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United Kingdom

Photo credit: Girls Not Brides UK | Fergus Burnett

What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?

There is no publicly available government data on child marriage in the United Kingdom.

Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?

Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that women and girls are somehow inferior to men and boys.

There is limited information on child marriage in the United Kingdom.

Between 2011 and 2012 the government’s Forced Marriage Unit provided assistance to 400 children. The Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation in the UK reportedly deals with more than 100 cases of forced marriage a year, with some of the youngest clients being 11 and 12 years old.

Community marriages have reportedly been held in the UK in accordance with the religious laws of many South Asian, Turkish, Middle Eastern and north African cultures.

What has this country committed to?

The United Kingdom has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The United Kingdom co-sponsored the 2017 Human Rights Council resolution recognising the need to address child, early and forced marriage in humanitarian contexts, and the 2015 Human Rights Council resolution to end child, early and forced marriage, recognising that it is a violation of human rights.

The United Kingdom co-sponsored the 2013, 2014 and 2016 UN General Assembly resolutions on child, early and forced marriage, and the 2013 Human Rights Council resolution on child, early and forced marriage. In 2014, the United Kingdom signed a joint statement at the Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.

The United Kingdom ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1986, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.

In 2016 the UN Child Rights Committee recommended that the United Kingdom raise the minimum age of marriage to 18 across all devolved administrations, overseas territories and Crown dependencies. It raised concerns about the number of children exposed to harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FGM/C) and forced marriage within parts of the UK and its territories.

What is the government doing to address this at the national level?

The government continues to build on the success of the Girl Summit held in London in July 2014, and works nationally and internationally to support the elimination of child marriage.

A One Year On booklet was published by UNICEF and the UK government highlighting progress to date. A Girl Summit anniversary event with donor and partner governments, civil society stakeholders and youth activists was hosted by the International Development Secretary and the Canadian High Commission in London.

Girl Summits have since been held in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Nepal and Uganda. In November 2015 the United Kingdom, Netherlands and Canada supported the African Union in hosting the first ever African Girl Summit.

From 2009-2014, the government provided an estimated £47 million funding support to initiatives combatting child marriage.

In December 2014 the government approved a new £36 million programme: Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage. Approximately £25 million of this support is for the UNICEF-UNFPA Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage, a multi-donor, multi-stakeholder programme working across 12 countries over four years.

In March 2015 the International Development Secretary announced £8 million funding for civil society through the AmplifyChange fund. The fund addresses a broader range of sexual and reproductive health and gender issues that are associated with child marriage.

In partnership with the government of Ethiopia, the UK-funded Finote Hiwot programme is helping at least 37,500 adolescent girls to avoid child marriage.

The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) is a joint initiative of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Home Office which was set up in January 2005 to lead on the Government’s forced marriage policy, outreach and casework. The FMU is unique in that it provides support to individuals at risk and/or affected by forced marriage inside the UK, and to British nationals living overseas, through its network of embassies.

The FMU also provides a confidential helpline to those affected by forced marriage, information for professionals working with children, and support for workers in embassies abroad to protect citizens subject to forced marriage. The FMU also arranges repatriation and resettlement of those who have been forced, or are at risk of being forced, into marriage abroad.

The Unit undertakes an extensive outreach programme, with about 100 events a year being run across the country, targeting professionals and those most at risk. In October 2015, the Unit launched a short film aimed at deterring potential forced marriage perpetrators.

What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?

The legal minimum age of marriage is 18 years old in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, there is provision for marriage with parental consent between the ages of 16 and 18. In Scotland, the minimum age of marriage is 16 and marriage does not require parental consent. Some parents use these legal loopholes to force the marriages of their children who are aged 16 or 17.

In 2014, England and Wales criminalised forced marriage under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act. Forcing someone, including children, into marriage is now liable to a maximum of seven years in jail. The Act also criminalises forcing a British national into marriage outside of the UK. Importantly, breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order now carries a maximum penalty of five years in jail.

In 2008, the Forced Marriage Civil Protection Act came into force along with Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPOs) which intend to assist those threatened with forced marriage or by a third party on their behalf, and can be used to prevent a forced marriage taking place or to protect someone who has already been forced into marriage.


BBC News, Forced marriage: Girl aged five among 400 minors helped, [website], 2012, (accessed April 2018)

End Child Marriage Finote Hiwot, [website], 2018, (accessed April 2018)

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Joint statement on child, early and forced marriage, HRC 27, Agenda Item 3, [website], 2014, (accessed April 2018)

The Guardian, Revealed: the child brides who are forced to marry in Britain, [website], 2004, (accessed April 2018)

UK Government, New video shows the devastating impact of forced marriage, [website], 2015, (accessed April 2018)

UK Government, Report of the Secretary General on progress towards ending child, early and forced marriage worldwide pursuant to General Assembly resolution 69/156, 2014 [unpublished]
UNICEF, Girl Summit one year on, 2015, (accessed April 2018)

UNICEF-UNFPA, Global Programme to Accelerate Action to End Child Marriage, 2017, (accessed February 2018)

UN Child Rights Committee, Concluding observations on the fifth periodic report of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 2016, p.5, p.10, (accessed April 2018)

United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017, (accessed February 2018)

World YWCA, African Union Girl Summit on ending child marriage in Africa, 2015, [website], 2018, (accessed April 2018)

* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)

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