The legal age of marriage and civil partnerships has been raised to 18 in England and Wales. Previously, children have been able to get married at the age of 16 or 17 if they have permission from their parents.
It is important to note that the new law also applies to cultural or religious marriages that are not registered with the local council. Any such marriage will also be considered void thus denying any legal protections afforded under English Law.
Under the new rules, children will not face penalties but adults who facilitate their marriage could face up to 7 years in jail and a fine. The offence will be committed if any adult ‘carries out any conduct for the purpose of causing a child to enter into such a marriage’. This will therefore criminalize parents or other family members who arrange a marriage here, and also, those who take their children abroad to get married. It could, arguably, also include any person who performs a religious ceremony in England or Wales with a child aged 16 or 17 years old.
Leaders in mosques, Imams and community leaders should be aware of the new changes and parents should be fully aware of the extended protections being put into place for their children. The updated rules will apply to all residents in England and Wales if the marriage takes place here, and will even apply if the child is a UK national and is habitually resident in England or Wales and the marriage takes place abroad.
The new law will not affect the validity of any marriages or civil partnerships that happened before the legislation comes into force. It does not apply to Northern Ireland and Scotland, where the minimum age will stay at 16 – in Northern Ireland you still need parental consent to marry at 16, but in Scotland you don’t.
The new law is in keeping with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5: ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’, which outlines that ‘marriage before the age of 18 is a fundamental violation of human rights’.