The government has confirmed that the legal minimum age of marriage in England and Wales has now been raised to 18.
After years of campaigners calling for change and action to be brought about, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 has officially come into force in England and Wales today (27 February), according to the government, and 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.
The Act also means it’s now a criminal offence to exploit vulnerable children by arranging for them to marry, under any circumstances, regardless of whether or not force is used.
The government says the decision to raise the minimum marriage age from 16 to 18 years old is due to that fact that 18 is widely recognised as the age that a person becomes an adult and therefore gains full citizenship rights.
As part of the government’s commitment to the pledge made to the United Nations to tackle violence against women and girls and end child marriage by 2030, ministers say the raising of the minimum marriage age will “crack down on forced marriages” that can cause lasting damage on a child.
On top of this, those who are found guilty of arranging child marriages now face sentences of up to seven years in prison.
Previously, forced marriage was only an offence if the person uses a type of coercion to cause someone to marry – but now, it’s 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, according to the government.
Speaking on the introduction of the new Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 today, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said: “This law will better protect vulnerable young people, by cracking down on forced marriage in our society.
“Those who act to manipulate children into marrying under-age will now rightly face the full force of the law.”
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 works to end child marriage and ‘honour’-based abuse.
“This is a landmark day for the campaigners who have worked relentlessly for over five years to ban child marriage in this country,” Pauline Latham said.
“Child marriage destroys lives, and through this legislation we will protect millions of boys and girls over the coming years from this scourge.”
Featured Image – Sandy Millar (via Unsplash)