Minimum Age for Marriage

It is no longer possible for under 18s to marry

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022, which gained Royal Assent in April last year, came into force in February 2023.  It means that 16 and 17 year olds will no longer be allowed to marry or enter a civil partnership, even if they have parental consent.

Protection for vulnerable children

Vulnerable children across England and Wales will be better protected from the damaging impact of forced marriage as the legal age of marriage rose to 18 in England and Wales earlier this year.

It is now a new criminal offence to cause a child to marry, with a sentence up to 7 years in prison and the offence includes forced marriage in non-legally binding ceremonies.

It is now illegal and a criminal offence to exploit vulnerable children by arranging for them to marry, under any circumstances whether or not force is used.

The change will crack down on forced marriages which can cause lasting damage on a child and forms part of the government’s continued commitment to tackle violence against women and girls.

Those found guilty of arranging child marriages face sentences of up to 7 years in prison.

Adult and independent

The age of 18 is widely recognised as the age at which one becomes an adult and gains full citizenship rights.

The change was introduced through a Private Member’s Bill brought to Parliament by Pauline Latham OBE MP and was supported by campaign organisations within the Girls Not Brides Coalition, which work to end child marriage and ‘honour’-based abuse.

Pauline Latham MP said:

This is a landmark day for the campaigners who have worked relentlessly for over 5 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.

Human Rights

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.

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.

Protection from domestic abuse:

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.

Previously forced marriage was only an offence if the person uses a type of coercion, for example threats, to cause someone to marry.

It is now an offence to cause a child under the age of 18 to enter a marriage in any circumstances, without the need to prove that a form of coercion was used. This includes non-legally binding ‘traditional’ ceremonies which would still be viewed as marriages by the parties and their families.

Natasha Rattu, Director of Karma Nirvana (a member of the Girls Not Brides Coalition), said:

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.

Last year, the national Honour Based Abuse helpline supported 64 cases of child marriage, representing only a small picture of a much bigger problem. We hope that the new law will help to increase identification and reporting, affording greater protection to children at risk.

In 2021 the government’s Forced Marriage Unit provided advice or support in 118 cases involving victims below 18 years of age. The courts have also issued 3,343 Forced Marriage Protection Orders between their introduction in 2008 and September 2022 which prevents someone from using threats, violence or emotional abuse as a way to force a person into marriage.

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