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“As a campaigning lawyer, I work on so many campaigns to change the law to better the lives of girls and women. It’s always amazing when you finally see a second reading of a bill pass,” said Dr. Charlotte Proudman, barrister and legal advisor of Girls Not Brides UK, a global organisation with the mission to end child marriage.
Child marriage is often associated with third world countries, however, the number of substantial cases presented by campaigners has highlighted that child marriage is very much prevalent in the developed world.
“We have had calls related to children as young as seven experiencing child marriage in the UK. Last year, we had 76 cases of child marriage reported to our hotline — 95 per cent were religious and unregistered marriages. This is happening in a developed UK,” said Karma Nirvana’s Rattu.
“It is happening domestically, but it has taken an organisation like ours to [show] that it is not just a foreign problem, as it is so hidden here. We have children that are born here taken abroad to be forced into child marriages.”
“Being a lawyer, I have come across many reports of child marriage in this country. Particularly in the Roma community, child marriages range from all different ages, from 14, 15 and 16. But it is not just the Roma community, but other communities, including our own,” said Dr. Proudman, who played a pivotal role in writing the bill. “It happens here in the UK, this idea of children running off to Gretna Green, being in love and getting married — the romanticised view of it.”
One of the biggest challenges campaigners face regarding child marriage in the UK is that the vast majority of marriages carried out are unregistered.
“I think this bill will send a strong message that child marriage is a criminal offence in this country. At the moment it’s not. So, this bill will be a deterrent for parents and family members who are even considering this type of behaviour,” said Dr. Proudman.
IKWRO’s Browne added: “The vast majority of cases are unregistered and that’s why we specifically went for designing this law. The active act of marrying a child will be an offence.”
Dr. Proudman highlighted how the UK failing to criminalise child marriage is undermining the country’s credibility in the eyes of the world.
“The UK is rightly encouraging other countries to criminalise child marriage, but it has failed to do it at home,” said Dr. Proudman. “So, developing countries are not practicing their own values? At 16, should anyone be getting married? At 16, you can’t even vote, so how is it right that you can get married and take on all these responsibilities at a young age?”
Under the proposed law, children will be exempt from any prosecution, but adults could face up to seven years in prison and a fine for aiding child marriage.
Following its successful second reading, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill will continue to progress through the House of Commons and on its way to becoming enshrined in law.