The long awaited change in safeguarding children from Forced Marriage

A forced marriage is where one or both people do not or cannot consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used to force them into the marriage. Here, Chelsea Taylor discusses the new legislation which protects children, where one or both parties are under 18 years of age, from being forced into unwanted marriages.

To many, child marriage is a violation of human rights as children cannot express their full and free consent. It is a global problem that needs tackling urgently as it can have harmful consequences on children such as slavery, domestic abuse and discrimination.

The introduction of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 which came into effect on 27th February 2023 raises the age of marriage and civil partnership to 18 in England and Wales. The new legislation also covers non-legally binding ceremonies including where the child marriage is planned to take place outside of England and Wales.

Previously, children who were 16 and 17 could marry with parental consent which was a major legal loophole in UK law.  This left many children’s right to marry exploited.

The law also now makes it a criminal offence to cause or arrange a child to marry before they turn 18 under any circumstances, with a sentence of up to 7 years imprisonment.

Whilst positive, the changes highlighted above only apply to England and Wales. Scotland and Northern Ireland, still allow children to marry at the age 16. The latter requiring parental consent.

The Office of National Statistics data shows that between 2007 and 2017, there were 3096 marriages registered in England and Wales involving children aged 16 and 17. It is worth highlighting that this troubling data does not even capture those marriages not registered and children taken out of the UK and forced into marriage abroad, so the figure may be considerably higher.

This new law should be praised for being a major step forward in protecting and safeguarding the rights of children in England and Wales.  Let’s hope this will have a rippling effect across the world including our neighbouring countries. If others follow suit hopefully this will deal with the scourge of forced marriages.

If you need advice on this topic, or any other matters concerning forced marriage, please get in touch with our team at McAlister Family Law.


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