(CMR) Teens under 18 years old have been banned from getting married in England and Wales, a move to prevent vulnerable children from being forced to wed. This means 16 and 17-year-olds can no longer get married or enter into a civil partnership, even with parental consent.
The new law which came into effect on Monday has been hailed as a significant milestone in child protection.
Under the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act, it is now a crime to arrange for children to marry under any circumstances. The law will also cover non-legally binding “traditional” ceremonies, which would still be viewed as marriages by the parties and their families.
Natasha Rattu, director of the Karma Nirvana charity, which is a member of the Girls Not Brides Coalition, said she hoped there will be better identification and reporting of such cases.
“The change to legislation on child marriage is a huge victory for survivors. It is a huge leap forward to tackling this usually hidden abuse and will provide a greater degree of protection to those at risk,” she said.
According to the Ministry of Justice, statistics showed forced marriage was more likely to impact girls than boys, with 2018 figures for England and Wales showing that 28 boys married under the age of 18 compared with 119 girls.
Those found guilty of arranging child marriages face sentences of up to 7 years in prison.
Conservative MP Pauline Latham, who introduced the bill in Parliament in 2021, said Monday is a “landmark day for the campaigners who have worked relentlessly for over five years to ban child marriage in this country.”
“Child marriage destroys lives, and through this legislation, we will protect millions of boys and girls over the coming years from this scourge,” she added.
Minister for Safeguarding, Sarah Dines MP, said, “Forced marriage is an abuse of human rights which denies vulnerable children the freedom to learn, grow and thrive. Like all other forms of abuse, I’m committed to stamping out this exploitative practice.
She added, “In addition to this welcome new legislation, we are also continuing to provide training and guidance to equip the police, social workers and other frontline professionals to support and safeguard victims.”
Child marriage is often associated with domestic abuse towards girls, leaving education early, limited career opportunities, and serious physical and mental health problems. The change honours the government’s commitment to the pledge made to the United Nations to end child marriage by 2030.
The Act does not change the age of marriage in Scotland or Northern Ireland