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Minimum Legal Age of Marriage

Jun 23, 2021

There has been a lot of media coverage recently, regarding the government’s pledge to raise the minimum legal age of marriage to 18 in England and Wales. Presently it is possible for 16 and 17-year-olds to marry if they have parent’s consent.

Activists have been campaigning for some time to raise the minimum legal age of marriage in order to avoid young people being pressured by their parents into marrying against their own wishes.

Charities, including Barnardos, claim it can contribute to sexual violence and domestic abuse. Campaigners are reported to have said in the BBC, that parental consent often amounts to coercion, and teenage girls are reportedly regularly married off to older men, who they have never met.

One campaigner, Payzee Mahmod, whose sister was murdered in an honour killing has given a talk ‘A survivor’s plea to end child marriage’ which has received over 980,000 views.

Legal Age of Marriage History

The Ages of Marriage Act of 1929 raised the minimum to marry to 16 for both sexes.

In 1753 the Marriage Act declared that all marriage ceremonies must be conducted by a minister in a Parish church or chapel of the Church of England to be legally binding and no marriage of a person under the age of 21 was valid without the consent of parents or guardians. Clergymen who disobeyed the law, were liable for 14 years transportation. Jews and Quakers were exempted from the 1753 Act, but it required religious nonconformists and Catholics to be married in Anglican churches.

Potential conflict about new age limit

The new minimum legal age of marriage of 18 will cause conflict for those 16-year-olds who are legally entitled to have sex in a quandary if their religious, cultural or social views dictate to them that they cannot have sex before marriage.

Those who will remain vulnerable

Raising the minimum legal age of marriage may protect many but there will still be a number of vulnerable adults who will be coerced into a predatory marriage by those seeking to benefit financially.

This reflects the law and market position at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought in relation to a specific matter. 

Aaron O’Malley

Aaron O’Malley

Senior Solicitor, Family Law

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