Child marriage around the world:

United Kingdom

Photo credit: Girls Not Brides UK | Fergus Burnett

Although it is most prevalent in the developing world, child marriage also happens in the United Kingdom.

The Home Office estimates that between 5,000 and 8,000 people are at risk of being forced into marriage every year in the UK. In 2016, the UK Forced Marriage Unit’s helpline dealt with 1,428 cases of forced marriage; 15% involved children aged 16 and under and 11% involved 16-17 year olds.

Legal framework

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.

Forced Marriage Unit

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 Department for International Development (DFID)

Policies

Child marriage currently falls across DFID’s strategic vision for women and girls, although not explicitly.

In July 2014, the British government organised its first Girl Summit to mobilise domestic and international efforts to end child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation within a generation. Find out more about the financial and political commitments made at the Girl Summit.

Examples of child marriage programmes

In partnership with the Government of Ethiopia, DFID is funding the Finote Hiwot programme to end child marriage for at least 200,000 adolescent girls in the East and West Gojam zones of Ethiopia’s Amhara region. Finote Hiwot is an effort to scale up Berhane Hewan, a successful pilot programme to end child marriage in the region.

National Partnership in United Kingdom

Girls Not Brides UK is the official Girls Not Brides National Partnership in the United Kingdom.

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Sources
  • Home Office, Forced Marriage Unit statistics, 2016
  • Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Home Office, Guidance: Forced marriage, 2014 (https://www.gov.uk/forced-marriage)
  • APPG on Population, Development and Reproductive Health, A Childhood Lost, 2012
  • Home Office, Forced Marriage – A Consultation: Summary of Responses, 2011