Child Marriage: Parental consent or coercion? –Conservative Article
Sajid Javid, former chancellor, has recently been campaigning to raise the legal age of marriage in the UK to 18. The current laws allow for 16-17-year-olds to marry with parental consent. The same age bracket is able to wed without parental consent in Scotland. Britain set 16 as the minimum age of marriage in 1929, when it was “socially unacceptable” to live with one another out of wedlock at that time. Javid, however, states that “Child marriage is child abuse”.
Javid highlights the debate between consent vs. coercion. Whilst the laws permit under 18s to marry with parental consent, this loophole allows for families to coerce their children into marriages. This loophole leaves girls “more vulnerable to grooming and coercion” with a little-to-no say in who they marry. This results in young girls – children in fact – being married to men that are often twice their age.
“Thousands of minors [have] been coerced into marriages in Britain in the last decade.” Between 2008 and 2017, more than 2,750 under-18s were married in England and Wales. This figure is staggering alone. However, this data excludes minors that wed in traditional ceremonies or married abroad. When considering the excluded data, it is clear that this loophole is doing serious damage to the lives of thousands of children.
Payzee Mahmod, a woman who was married at the age of 16, stated that “girls who wed young were pulled out of school and often subjected to marital rape and domestic abuse.” She said that “Child marriage is a hidden crime yet it is very much a live issue here in Britain and one of the most harmful things any child can go through. Girls are raped on their wedding nights by older men and it is common for them to have forced pregnancies – something my sister and I both experienced.”
I stress the word ‘coercion’ heavily in this article because it is so central to the story of many child brides. In fact, I would go even further and say that these children are simply forced by their communities to marry. There is an exasperating amount of pressure put on young girls to marry the men that are selected for them by their families; their place in the community is dependent on such unions.
Payzee Mahmod’s sister, Banaz, left her husband at the age of 20. Her family had chosen her husband for her. Banaz was murdered in a “so-called ‘honour killing’” when she left her husband. Mahmod’s story is just one of many that showcase the pressures young girls and women suffer.
“Unacceptably, the onus is on the child to secure their own protection under forced marriage law by speaking out against their own family and community which can have dangerous consequences and [which] understandably many children are too terrified to do.” This is simply unacceptable. The fact that children are even able to get married in the UK is horrific in itself. But the fact that children are expected to “secure their own protection”; flee the only community that they have ever known; with such high risk as we have seen with the murder of Banaz Mahmod, is diabolical. How can we possibly allow children to go through this any longer?
Javid states that “In our legal system, it is already very clear: you are not an adult until the age of 18.” I could not agree more with Javid. Until the age of 18, you are not allowed to drink alcohol, you are not allowed to vote in an election and you are meant to stay in education. So why do we allow children to enter the binding contract of marriage? Why are we still not treating marriage in the same way that we treat every other aspect of adulthood?
The UK is so heavily focused on implementing progressive change in countries abroad. Yet we are still allowing it to legally occur on our very own land. Sajid Javid has brought forth an issue that has gone on for far too long. Javid is certainly correct when he says that “Child marriage is child abuse.”
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Rebecca Selt
Point of Information
This issue needs to be addressed – A Labour Response
I’m inclined to agree with Rebecca on this issue. I think that allowing 16-year olds to marry with parental consent allows exploitation to take place. It is an outdated concept. One which initially sought to ‘protect’ women from their own loneliness, lest they become spinsters or something equally socially unacceptable.
I am of course being slightly sarcastic here but my point stands. It is hypocritical to allow 16-year olds to marry when they are prohibited from contributing to other aspects of society that they are considered too young for.
As Rebecca says though, the prospect of exploitation is by far the most frightening aspect of all of this. 16-year olds are still children, it is truly difficult for them to refuse the wishes of their family. If individuals were only able to marry at the age of 18, when they can more easily exercise their own freedoms, it would be more difficult for individuals to be exploited.
With this in mind, I also think that more needs to be done to address forced marriages of over 18s as well. This problem is not limited to minors. For many, family pressure does not end at the beginning of adulthood. In 2018, 52% of reported forced marriages involved victims over the age of 18 suggesting that this is a problem that is not just limited to children. More should be done to provide support for these victims.
Written by Senior Labour Writer, Jack Rolfe
An overdue reevaluation – A Liberal Response
Rebecca has written a compelling argument, that I very much agree with. The case for this egregious law is steeped in sexism and classism. I am relieved that this allowance will finally be overturned. Subsequently, I do not feel like there is more to add on to her reasonings.
However, what may be an unforeseen consequence of the overturning of under 18 marriage is the increase of forced marriage abroad. As of 2018, in all the cases the Forced Marriage Unit dealt with, only 7% did not have an overseas element to it. This demonstrates that the bulk of this problem has little to do with the marriage laws of the UK. Rather, it is the failings of child/adult protections.
Currently, there are only guidelines and advice for educators in child marriage. Yet no mandatory training. It was even suggested that teachers became criminally responsible for failing to report forced marriage. Though this is an incredibly hardline approach that I do not agree with, the focus should be making the child aware of the options they have if they report what’s going on at home. Due to the fact that many are unaware of the myriad of available options to them.
Overall, it is good to see such a horrific and coercive crime that predominantly targets young women is having a well overdue reevaluation.
Written by Junior Liberal Writer, Lucy Severn