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Child marriage happens in the UK too, warn British MPs

Photo credit: UK Parliament - Parliamentary Copyright. Accessed in March 2016.

“Child marriage happens in the UK too” warned the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Population, Development and Reproductive Health as it launched A Childhood Lost, a report that sheds light on the prevalence of child marriage in the UK and around the world.

The APPG urged the British government to take urgent action in the UK and abroad to protect girls from being married against their will, to support those already affected and to invest in programme evaluation and research on how to bring an end to the practice.

“I would never have thought, as a British born and bred subject that I would one day go abroad under the guise of a family holiday and be forced to marry a boy who was a child himself”, recounted a child marriage survivor at the launch of the APPG report on child marriage. Shunned by her community for rejecting the marriage, she found herself with no support, her plight invisible to the world.

Her story is not an isolated one.

The UK government’s Forced Marriage Unit estimates that between 5,000 and 8,000 people are at risk of being forced into marriage every year in England. In the past year, 29% of the calls received by the Unit’s helpline concerned minors. The youngest just five years old.

Evidence shows that British girls are being taken out of the country to be forcibly married and that, in the UK, families are marrying off their children in “community” or religious ceremonies that go unregistered.

The APPG expressed serious concerns over gaps in British legislation that fails to protect children from forced and early marriage by allowing the marriage of sixteen and seventeen-year olds with parental consent. “This needs to change”, participants asserted.

“Please, think a little wider and do a little more”, pleads child marriage survivor

The APPG welcomed the UK government’s plans to criminalise forced marriage, but urged policy-makers to do much more to prevent the practice.

The report identifies several priority areas for national action including: implementation of statutory guidance on forced marriage; training for professionals; compulsory registration of all religious marriages; and an increase in the minimum legal age for marriage to 18. The two young advocates also emphasised the need to engage youth at school from a young age and educate them about illegal practices as a key component of their citizenship classes.

DFID must act to help prevent child marriage

The cross-party group pointed to the increase in the number child brides globally, predicted to reach 14 million a year within the next decade, and urged the  UK Department For International Development (DFID) to do more to address the practice.

Suggestions for DFID included further research into the prevalence and practice of child marriage, more evaluation of existing programmes to end child marriage and to the need to ensure that UK aid meets the needs for family planning, sexual, reproductive and maternal healthcare of girls and women of all ages, no matter their marital status.

Read more about child marriage in the UK and download the report here.
Read our blog: UK parliamentarians hear testimony on child marriage: Girls Not Brides reflect.