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End Child Marriage

Child marriage is an invisible but thriving problem in Britain. Legal loopholes urgently need to be closed so all children are protected.

What is child marriage?

Any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child.

UNICEF

Child marriage is often viewed as a ‘developing world issue’ and one that takes place exclusively overseas. The reality is that child marriage is an invisible but thriving issue in Britain today. It is present in every single area of the UK but is hidden in plain sight. Since 2017, our national Honour Based Abuse Helpline has responded to over 400 cases relating to child marriage.

In England and Wales, children are able to legally register their marriages at 16 and 17 with parental consent. In our experience of supporting victims of child marriage, ‘parent consent’ is often synonymous with ‘parental and community coercion’. Many children are pressured into marriage and in some circumstances will normalise marrying under the age of 18, linked to conditioned customary expectations.

For a child marriage to qualify as a forced marriage within existing forced marriage legislation, depends on whether parties are deemed to have consented and had the capacity to consent. The test for capacity to consent is defined under the Mental Capacity Act 2015, and as such, a child’s age is not a standalone factor in determining the lack of capacity to consent. This oversight in forced marriage legislation means that children have to explicitly report their forced marriage in order to get protection from it. We believe that no child should have to think about marriage and that it is the government’s responsibility to both prevent and protect children from such harms.

Zara is 12 years old. She told her teacher that her father was going to get her married and that she was scared. Zara was taken into care and her father was prevented from any contact with her.

Zara from Liverpool, who phoned our Honour Based Abuse Helpline in March 2020

It is important to highlight that registered child marriages at 16 and 17 are only part of the picture in Britain. The Office for National Statistics does not capture non-registered religious and cultural marriages that take place in the UK. Between 2020-21, we have supported 12 cases relating to children that experienced a non-registered religious marriage in Britain. These marriages are never reported nor captured by statistics, which is a significant barrier to protection and safeguarding.

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In 2020 we produced a comprehensive report on the problem of child marriage.

Read the report

Our Proposal to #EndChildMarriage

We are members and UK co-chairs of the Girls Not Brides global partnership to End Child Marriage. We envision a world where girls are not denied an education or deprived of their fundamental rights as a consequence of child marriage.

We are calling on members of parliament to support the Private Members Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill. Bypassing the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill, this loophole will be closed and child marriage under the age of 18 will no longer be legally recognised.

Whilst this is a progressive step in the right direction, it does not protect all children from child marriage. Many children have been subjected to a religious or cultural marriage, which is no less harmful than a legally registered marriage at 16 or 17. The Bill must also go one step further and criminalise the aiding, abetting or procurement of child marriage in ANY, and ALL, of its forms.  This will ensure our laws on child marriage are clear, robust and not susceptible to circumvention, for example with child marriages instead being executed under religious or cultural customs (with impunity). 

What you can do

You can help End Child Marriage by joining the campaign and making some noise about the changes we want to see. To support us in our campaign you can help us to gain Parliamentary support to end child marriage in England and Wales. You can support by:

Tweeting your MP

Tweet your MP to let them know why this Bill is so important to you and ask them to support it. Click on the button to find out how you can find your MP on Twitter and send a suggested tweet.

Tweet your MP

Writing to your MP

Write to your MP using our template letter to ask for support and for them to back the Child Marriage Private Members Bill over the course of the coming legislative process. Click on the button to find out how you can find your MP and send a letter or email.

Write to your MP