Legal age of marriage is set to be raised from 16 to 18 in bid to stop children being forced into wedlock
- Ministers want to insert a clause clamping down on arranged marriages into law
- Pauline Latham’s Private Member’s Bill today is expected to be backed by MPs
- Campaigners claim current law is not strong enough to prevent forced marriage
- Meanwhile leading charity warned children as young as seven are being wedded
The government is set to make it illegal to force teenagers to get married using a tough new law.
Ministers want to insert a clause clamping down on arranged marriages into drafted legislation that raises the legal age to wed from 16 to 18.
Pauline Latham MP’s Private Member’s Bill today is expected to be backed across the House of Commons.
It comes as campaigners claim the current law is not strong enough to prevent parents marrying their children off under duress.
Meanwhile a leading charity warned children as young as seven risk being married off.
Karma Nirvana revealed in one shocking case a seven-year-old was forced to wed because she had supposedly brought shame on her family.
Ministers want to insert a clause clamping down on arranged marriages into drafted legislation that raises the legal age to wed from 16 to 18 (file photo)
Pauline Latham (pictured) MP’s Private Member’s Bill today is expected to be backed across the House of Commons
Today’s Private Member’s Bill is set to widen the definition of forced marriage to include anyone under 18.
It will mean it is against the law to wed regardless of if the child’s says that they want to.
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab is among those backing Ms Latham’s move, telling the Sun: ‘Forced child marriage ruins lives.
‘We back this Bill to keep vulnerable young people safe, by raising the legal age of marriage to 18, and closing gaps in the law which leave them at risk.’
There have been nearly 3,000 forced marriage protection orders in the last seven years despite the number of under 18s hoping to marry falling.
Yorkshire-based charity Karma Nirvana – which supports victims of forced marriage – revealed in call logs how concerned they are for young children getting wedded.
In an interview with Sky News, they showed messages to operators detailing claims of children getting forced to marry.
One health professional told a phone operator: ‘A sibling is concerned that, because of the shame she has been told she has brought on her family, her seven-year-old sister may be married off.’
Another referral from a social worker said: ‘The eldest daughter is 14 years old. This year they took her to Pakistan to get married. The 14-year-old is adamant that she wanted to marry.’
And one person told of their family member: ‘She became engaged when she was 12 years old and then had a religious marriage just after turning 15.’
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab (pictured) is among those backing Ms Latham’s move, telling the Sun: ‘Forced child marriage ruins lives
Meanwhile members of the travelling community said they had seen priests giving blessings to girls as young s 14 in the last year.
They said the ceremonies were not legally binding but highlighted how youngsters can get trapped.
Executive Director of Karma Nirvana Natasha Rattu said: ‘Not much shocks us in the Karma Nirvana team because we hear of some of the most harrowing cases.
But to think during a pandemic there’s a seven-year-old girl that’s at risk of a marriage – it’s truly horrifying.
‘If they were to have a religious marriage – which we see happen very often under the age of 16 – there is no consequence to that in our law as it stands.’
Partner in the family team at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys Sarah Anticoni told MailOnline: ‘It’s important to remember that even 16-18 year olds can be vulnerable children.
‘Cross party consensus to protect such teenagers by lifting the minimum age for marriage moves the bill to committee stage, and will be welcomed by family law practitioners across the country.
‘The number of children marrying at present is low, but anything that can be done to protect physical and mental health of under 18s is something worth doing.
‘The progress made today in Parliament will no doubt be a clear sign that child marriage is something which needs to be tackled, this is seen as a priority in the UK and hopefully will be a signal on an international level.’