Protecting Our Children – The New Legal Age for Marriage
On 27th February 2023, The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act came into force. This increased the legal minimum age for marriage to 18 years in England and Wales. Prior to this, children as young as 16 years old could marry with parental consent or from 18 years of age without such consent.
Why has the marriage law changed?
Campaigners have battled for over 5 years to increase the minimum legal age for marriage to 18 years. Campaigners stated that the purported loop hole in the previous law allowed forced marriages of children to occur on an all too frequent basis for children aged 16 and 17 years old. Vulnerable young people were being coerced into marriage believing this was required of them due to their religious or cultural backgrounds and there was no protection from this within UK law. This led to children being forced to marry adults often more than double their age.
The campaign to increase the legal age for marriage in England and Wales was led by Pauline Latham, Conservative MP. Child marriage has been an increasing problem within the UK for many years with the Courts of England and Wales issuing 3,343 forced marriage protection orders from 2008 when they were introduced to September 2022. Campaigners did not feel the age limit of 16 was protective enough and exposed young children to the risk of harm, abuse and exploitation.
This reform to the law is only one step along the way and comprehensive change to gender inequality is required to help safeguard our children and young people.
What are the consequences of this new law?
The new law makes it illegal to arrange for a child to marry under the age of 18 whether or not there is force used. It also imposes potential sanctions for those who assist with booking marriages such as arranging a flight or booking a venue. The new law prevents non-legally binding religious marriages, which although not binding in the law of England and Wales, would be viewed as binding by the victims’ parents and family members. Any adult who facilitates such a marriage, can face up to seven years in prison.
Campaigners have hailed the new law as a significant milestone in the protection of children. Child marriage remains an issue globally with charities such as ‘Girls Not Brides’ campaigning for change to be brought in other nations. It is hoped that the new law in force in England and Wales shall offer protection for children here and shall be the catalyst for change in other nations.