Marrying Under 18 Could Soon Be Illegal as Government Pushes Back on Forced Weddings

The U.K. may raise the minimum marriage age from 16 to 18, after an investigative report has revealed that many teenage girls in the country have been forced to marry abroad, raped and impregnated before returning home.

British newspaper The Times shed light on the reality that numerous female children have faced in abusive, forced relationships. According to the August report, the U.K.’s Home Office received dozens of reports of victims or suspected victims who were forced by family to sponsor visas for foreign spouses under such circumstances. However, the investigative report revealed that nearly half of the visas were approved.

Baroness Williams of Trafford, who serves as the kingdom’s equalities minister, was questioned about the report and asked if the government would consider changing the law.

“I will certainly bring that point back because [it] is absolutely right to be concerned about it,” she said, according to The Times.

A bill was also successfully introduced into the U.K.’s House of Commons by the ruling Tory party’s Member of Parliament Pauline Latham. The proposed legislation will now proceed to a second reading.

“You need permission from your parents or guardians if you’re under 18 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland,” the U.K. government’s official website explains. It also specifies that a person must be at least 16 to legally enter into a marriage or civil partnership.

“In allowing some children to marry the U.K. is out of step with the international standards it claims to support,” Heather Barr, a senior researcher with the Women’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch wrote in a Monday statement. She also pointed out that the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child “supports a global minimum of 18 years for marriage, without exceptions.”

“Unicef believes that marriage before the age of 18 is a fundamental violation of human rights – I agree and I believe it should be banned in this country,” Latham, who has received support from Tory and Labour MPs for her bill, said, Metro reported.

“Setting the minimum age of marriage at 18 provides an objective rather than subjective standard of maturity which safeguards a child from being married when they are not physically, mentally or emotionally ready,” she added.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has also already launched an official investigation and expressed his view that more needs to be done to protect victims. It is believed that there could be thousands of British girls in such forced marriages; however, visas for foreign spouses can only be denied if the victim signs a public statement confirming their situation, according to The Times. Due to family pressure and abuse, the victims often will not do so.

Nonetheless, some members of parliament have also pushed back against increasing the legal marriage age. Conservative MP Kevin Foster pointed out that the legal age of consent for sexual activity is 16.

"It'd be at 16 you could decide legally, if we didn't change the age of (sexual) consent, the life-changing decision to have children yet you couldn't actually get married until you were 18,” he said, Express reported. "I think that would be a bit of an oddity in our law."

Child marriage remains a pervasive issue in countries around the world. In the U.S., many states set the legal age at 16, with the consent of a parent. Several allow children as young as 14 and 15 to get married in certain circumstances.

A report published Wednesday by Voice of America stated that U.S. Census Bureau numbers show that for every 1,000 children, nearly seven girls under the age of 18 were married. The rate was nearly six for every 1,000 children when it comes to underage boys.