The legal age of marriage in the UK rose from 16 to 18 years of on Monday 27th February 2023.
The reason behind this was to protect vulnerable teenagers aged 16 to 17 being manipulated or coerced into marriage against their will.
There have been thousands of cases of forced marriage in recent years where children, many from Asian backgrounds, have been taken out the United Kingdom shortly after their 16th birthdays and made to perform marriage ceremonies to men they have never met before.
This is usually arranged by their elderly family members without the child’s prior knowledge and can sometimes result in the child returning home weeks or months later already pregnant and with her new husband.
Preventing forced marriage of children is one of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and marrying off a child agains their will is a breach of international human rights.
With this change to the legislation, 16 and 17 year olds are now brought under similar levels of protection against harm as we find with the laws forbidding alcohol and cigarettes.
A recent BBC News article explored this issue from the experience from the point of view of two victims of arranged child marriage, one of whom pointed out that at age 16 she didn’t realise that she was being coerced and that it should have been the duty of every adult to safeguard her.
This new law should make teenagers much less likely to go through this as most parents will not be prepared to break U.K. law for the sake of tradition.
Relevance to A-level Sociology
this material is a useful update to the marriage and divorce topics and childhood topics within the families and household option, usually taught as part of the AQA’s A-Level sociology in the first year of study.