to address violence against women and girls, and the new law means that anyone found guilty of arranging a child marriage faces up to seven year behind bars. Raising the legal age of marriage to 18 also recognises that this is the age at which a child enters adulthood and attains full citizenship.
Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab, said: “This law will better protect vulnerable young people, by cracking down on forced marriage in our society. Those who act to manipulate children into marrying under-age will now rightly face the full force of the law.” Minister for Safeguarding, Sarah Dines, added: “Forced marriage is an abuse of human rights which denies vulnerable children the freedom to learn, grow and thrive.”
Since their introduction in 2008, nearly 3,500 Forced Marriage Protection Orders were issued by the Courts to prevent threats, violence or emotional abuse being used to coerce someone into marriage. In addition, in 2021 alone the government’s Forced Marriage Unit provided support and advice to 118 individuals under the age of 18. The change to the law is a further step in the government’s commitment given to the United Nations to end child marriage by 2030.
The pressure group Girls Not Brides welcomed the new legislation, saying it will “recognise all those married under the age of 18 as victims of forced marriage, creating a route for identification and reporting of illegal child marriage.” Campaigner Payzee Mahmod, a survivor of child marriage whose sister Banaz was murdered in an honour killing in 2006, added: “This is probably one of the most important days of my life. It’s very emotional for me because I know truly, in great detail, the harms of child marriage. The new law means the onus is no longer on the child to have to speak up against their parents or their community when they are faced with child marriage.”
The Children Law department at Bretherton Law have been helping families in Hertfordshire for over 50 years, offering professional, experienced and sympathetic advice to those in need. We are proud to be accredited by the Law Society in Family and Children Law, and are members of Resolution, the organisation representing family lawyers and other professionals in the field.
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Girls Not Brides: About Child Marriage