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The minimum age for marriage and civil partnership is being raised from 16 to 18 years old in England and Wales.

On 28 April 2022, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill received Royal Assent and is now an Act of Parliament.

What is the minimum age for marriage now?

At the moment, the minimum age for marriage in England and Wales is 16 years old, with consent from both parties’ parents. The age will increase to 18 years old under the new Act.

Why is the minimum age for marriage changing?

There has been a great deal of criticism of child marriage in England and Wales. The Bill was brought about in order to criminalise child marriage.

Bill sponsor Conservative MP Pauline Latham said: “It is undeniable the change in this law, making it unequivocally clear that it will be illegal to arrange any child marriage, whether it’s a boy or a girl, in England and Wales irrespective of alleged consent, coercion or persuasion, is a huge step in the right direction.

“Because many children are brought up to believe it is the norm and it is not the norm in this country to be married as a child, and this will send a huge message out. This is the purpose of this bill.”

Anna McMorrin, Shadow Justice Minister, said that, “…the fact that a young person must remain in education until they are 18 but can marry at 16 is bewildering and has no place in the 21st century”.

The Act will also make it an offence to carry out “any conduct for the purpose of causing a child to enter into a marriage”. This will be punishable with a maximum of seven years in prison.

How could the changes affect marriages which take place outside of England and Wales?

The Explanatory Notes to the Bill reveal how it may affect marriages which take place in a country other than England and Wales:

“The anticipated effect of this change on the common law will also mean that any marriages which take place overseas, or in Scotland or Northern Ireland, involving under 18’s where one of the parties is domiciled in England and Wales, will not be legally recognised in England and Wales. This change to recognition will also apply to civil partnerships.”

How could the new law help to reduce forced marriages?

Forced marriages occur when one (or both) parties feel that they are unable to say no to a marriage due to pressure and coercion from family members or relatives, for example where they might be disowned or threatened – physically or emotionally – by their family if they refuse.

At the age of 16, many children are unaware where they can seek help if they are being forced into a marriage. In addition, they often have no money to be able to look after themselves and no other option but to go ahead with the marriage.

Although this can still happen at the age of 18, those being forced to marry may be better equipped to be able to say no and have more information available about where to turn for help.

Will the changes affect civil partnerships?

Yes, the Act applies to the minimum age for both marriage and civil partnerships.

Need advice?

If you or someone you know has been affected by forced marriage, you can seek help from the Forced Marriage Unit, a government help and support line: https://www.gov.uk/stop-forced-marriage. You can also contact the police on 101 (or 999 if it is an emergency) or speak to your local GP.

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