Protect girls from forced marriage by increasing minimum age to 18, say campaigners

“Children have to be in school or educational training until they are 18 now, so how could they get married, they’re not adults,” Conservative MP Pauline Latham told Sky News.

She believes the law change could protect vulnerable teenagers being sent overseas to marry.

“Children are taken out aged 16 and they come back married and their parents say ‘they’ve got my consent’.

“Whereas if it was 18, they might have managed to get to university, they might have got a job after they’ve finished training and they might be stronger to say no to their parents,” she added.

UNICEF says marriage before the age of 18 is a fundamental violation of human rights.

Campaigners claim Commonwealth countries often follow the legal lead of the UK, so changes here could have a real impact across the world.

Shakilla Khan, 39, was sent to Pakistan and forced to marry a cousin she had never met, as she revised for her GCSEs.

“I was saying no, I want to finish my exams, do my A-levels and I want to go to university,” said Ms Khan.

“For me to say that, it wasn’t normal. In my family girls hit a certain age and you get married, that’s it,” she said.

Her marriage was abusive and ended in divorce.

Ms Khan says if the legal age for marriage was higher, she might have been able to stop her forced marriage.

“I would have known my own mind better. No one should have to go through what I went through. It robbed me of my very existence,” she said.

“Looking back now I don’t know how I survived them taking away those precious years from me, where I could have made something of myself.”

In the UK, children aged 16 and 17 can marry but only with parental consent.

The law says marriages must be freely entered, regardless of the age of those involved.

Charities working to prevent forced marriage say raising the minimum age is one of a number of ways to tackle the problem.

The Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation executive director, Diana Nammi, told Sky News: “We need to educate the community as well, we need to let them know that child marriage is a brutal situation.

“Many of them think it is just a sexual relationship, but it’s a huge responsibility on the shoulders of the children and they are not prepared yet.”

Forcing someone into marriage now carries a maximum of seven years in jail.

A government spokesperson said the UK is a “world leader” in the fight against forced marriage.

In a statement they added: “The government is aware of concerns regarding the legal age of marriage and will continue to keep this under review.”

Although the number of under-18s getting married is decreasing, many feel the laws must change.

Ms Khan says she has taken out Forced Marriage Orders to protect her own teenage daughters.

She wants politicians to listen to her story to prevent others enduring the trauma she went through.

“If the age is increased, they will not be in danger of being taken away abroad and getting married to strangers,” she said.

“It took away so much freedom from me. I could have met someone I loved. Instead, I was forced to get married, forced to have children, forced to put up with so many unbearable things.”

2019-03-31T16:35:12+00:00By |

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