UPDATE: The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill passed its second reading with government support! We have been waiting since October 2020 for the bill to progress. The bill will now move to the next stage in the parliamentary process.
Today the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill that would criminalize child marriage in England and Wales goes for its second reading. Current law in England and Wales allows for 16- and 17-year olds to marry with parental consent, a legal exception that leaves children vulnerable to parental and familial coercion to enter into a marriage against their will.
Over 240,000 global supporters have joined the campaign led by Freedom United board member, campaigner and coerced child marriage survivor Payzee Mahmod and we are eager to see this bill progress through this key parliamentary stage.
Pauline Latham MP said her bill if passed into law would have a “dramatic impact on so many young children, mostly girls but also some boys. It could transform their life chances and their futures.We are keeping everything crossed that it goes through on Friday and no one votes against it.”
What child marriage looks like in the U.K.
If passed into law, this bill would raise the legal age of marriage in England and Wales to 18 to better protect children from the risks associated with child marriage. Data from the Office of National Statistics shows that the number of people getting married aged 17 and under has fallen. Just 179 of these marriages were registered in 2016 showing that as whole, the majority of society no longer wants child marriage.
But statistics only capture part of the picture, overlooking unregistered religious or cultural marriages, or child marriages that take place abroad. That’s why it’s so crucial for religious and unregistered marriages to also be caught by this law.
The Guardian reports:
Last year, about a quarter of the 753 cases dealt with by the UK’s forced marriage unit were of children under 18.
Between 2007 and 2017, 3,096 marriages involving children aged 16 and 17 were legally registered in England and Wales, according to the Office of National Statistics.
Campaigners say non-legalised religious marriages of children are even more common, which is why they want all child marriages, not just registered ones, criminalised.
Over the past year, domestic abuse charity Karma Nirvana dealt with 78 cases of child marriage in England and Wales. Only four of them were registered marriages, the group said.
The impact of child marriage
Pyazee Mahmod knows first-hand how devastating coerced child marriage is. 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.
Executive Director at Freedom United partner organization, the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, explained the children are more vulnerable to parental and familial coercion into marriage:
Some of these child marriages get registered, though the vast majority do not, and, in all cases, the moment she is married, often to a much older man, the full weight of the expectations upon her as a wife fall on the child’s young shoulders.
Too often girls are failed by the adults and statutory professionals that should safeguard them. It’s wrong that the onus has been on the child to speak out in order to get protection. That’s why IKWRO has tirelessly campaigned for this landmark change in the law that will make it clear that no child should ever face child marriage and that it is the responsibility of safeguarding professionals to ensure this does not happen.
Join the campaign today and let’s keep up the pressure to see child marriage criminalized once and for all in the U.K.