Yesterday it was announced that the legal age of marriage in England and Wales has risen to 18 years old, meaning that anyone under the age of 18 will be unable to marry or enter a civil partnership, even if they have parental consent.

The change in law means that vulnerable children will be better protected from forced marriages as it is now a criminal offence to exploit children into marriage, whether that be forced marriage or otherwise.

Previously, forced marriage was only found to be an offence if there was thought to be threats or coercion to enter the marriage. Now, anyone found guilty of arranging child marriages can face sentences of up to 7 years in prison.

In 2021, the government’s Forced Marriage Unit provided support in 118 cases that involved victims under 18 years old. The courts have also issued 3,343 Forced Marriage Protection Orders between 2008 and 2022, which prevents someone from using threats, violence, or abuse as a way of forcing someone into marriage.

Forced marriages can cause significant lasting damage to a child and it is hoped that the change in the law will prevent this from happening.

Legal age of marriage rises to 18

Natalie Blake, Chartered Legal Executive at Tilly Bailey & Irvine comments: “It is important to note that this change in legislation will not be retrospective and therefore will not affect the validity of any marriages that have taken place before it came into force. It is going to afford greater protection to the most vulnerable children who are at risk and act as a deterrent for those facilitating forced marriages. It is a welcomed change in legislation which will bring a positive change to family life”.

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