British lawmakers are demanding an end to a legal loophole allowing for abusive child “marriages” and an increase in the minimum age for legal marriage to 18.
According to Reuters, the current law allows marriage at just 16 years of age with parental consent, a policy that also undermines Britain’s efforts to help stamp out child marriage around the world.
“Child marriage is child abuse,” former chancellor Sajid Javid told BBC radio before presenting the bill. “People think this is often something that just happens in developing countries. It doesn’t. It’s happening right here … it has to stop,” he said, adding that thousands of minors had been coerced into marriages in Britain in the last decade.
More than 2,740 minors were married in England and Wales between 2008 and 2017, according to official data. That already startling figure, however, does not count children wed in traditional, unregistered ceremonies or taken abroad to marry.
Anti-forced marriage activist group Karma Nirvana told Reuters it had seen cases involving children as young as 11 and that marriages between the ages of 13 and 15 were “not uncommon.”
“It’s a big step in the right direction. We’re celebrating this moment,” said Payzee Mahmod, a surivor of child marriage and member of the women’s rights activist group IKWRO.
Mahmod, who was married at 16, said it isn’t uncommon for child brides to be pulled out of school and subjected to physical and sexual abuse.
“Criminalisation is a strong deterrent and necessary to protect every child from all forms of child marriage in all settings,” said Mahmod, whose sister Banaz was killed by family members after leaving the husband they had sente her off to marry at age 17.
Pauline Latham, a member of Parliament and one of the bill’s sponsors, said the current law permitted child marriage “by the back door.”
“I’ve spoken to a lot of ministers to say we cannot let this continue, and they’ve agreed,” Latham said, adding that Prime Minister Boris Johnson “is keen to get it through.”
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