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27th February 2024

Assessing the impact of the new legislation to end child marriage

One year on, we have published a report assessing the impact of the new legislation to end child marriage in England and Wales.

One year on, we have published a report assessing the impact of the new legislation to end child marriage in England and Wales.

After ten years of campaigning, on the 26th April 2022 the government passed the Bill to end child marriage in England and Wales. The implementation of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act on 27th February 2023 was an important development and a significant step towards eliminating child marriage in all its forms throughout England and Wales.

This legislation bans marriage for 16 and 17-year-olds, who are no longer allowed to marry or enter a civil partnership, even if they have parental consent, as the legal age of marriage rises to 18.

It is an illegal and a criminal offence to exploit vulnerable children by arranging for them to marry, under any circumstances whether or not force is used.

Karma Nirvana’s Key Findings:

  1. There’s been 173 cases reported since the law came in. This marks a 15% increase in the 11 months since the new legislation in February 2023.
  2. All professionals contacting the Karma Nirvana helpline regarding a victim at risk of Child Marriage reported not receiving any training on the new law.
  3. The government has no way to track the number of Child Marriage cases in England and Wales.

After reading our report, Farhana, a survivor of child marriage said:

Marking the first anniversary of the Act, should be a cause for celebration. Indeed, it’s reassuring to hear of an increase in cases being reported, I hope in part, because following the introduction of the law, children are more readily able to identify as victims (by default, rather than having the onus to prove they are at risk of marriage by force).

It is however distressing to know that after bravely seeking help, child marriage victims may still at risk of being failed by a FMU system that should have been designed to protect them, due to a systemic lack of investment on repatriation mechanisms, appropriate awareness and supportive infrastructure. 

This gives my great concern that brave victims – often in precarious and dangerous situations, will be either misdirected or deterred from coming forward and more worryingly, perpetrators of this child abuse will continue to be emboldened to commit this crime. 

The law will then only have the effect either driving these crimes underground or of punishing perpetrators post event, by which point livelihoods of children will already be stolen by the abuse they have suffered. 

It is my view that the true power of this law is to be preventative by empowering potential victims to come forward and deterring perpetrators from pursuing these actions. This is only possible if all responsible authorities have sufficient knowledge, resources and funding to raise awareness of the law and the protections in place to support victims.

This lack of preparation and readiness for implementation a year on, is all the more disheartening given the enactment of the law was delayed from Royal Assent, specifically so that appropriate knowledge sharing and safeguarding steps could be developed before the rules came into force. 

It would be a travesty and betrayal of faith if, 25 years on, children like me still face the risk of lifelong harm, despite now having a powerful legislative tool which, if adequately enforced, should have prevented their suffering.

– Farhana, Survivor of Child Marriage