The highly anticipated Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 is expected to come into force on Monday 27 February 2023, altering the minimum age of marriage.
What is the current law and why is it changing?
Historically, the minimum age of marriage was 12 for a female and 14 for a male. When the Ages of Marriage Act 1929 came into force, it raised the minimum age of marriage in the UK to 16, provided parental consent was obtained from each child’s parent or guardian. Over the years, many have considered this to be problematic with concerns that 16- and 17-year-olds may be forced into child marriage against their will, by parents or guardians.
The introduction of the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 is aimed to protect children from forced marriages and the associated risk of exploitation, by raising the current legal age from 16 to 18 years old, regardless of parental consent.
Once the Act is in force, it will not be possible for anyone under 18 to marry or enter a Civil Partnership. It will be a criminal offence for anyone under 18 to enter a marriage under any circumstances, and there will be no longer be the requirement to find evidence of coercion.
No child should ever be victim of forced marriage; this reform is certainly well overdue and welcomed by many – although young couples who wish to marry will have to wait longer to do so. Any person who attempts to conduct a marriage where someone is under 18 will commit an offence under section 121 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. This includes actions such as booking a venue for the purpose of a marriage.
Whilst guidance has been prepared for many organisations and educational institutions, it is essential that children, parents, grandparents, teachers and other professionals know about this change in law and understand that child marriage is illegal in England and Wales. The government recently published the 13th edition of the Secretary for Marriages newsletter, which covers some essential FAQs.
If you have concerns that someone may be at risk of forced marriage, you can read the government guidance here.