England and Wales passed a law on February 27th making it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to get married, even with parental consent.
The five-year campaign to implement the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act was run by 20 different activist organisations in the UK. In 2021, an open letter was signed and addressed to then Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. It highlighted the extent of forced marriages in the UK and called for legal provisions over forced child marriages. The organisations claimed that there exists a legal loophole in allowing teenagers to marry with parental consent, as it can lead to the coercion of minors into child marriages.
The reform is part of the government’s continued commitment to tackle violence against women and girls.
Currently, these changes do not affect Scotland or Northern Ireland, where the legal age to get married without parental consent is still 16.
In Australia, marriage is permitted from the age of 16 as long as one person is above 18 and the marriage is approved by a court.
According to a 2019 report by Good Shepherd, “there is a trend of cases involving Australian residents or citizens under the age of 18 being forced into marriage overseas, with the expectation that the individual will sponsor their spouse to immigrate to Australia.”
According to Youth Law Australia, judges or magistrates must determine that the circumstances of the marriage are “exceptional and unusual”. During this ruling they will take into consideration the maturity of the couple, length of the relationship, financial situation, independence, reasons for marriage, and the opinions of the family.
Even with these checks and balances, a study conducted by the ABC in 2022 found that 34% of Australia’s forced child marriages occurred in NSW.
The changes in the UK will crack down on child marriages because they were found to cause lasting damage on children’s mental and physical health, with an increased prominence of sexual and physical violence involved.