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Article written by Laetitia Ponde Nkot
The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 entered into force on 27 February 2023 increased the age of marriage and civil partnership to 18 in England and Wales instead of 16 previously.
Young people between the ages of 16 and 17 will no longer be able to marry or form a civil association, even with parental or judicial authorisation.
These changes were introduced to safeguard children from the affliction of forced marriage. A forced marriage is a case where one or both parties do not consent to the marriage, and physical or sexual abuse, and emotional and psychological abuse such as manipulation and its threats are imposed on them in order for them to agree.
Even if only 0.06% of marriages touch on people under the age of 18 in the UK, this legal reform is desirable in preserving at risk children from forced marriages and to end the gaps in the law which leaves them open to the risk of exploitation.
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals require all countries to ‘eliminate all practices such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation by 2030′. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child also commends that there be no route for anyone to get married before they are 18, even if there is parental consent. In 2016, the Committee urged that the UK elevate the minimum age to 18.
The new legislation creates an offense when a child enters into a marriage with or without force. Currently, forced marriage is only classed as a criminal offence under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 if:
- the young person is coerced into the marriage or civil partnership (e.g. threatened)
- the young person is deceived into leaving the UK and coerced into marriage
- the young person lacks the mental capacity to give consent.
The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 broads this by adding conducts such as booking a venue or a flight for the purposes of a marriage.
It will thus now be an offence to bring about a child under the age of 18 to engage in a marriage in any circumstances, without the need to demonstrate that a form of coercion was utilised.
This new offence will also cover both legally binding and non-legally binding ceremonies of marriage (e.g. those in traditional or community settings). It also comprises ceremonies in other countries. Obligating a minor couple to marry by traveling with them from the UK will be subject to the same penalties.
Further, both adults and children can request legal protection from forced marriage in the civil courts through a Forced Marriage Protection Order which is an injunction obstructing a party from making some manoeuvres against or connecting to the applicant such as physical violence, direct or indirect contact or making marriage preparations.
It should be commented that marriage in Northern Ireland will stay legal at age 16 with parental consent, as well as in Scotland, however without parental consent being required. Gretna Green lasts its notorious status as a destination for young people to run away with a lover.
The composition of criminal and civil protection established by the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 furnishes a complete framework in protecting people in England and Wales against forced marriages.