Home U.K MPs back raising marriage age to 18 to protect children

MPs back raising marriage age to 18 to protect children


Many cases in the UK are unregistered and “invisible”, taking place in religious or traditional family settings at ages lower than 16. Other underage youngsters are sent abroad to wed. Natasha Rattu, executive director of Karma Nirvana, a national charity supporting victims of honour-based abuse, said yesterday’s vote was cause for “huge celebration”.

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill, which was given an unopposed second reading, would raise the minimum age of marriage and civil partnership from 16 to 18 in England and Wales.

It would make it an offence, punishable with up to seven years’ imprisonment, to carry out “any conduct for the purpose of causing a child to enter into a marriage”.

Campaigners say that, crucially, this would take the onus away from a child to prove their marriage is forced, and strengthen the responsibility of professionals in safeguarding youngsters.

It would also make it easier to prosecute parents or family members who send under-18s abroad to be wed.

Karma Nirvana said it has responded to four cases of child marriage in the last week alone.

Ms Rattu said: “It’s a campaign that’s been 10 years in the running and to get this far is incredible. We’re over the moon.”

The charity director said child marriage is a “real hidden problem” that has become further obscured by the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns. 

Many victims only feel able to come forward later, as adults, which makes it hard to know the full scale of the problem. 

Ms Rattu believes official statistics reveal just a fraction of the reality. 

The charity responded to 76 known cases of child marriage in the year to September 2021, down from more than 130 in the previous 12 months.

Call logs from the helpline it runs reveal that one girl was concerned her seven-year-old sister would be “married off” because of the shame she was said to have brought on her family.

Asked if she believes there are other children of a similar age who are at risk in the UK, Ms Rattu said: “Absolutely. I just think that they are even more hidden than the children a bit older.”

She continued: “The stories are just so harrowing…we’re talking about the most vulnerable in society that are unable to protect themselves…so this law is absolutely vital to changing that.”

Conservative MP Pauline Latham, who sponsored the Bill, says it will “protect young boys and girls at risk of entering into marriages at 16 or even younger, ensuring they stay in education and have the best chance in life”.

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