UK: MPs Debate Raising Marriage Age to 18 to Tackle Forced Marriages

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MPs are debating whether to raise the legal age of marriage in the United Kingdom in order to try and tackle the problem of forced marriages. The current legal age of marriage is 18 but 16- and 17-year-olds can get married with their parents’ permission.

16- and 17-year-olds are frequently taken abroad where they are forced into arranged marriages, often during school holidays. It is estimated by one forced marriage prevention charity that up to 80 percent of forced marriages take place abroad.

It is illegal to force anyone to enter into a marriage against their will but this has not stopped huge numbers of forced marriages being reported in Britain; in 2017 there were 1,200 cases of forced marriage reported by the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU).

The FMU has claimed that since 2012, between 1,200-1,400 forced marriage cases were logged every year. The cases covered more than 90 countries, with Pakistan making up the largest share with 439 cases reported in 2017, followed by Bangladesh with 129 and 91 in Somalia.

These are only the officially recorded figures, however. The forced marriage prevention charity ‘Karma Nirvana’ reported that it had taken 13,000 calls in 2017 related to forced marriage, so the full scale of the issue is not known.

Conservative MP Pauline Latham, one of the leading voices for a change in the marriage age, told Sky News, “Children have to be in school or educational training until they are 18 now, so how could they get married, they’re not adults.”

She added, “Children are taken out aged 16 and they come back married and their parents say ‘they’ve got my consent’…  if it was 18, they might have managed to get to university, they might have got a job after they’ve finished training and they might be stronger to say no to their parents.”

Dianna Nami, Director of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, said: “We need to educate the community as well, we need to let them know that child marriage is a brutal situation.”

“Many of them think it is just a sexual relationship, but it’s a huge responsibility on the shoulders of the children and they are not prepared yet.”

The British government has previously come under fire for offering visas to the spouses of forced marriage victims. In 2017 the Home Office reportedly received 175 requests from victims to block their spouses entering the United Kingdom.

Forced Marriage was made illegal in Britain in 2014 and carries a maximum sentence of 7 years, but the first conviction for forced marriage was not secured until 2018.

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