An interesting development in UK marriage law was announced by the government recently. Ministers have backed raising the legal age of marriage in England and Wales to 18 to prevent children being coerced into marriage. Under current laws, 16 and 17-year-olds can marry with the consent of their parents.
The landmark reform will be introduced to protect vulnerable children and prevent child abuse, according to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). The move to raise the minimum legal age of marriage in England and Wales is being spearheaded by former chancellor Sajid Javid, who has said he will introduce a private member’s bill in the House of Commons.
Mr Javid spoke out against a current legal loophole that ‘forces’ some teenagers into marriage and said that the government is ‘tirelessly working’ to end child marriage in the developing world only for British law to be permitting child marriage by ‘the back door’.
Bangladesh legal age of marriage
Javid highlighted Bangladesh as an example, which lowered its legal age of marriage to 16 from 18, and justified doing so by referencing Britain’s laws.
Mr Javid also referenced his own personal experiences within the community he was raised in, where he said that young girls were expected to enter into marriage before they were ready to… often with painful consequences.
“Let’s call this what it is,” he said, “child abuse.”
A bill set to be presented on raising the legal age of marriage is expected to get cross-party backing.
The director of the charity Karma Nirvana, Natasha Rattu, said: “We are delighted that after relentless campaigning the government has listened to our joint calls to end child marriage by committing to raising the legal age to 18.”
Make child marriage a crime
However, Ms Rattu said that while the bill is a ‘huge step in the right direction’, she insisted that child marriage should be a crime, claiming that this would ensure ‘maximum safeguards against all forms of child marriage’ and sends out a ‘clear and decisive message that child marriage will not be tolerated’.
Mr Javid said: “It’s very clear that we must legislate to close the existing loophole so that vulnerable children are not pushed into serious and life-changing commitments before they are ready.”
It was noted that not all marriages among young people are ‘forced’. Many teenagers enter into marriage willingly with the consent of their parents. However, most marriages involving ‘young people’ end in divorce, with some statistics putting divorce rates among those in their 20s at 60%.
However, there are success stories across the UK of people who married at 16 and are still together, including Britain’s youngest bridegroom Leslie Coneley, who married his childhood sweetheart, Bonnie Buckland (17), just 18 days after his 16th birthday.
There are also many couples who married at 16 now celebrating 60th, 70th and even 80th wedding anniversaries, highlighting that some couples were always meant to be.
Under 18 and married?
Thank you to Claire Holland for this very useful blog. If you’re under 18, or the parent/guardian of someone under 18, and you need supportive, confidential advice about divorce, reach out to Claire and her team at Holland Family Law today – they feature in The Hug Directory.
The Government website has resources if you need to stop a forced marriage or you need help leaving a marriage you’ve been forced into. Click HERE
Do you feel trapped in a marriage? Speak to people within our community about how you’re feeling – online forum.