Vulnerable children across England and Wales will be protected from the damaging impact of forced marriage as the legal age of marriage rises to 18, the Ministry of Justice confirmed this week.
The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022, which gained Royal Assent in April last year, makes it a criminal offence to cause a child to marry, with a sentence up to seven years in prison. The offence includes forced marriages in non-legally ceremonies.
The change will crack down on forced marriages which can cause lasting damage on a child and forms part of the government’s continued commitment to tackle violence against women and girls.
Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab MP, 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 work to end child marriage and “honour”-based abuse.
Pauline Latham MP said:
“This is a landmark day for the campaigners who have worked relentlessly for over five years to ban child marriage in this country. Child marriage destroys lives and through this legislation we will protect millions of boys and girls over the coming years from this scourge.”
In 2021 the government’s Forced Marriage Unit provided advice or support in 118 cases involving victims below 18 years of age. The courts have also issued 3,343 Forced Marriage Protection Orders between their introduction in 2008 and September 2022 which prevents someone from using threats, violence, or emotional abuse as a way to force a person into marriage.