Legally, a child is anyone who is under the age of eighteen. Child marriage is any formal or informal union where one or both people are under eighteen. A forced marriage is where one or both people do not consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used. Child marriages are forced because a child cannot provide informed consent, therefore making it a violation of their human rights; and it is evident that child marriages disproportionately affect more girls, with girls being more than two times likely to be forced into marriage than their male counterparts. Child marriages are prevalent all over the world, with girls living in the rural parts Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia the most vulnerable to child marriage; often being forced to marry men that are two times or more their age.
Child marriage is usually driven by gender inequality and the belief that females are somehow inferior to males. In areas that girls are more susceptible to child marriages, one of the leading causes is poverty, as many parents have no other choice but to sell their female child to be able to provide for the family.
In the United Kingdom, Child marriage is an invisible but thriving issue that needs to be addressed urgently. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show 43 teenage boys, and 140 teenage girls, were married with parental consent in 2017, and these figures do not reflect the number of children marrying in non-legal religious and customary ceremonies.
In the UK, the legal minimum age for marriage is 18 years old; However, there is provision for marriage with parental consent between the ages of 16 and 18. In Scotland, the minimum age of marriage is 16 and marriage does not require parental consent. Some parents use these legal loopholes to force the marriages of their children who are aged 16 or 17. However, parental consent often amounts to coercion, and teenage girls are regularly married off to older men who they have never met.
One of the main causes of child marriage in this country is gender inequality and culture. There is evidence of child and forced marriage happening among migrant communities, including among British women and girls with a migrant background. There are also reports of British girls being taken to their parents’ homeland to be married off.
In 2018, the countries with the highest number of related cases handled by the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) were: Pakistan (44%), followed by Bangladesh (9%), India (6%), Somalia (3%), Afghanistan (3%) and Romania (2%). Community marriages have reportedly been held in the UK in accordance with the religious laws of many South Asian, Turkish, Middle Eastern and North African cultures.
To combat forced marriage in the country, the Forced Marriage Unit was set up in 2005. It is a joint initiative of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Home Office which was set up to lead on the Government’s forced marriage policy, outreach and casework, and it provides support to individuals at risk and/or affected by forced marriage inside the UK, and to British nationals living overseas, through its network of embassies. They also criminalised forced marriage under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act in 2014, which introduced a seven year sentence for forcing someone into marriage. The Act also criminalises forcing a British national into marriage outside of the UK. The Forced Marriage Civil Protection Act came into force along with Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPOs). FMPOs assist those threatened with forced marriage and can be used to prevent a forced marriage taking place or to protect someone who has already been forced into marriage. Breaching a FMPO can result in a five year sentence..
In 2018, the FMU gave advice or support relating to a forced marriage to 1764 individuals. Children aged 15 and under made up 18% of cases dealt with by the FMU, while a third of cases related to victims 18 and under. The region with the highest number of cases dealt with by the FMU was London.
Child marriage needs to be addressed and dealt with urgently, as no child, at any age should have to bear the physical and mental responsibilities that come with marriage. These children should be in education, enabling them to pursue any dreams that they may have. Although the UK government has made significant strides by creating organisations and legislation that help combat forced marriage, they are still being heavily criticised by charities and organisations who believe a lot more must be done to protect these children.
I am an LLB Law (Hons) student at the University of Central Lancashire. I was born and raised in Nigeria. I love writing, I find it very therapeutic and FemLegal works well for me because i’m interested in gaining more knowledge about gender and the law outside of my university setting, with like minded and passionate individuals.