Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill will have its Second Reading on 19th November in the House of Commons.

The Private Members Bill, sponsored by Pauline Latham MP, would make ‘provision about the minimum age for marriage and civil partnership; and for connected purposes’.

The Bill is yet to be published but a version from a previous Parliamentary session can be found here.

That Bill raised the age of consent for marriages and civil partnerships and created new offences of aiding, abetting, counselling, procuring, encouraging or assisting a child under the age of 18 to enter into a marriage or encouraging a child to do so, as well as creating an offence of failing protecting a child from a child marriage (which would apply to those with parental responsibility and frequent contacts of the child).

This Bill is important and rectifies a defect in the current law. However, as the charity Karma Nivrana has pointed out, raising the age to get married to 18 will not affect unregistered child marriages. It is argued that ‘the Bill must also go one step further and criminalise the aiding, abetting or procurement of child marriage in ANY, and ALL, of its forms’.

It is vital that the provisions also apply to unregistered child marriages. Otherwise, what would currently be registered child marriages will still take place but as religious or cultural weddings rather than legally recognised marriages.

My book, Religion and Marriage Law: The Need for Reform, examines the position of unregistered marriages generally and proposes that they should be prohibited where there is not informed consent on the part of both parties. This would include child marriages.

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill deserves support but it will be vital that it includes a wide definition of marriage that includes unregistered marriages.

There is a useful precedent for this in the offence of causing another to enter into a forced marriage. The Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 section 121(4) states that ‘“marriage” means any religious or civil ceremony of marriage (whether or not legally binding)’.

There needs to be a similar provision in the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill.

The general issue of unregistered marriages also needs action. We are currently awaiting the Law Commission’s final report on weddings law. As my book and policy briefing argues, there is a desperate need to modernise and reform the law.


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