A crackdown on forced marriages: raising the minimum age

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 received royal assent on 28 April 2022 which raised the legal minimum age for people to marry, or enter into a civil partnership, to 18 years of age in England and Wales in a move to prevent forced marriages.

Previously, those who were 16 and 17 years old were allowed to marry or enter into a civil partnership provided they had parental consent. The new age limit of 18 years old will apply to all marriages, including religious or cultural marriages, in England and Wales only.

Adults, usually parents, who facilitate underage marriage under the new law, or take children abroad to get married, can now face up to 7 years in prison and a fine. Any marriages of those under the age of 18, provided the marriage occurred after the implementation of the 2022 Act, will now be automatically void.

A forced marriage is where an individual feels like they are unable to resist marriage because they are receiving threats of violence, emotional pressure, disownment, or financial isolation from their families. Oftentimes, forced marriages lead to later abuse and in some cases, honour killings. At the age of 16, most children would not be in a position to leave the home, or have the finances to seek help and may feel like they have no other option but to marry. By the age of 18, although not completely resolved, these issues would have likely significantly reduced and it is therefore expected that forced marriages will in turn decrease.

There has been widespread concern that children were being forced or coerced into marriages by their parents at a young age. The implementation of the Act is said to protect children and transform young girls lives who are coerced into marrying at a young age as it aims to prevent forced marriages. Child marriages and having children too early can deprive girls of important life chances and the new law is a move towards trying to stamp this out. The Act will now provide empowerment and protection to those young people at risk and deter those trying to arrange any marriage of children under 18.

Written by : Claudia Stachini (Solicitor)

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