The UK’s Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 came into force Monday, raising the legal age of marriage from 16 to 18 in England and Wales. The act amended the Marriage Act 1949, which regulates marriages in the two countries.
Under the act, sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds can no longer marry or enter a civil partnership. Previously, people of this age could do so with parental consent. The 2022 act also amended the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, making it an offence to “carry out any conduct for the purpose of causing a child to enter into a marriage before the child’s eighteenth birthday”.
The changes are aimed at preventing the forced marriage of children. Prior to this change, coercion was a vital requirement to find someone guilty of forcing a marriage, but this element is no longer needed to convict someone of forcing anyone under eighteen to enter a marriage. The sentence for this offence is up to seven years imprisonment.
Commenting on the legislative changes, Minister for Safeguarding Sarah Dines, said:
Forced marriage is an abuse of human rights which denies vulnerable children the freedom to learn, grow and thrive. Like all other forms of abuse, I’m committed to stamping out this exploitative practice… In addition to this welcome new legislation, we are also continuing to provide training and guidance to equip the police, social workers and other frontline professionals to support and safeguard victims
The act has been heavily supported by campaign organisations within the Girls Not Brides Coalition, whose work aims to end child marriage. Natasha Rattu, Director of Karma Nirvana (a member of the Girls Not Brides Coalition) described the legislation as “a huge leap forward to tackling this usually hidden abuse [that] will provide a greater degree of protection to those at risk”.