The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022, which gained Royal Assent in April last year, has come into force today (27 February). So, 16 and 17 year olds will no longer be allowed to marry or enter a civil partnership, even if they have parental consent.
It is now illegal and a criminal offence to exploit vulnerable children by arranging for them to marry, under any circumstances whether or not force is used.
Those found guilty of arranging child marriages face sentences of up to 7 years in prison.
The age of 18 is widely recognised as the age at which one becomes an adult and gains full citizenship rights.
Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab MP, said:
This law will better protect vulnerable young people, by cracking down on forced marriage in our society.
Those who act to manipulate children into marrying under-age will now rightly face the full force of the law.
The change was introduced through a Private Member’s Bill brought to Parliament by Pauline Latham OBE MP and was supported by campaign organisations within the Girls Not Brides Coalition, which work to end child marriage and ‘honour’-based abuse.
Pauline Latham MP said:
Child marriage is often associated with domestic abuse towards girls, leaving education early, limited career opportunities, and serious physical and mental health problems. The change honours the government’s commitment to the pledge made to the United Nations to end child marriage by 2030.
Previously forced marriage was only an offence if the person uses a type of coercion, for example threats, to cause someone to marry.