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21st December 2023

Statement on the Scottish Government’s Consultation on Child Marriage and Global Commitments

Our view on the Scottish Government’s decision to consult on the minimum age of marriage

Karma Nirvana wholeheartedly commends the Scottish Government’s decision to consult on the minimum age of marriage, recognising it as a critical step toward addressing child marriage within Scotland. This consultation holds the potential to align Scotland with international commitments aimed at eliminating child marriage. It is noteworthy that the consultation has been prompted by concerns raised by a United Nations committee, highlighting the risk of exploitation of children under the existing legislation in Scotland. 

Child marriage stands as a universally recognised and condemned practice, as emphasised by Goal 5.3 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which calls for the elimination of child marriage by 2030. The forthcoming consultation, scheduled to commence in Summer 2024, presents the Scottish Government with a timely opportunity to take decisive action to end child marriage and rectify the existing loophole. 

While acknowledging the Scottish Government’s initiative to publicly consult on child marriage, we strongly advocate for the inclusion of a survivor engagement framework as part of the consultation process. This framework should provide multiple and safe opportunities for survivors to actively participate, ensuring that their lived experiences are appropriately reflected. Centralising the voices and experiences of victims within the consultation enables a deeper understanding of the complexities surrounding child marriage, underscoring a genuine commitment to address this issue.  

Karma Nirvana, co-chairs of Girls Not Bride, were instrumental in the campaign to end child marriage in England and Wales. Our joint efforts resulted in the enactment of the Marriage and Civil Partnership Act on 27th February 2023, a pivotal achievement in the global mission to eliminate child marriage by 2030. Following the implementation of this law, our Home Office Commissioned national Honour Based Abuse helpline witnessed a significant surge in contacts related to child marriage in March 2023, with a majority of cases supported between February and July 2023. This increase highlights the law’s tangible impact in enhancing awareness and encouraging reporting of child marriage incidents across England and Wales. Notably, there was a 17% rise in new child marriage cases from when the law was announced in 2022 to 2023, emphasising the effectiveness of the legislation. From January to November 2023, the helpline assisted in 70 child marriage cases. 

However, despite comprehensive laws aimed at safeguarding children from various risks, child marriage remains a conspicuous gap in Scottish legislation. This harmful practice not only exposes young individuals to an elevated risk of domestic abuse but also heightens the chances of early pregnancy and impedes their emotional and intellectual growth. 

Scotland stands at a pivotal moment, prepared to set a compelling example and drive meaningful change in the global fight against child marriage. By recognising the global impact of child marriage and aligning local strategies with international objectives, Scotland can play a critical role in the global effort to combat this harmful practice. Universal and collective action not only addresses the immediate challenges within our borders but also resonates globally, signalling a united front against child marriage. There are no positive features to child marriage, and any further delays in putting an end to this harmful practice are unacceptable. Scotland must align with global commitments to eradicate this hidden harm and take decisive action without delay. It is crucial to prioritise the well-being and rights of children, sending a clear message that child marriage has no place in a just and equitable society. 

Karma Nirvana is eager to actively participate in the consultation process, offering constructive collaboration with the Scottish Government to ensure a comprehensive and victim-centred response to the issue of child marriage.