The British government has indicated its commitment to raising the minimum legal age of marriage to 18 in England and Wales. Currently, teenagers as young as 16 can get married with the consent of their parents. Campaigners have long been advocating for a change in the law to protect young people from coercion.
In a letter to campaigners who are demanding a change in the current law, the Ministry of Justice says it is committed to amending the law. This it said it would do ‘as soon as legislative opportunity arises’ as part of its mandates to ensure children and young people receive the protection and support they need to grow and develop.
This includes having the opportunity to remain in education or training until they reach the age of 18. Child marriage and having children too early in life can deprive them of these important life chances.
Former chancellor, Sajid Javid would be introducing a private member’s bill before the House of Commons this week to make it illegal for people under the age of 18 to marry. Javid who disclosed this to the Times bemoaned the double standards in the British government’s involvement in ending child marriage in developing countries while allowing its own 16 year olds to get married when they do not yet have the right to vote.
Indeed, when Bangladesh lowered the legal age of marriage from 18 to 16, ministers there were said to have directly pointed to our laws to justify their move. It’s clear that we must legislate to close this loophole so that vulnerable children cannot be pushed into such serious and life-changing commitments before they are ready.
Exploitation of legal loophole
Last month, more than 20 organisations signed a letter to the prime minister pushing for a change in the current forced marriage law which they insist does not go far to protect young people. They say this allows for coercion of young people into marriage by the adults in their lives. This is compounded by the lack of a legal provision across the UK which prevents religious customary child marriages from taking place.
The letter to Boris Johnson, co-signed by partners of the Girls Not Brides campaign said child marriage is a big issue in the UK;
Child marriage is often viewed as a ‘developing world issue’ and one that exclusively takesplace overseas. The reality is that child marriage is an invisible but thriving issue in the UK today.
Arranged marriages involving teenagers are also exploited by foreigners as a means of getting British citizenship. Sajid Javid, who is of Pakistani heritage, confirmed this being a common practice within the South Asian community in which he grew up.
I’ve seen this myself in the community I was raised in, young girls expected to enter into marriage far before they were ready to with painful consequences... Let’s call this what it is: child abuse.
The bill is expected to receive cross-party support when it is given time on the floor of the House of Commons.