Marriage is a beautiful thing, and a goal for many of us. Lots of us spend years looking for that perfect someone we want to spend the rest of our lives with. But some of us meet our lifelong partner when we are very young and want to get married as soon as possible. There are many reasons for this, including personal belief or extreme circumstances, but most people just feel as though they’ve met the person they want to be with forever and just want to get on with what they see as the inevitable.
In June this year, the government backed calls to raise the legal age of marriage from 16 to 18.
What is the current legal age to marry?
At the moment, sixteen and seventeen year olds can marry with permission from their parents or a guardian, but government representatives are concerned that this leaves too much opportunity for young people to be forced into marriage before they are ready to. Their concerned particularly for the protection of girls from religious backgrounds, whose parents might encourage or coerce them into marriage at age sixteen to protect the honour of the family.
There is also some concern that one older partner might manipulate or coerce a younger person into marriage.
The new law aims to protect vulnerable young people from entering into marriage before they are an adult.
The law of marriage
Until the middle of the 18th century, marriages could take place anywhere as long as they were overseen by a clergyman, which meant lots of people married without parental consent. It also meant that wealthy people were able to marry people who were technically still children, and the frequency of this was prolific by the 1740s.
The Marriage Act declared in 1953 that all weddings must henceforth take place in a church or place of worship, or else they were not legally binding. Jewish people and Quakers were the only people exempt from this ruling. No marriage of anyone under the age of 21 was permitted without parental consent. This exerted another unnecessary level of control, that meant parents could stop their adult children from marrying whoever they chose up until the age of 21. It also meant that parents could still authorise the marriage of their children if they were under the age of sixteen, as no minimum age was set until 1929.
These days, though you do not need your parent’s consent to marry once you are eighteen years old, you still need it if you want to marry at age sixteen, even though you are still, technically, a child. That means that child marriage is still technically legal in the United Kingdom.
Does the law go far enough?
Many campaigners are declaring that the law does not go far enough to protect vulnerable young people. They want those found to be encouraging children into marriage severely punished for breaking the law.
This is a contentious issue, particularly where communities complete an official UK marriage ceremony as an act of vanity, rather than because they believe it is needed to be officially married in the eyes of a creator. It is extremely difficult in this situation to identify when young people have been manipulated or coerced into marriage, and campaigners are calling for tougher monitoring, as well as harsher punishments for parents who encourage their children to marry, even if those marriages are religious based, or if they occur abroad.
Is this really an issue?
You might not know any sixteen or seventeen year olds who have any thoughts of marriage, let alone those who go ahead and do it, but in 2016 a total of 141 female children were married with consent from their parents or guardians, and some of these were married off to men who were over twenty years older than they are. It is highly unlikely that these young girls gave their permission, or that they fully understood what it was they were signing up for, and these are before we look at the figures of girls who were married in religious ceremonies that were not legally registered as a marriage in the UK. The actual figure is likely much bigger.
There’s no news yet on when the new law will come into effect, but this looks to be a relatively imminent change.
If you need any help regarding the marriage of a young person – whether you are a parent or guardian, concerned individual, or a young person yourself – do not hesitate to contact JMR Solicitors. We will give you all the information we have regarding your rights.
You can contact us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or calling 0161 491 3933.