In a win for the Freedom United community, this week the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill comes into force, criminalizing child marriage in England and Wales.
A win for the Freedom United community
With our partners at IKWRO, Forward, Karma Nirvana, Independent Yemen Group and Girls Not Brides, more than 254,000 of you in the Freedom United community have taken action since 2018, consistently calling on the U.K. to ban child marriage – resulting in success!
Previously, 16 and 17-year-olds in England and Wales were able to marry with parental or familial consent, a legal exception that left children vulnerable to being coerced into marriages against their will.
Under the new law that passed unanimously in April 2022, it is now a criminal offence to arrange a marriage for anyone under the age of 18, carrying a maximum prison sentence of seven years. Anyone married under the age of 18 will automatically be recognized as a victim of forced marriage.
Previously, forced marriage was only an offence if a person used coercion, such as threats, to get someone to marry, but now causing the marriage of someone under the age of 18 is a criminal offence, including non-legally binding “traditional” ceremonies, which would still be viewed as marriages by the parties and their families.
Payzee Mahmod’s tireless campaigning
Payzee Mahmod led Freedom United’s campaign calling on the U.K. to ban child marriage and recently won Freedom United’s Campaigner of the Year Award for securing this significant progress against forced marriage.
As a survivor and activist, Payzee has campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness of the harms of the previous legal exception that enabled families to pressure children into abusive marriages.
Both Payzee and her sister, Banaz, were pressured into marriage in the U.K. at just 16 and 17 years old. Banaz was later murdered at the age of 20 in a so-called “honor” killing for leaving her abusive husband. Payzee was eventually able to divorce her husband who was 12 years older than her – but the lasting effects of her experience of child marriage stay with her.
She explained to the Guardian how she and her sister were victims of institutionalised racism:
“None of my teachers, social workers, neighbours, all those wedding shop retailers … nobody asked if I was safe. All that tells me is that it is because of how I look and where I’m from.”
254,000+ of you in the Freedom United community demanded action. You signed the petition, contacted your MPs and made sure to keep up the pressure on decision-makers. Now the bill to #SafeguardFuturesBanChildMarriage comes into force, better protecting children from forced marriage in England and Wales.
We are so proud of our campaign leader and survivor advocate, Payzee Mahmod, and to the Freedom United community and partners who helped make this happen.