Parliament will be told today that the UK is undermining its international steps to terminate child marriage because an exception to the law in England and Wales that permits 16 and 17-year-olds to marry with parental consent is putting children at risk.
Pauline Latham MP will ask the House to back a bill illegalising child marriage and civil partnerships before the age of 18.
She will argue that existing legislation has been at odds with the legal requirement since 2013 and for young people to stay in education or training until then and she told a news outlet that prohibiting marriage with parental consent would protect young people from being forced into early marriage, after being groomed or because they lack the will or ability to report a coerced marriage.
Official figures of those marrying at 16 and 17 in England and Wales have dropped steadily over the years, with 43 teenage boys and 140 teenage girls marrying with parental consent in 2017.
Scottish law permits marriage from the age of 16 without parental consent, but the numbers are low, with only 18 16-19-year-olds marrying in 2019. However, the documented data doesn’t reflect the number of children who marry in religious and customary ceremonies.
Latham said that while these marriages are not recognised under British law, they can be just as damaging, or even more so for the young person concerned and recent data revealed by a news outlet showed that there were 2,377 contacts made about child marriage in the UK’s national forced marriage helpline in the two and a half year period to this September.
Sarah Champion is among 11 MPs co-sponsoring the bill and she told a news outlet that child marriage was a form of child abuse and that they were talking about a person living with someone that was potentially a total stranger, ending their schooling early.
And that even if there was just one child going through this she would still be campaigning to close that loophole, and that it made them look like hypocrites internationally – that they’re proud of their campaign to end child marriage abroad, but we allow it in our own country.
Latham said children who marry under the age of 18 are more likely to withdraw from education and are at increased risk of mental health issues, teenage pregnancy and domestic abuse.
The Conservative MP for Mid Derbyshire said that with the Government pledging £39 million in 2015 to end child marriage globally, the current domestic situation compromises Britain’s integrity abroad.
They should also indict anyone who brings an underage bride into the United Kingdom because in the past we have let older men bring brides into the United Kingdom despite them being under 16 years of age.
Of course, an 18-year-old minimum age limit won’t prevent a forced marriage, but maybe if the parents who encouraged these forced marriages were prosecuted and put on the sex offenders register it may serve as a deterrent.
If you’re too young to drink a beer and to vote, then you’re definitely too young to get married.
Of course, there are plenty of people that got married as childhood sweethearts at 16 and 17 and remained married, and their parents gave them consent, but giving consent to forced marriage is not always a good thing.
At the end of the day, a marriage is a contract, signed by two people and any person entering into a contract of any kind should be over the age of 18 and there should be no exceptions to the rule and marriage should indeed be one of them. Women and children are not property and there should be laws to protect them.