New bill to end child marriage in the UK

New bill to end child marriage in the UK

A new bill that would increase the minimum age of marriage to 18 in all circumstances will be presented to Parliament for a second reading on Friday, 19 November 2021 by Pauline Latham MP. The bill would protect children from the harmful practice of child marriage in two crucial ways:

  • Remove legal exceptions which currently allows children to marry in civil ceremonies at 16, with parental consent.
  • Criminalise any other ceremonies of marriage which take place involving a child, such as religious marriages.

At present, it is legal for children aged 16 or 17 to marry in England and Wales during a civil ceremony with parental consent. It is also currently legal for children younger than 16 or 17 to marry in a religious ceremony as long as it is not a forced marriage. This is despite the UK being a state party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which clearly prohibits early and forced marriages of children.

The bill is the result of a years-long #EndChildMarriage campaign run by Pauline Latham MP in partnership with FORWARD and our fellow Girls Not Brides UK co-chairs Karma Nirvana, the Iranian & Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation (IKWRO) and the Independent Yemen Group.

“Young girls and boys who are married before they are ready face abuse, losing opportunities for education and employment, and loss of independence. Banning child marriage is about safeguarding children’s futures, ensuring they have the opportunity to succeed in life,” Pauline Latham MP said of the importance of the bill.

Our Executive Director Naana Otoo-Oyortey MBE also spoke of the importance of the new bill:

“This legislation could not have come at a more auspicious time – as we are about to mark the start of 16 days of activism worldwide.

FORWARD, as a Girls Not Brides co-chair and an anti-child marriage organisation, is pleased to welcome and support Pauline Latham MP’s legislation that will protect children from child marriage and safeguard their futures. This bill will change the lives of both girls and boys, as they will no longer be blighted by the restrictions or threats of child marriage, enabling them to reach their fullest potential.

Child marriage is clearly a violation of the rights of the child – and children, by virtue of their vulnerability, are deserving of special protection. FORWARD believes this legislation demonstrates strong commitments to protecting children from harmful practices like child marriage. We congratulate Pauline Latham MP for her tenacity in fighting to ensure this change is reflected in legislation.”

Read the full legislation ‘Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill’ here.