Child Marriage in the UK: Examining the Legal Framework

Child Marriage in the UK: Examining the Legal Framework

Child marriage is a deeply concerning issue that continues to persist in many parts of the world. While often associated with certain regions or cultures, it is important to recognize that child marriage can occur anywhere, including in developed countries like the United Kingdom. In this article, we will examine the legal framework surrounding child marriage in the UK, highlighting the challenges and efforts to address this issue.

The Legal Framework

In the United Kingdom, the legal age of marriage is 18 for both men and women. However, there are certain exceptions that allow marriages to take place before the age of 18, including with parental consent. According to the Marriage Act 1949, individuals who are 16 or 17 years old can marry with the consent of their parents.

The consent of both parents is required, unless one parent has sole custody. In cases where one parent has sole custody, the consent of that parent alone is sufficient. Additionally, if a parent refuses to give consent, individuals can apply to a court for permission to marry. This legal framework has given rise to concerns about potential child marriages in the UK.


One of the challenges in addressing child marriage in the UK is the difficulty in identifying cases. Child marriages are often conducted in secret and individuals involved may be reluctant to speak out due to fear or cultural norms. This makes it challenging for authorities to intervene and protect young individuals from forced or early marriages.

Another challenge lies in the fact that the law allows for parental consent in cases of marriage involving individuals aged 16 or 17. While this is intended to respect family autonomy and cultural practices, it also creates a potential loophole that can be exploited to force young individuals into marriages against their will. This raises concerns about the protection of children’s rights and the potential for exploitation or abuse.

Efforts to Address Child Marriage

Recognizing the need to address child marriage, the UK government has taken steps to tackle this issue. The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU), established in 2005, provides support and advice to individuals facing forced marriages and is responsible for investigating cases of child marriages. The FMU works closely with other agencies, such as the police and social services, to ensure the protection of potential victims.

In 2014, the government introduced the Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO), which allows individuals at risk of forced marriage to seek legal protection. The FMPO can prohibit individuals from being taken out of the country, order the surrender of passports, and require perpetrators to stop making contact. This legislation has been instrumental in protecting individuals at risk of forced marriage, including young victims.

Furthermore, the UK government has made efforts to raise awareness about child marriage and provide education on rights and consent through campaigns and school curriculums. By empowering young individuals with knowledge of their rights, it is hoped that they will be better equipped to resist and report forced marriages.


Q: What are the consequences of child marriage in the UK?
A: Child marriage can have severe consequences for the individuals involved, including physical, emotional, and psychological harm. It can limit their educational and economic opportunities, contribute to high rates of domestic violence, and perpetuate cycles of poverty.

Q: Are there specific communities or religions in the UK where child marriage is more prevalent?
A: Child marriage can occur in any community or religion. However, it is important to recognize that cultural and traditional practices may influence the prevalence of child marriage in certain communities.

Q: What can individuals do if they suspect someone is at risk of child marriage?
A: If you suspect someone is at risk of child marriage, it is important to report your concerns to the relevant authorities. This can include contacting the police, social services, or the Forced Marriage Unit for guidance and support.

Q: How can we prevent child marriage in the UK?
A: Preventing child marriage requires a multifaceted approach. This includes legislative measures, such as raising the legal age of marriage with no exceptions, as well as education and awareness campaigns to empower young individuals and communities with knowledge of their rights.


Child marriage in the UK remains a complex and deeply concerning issue. While the legal framework allows for exceptions in certain cases, efforts to identify and prevent child marriages are ongoing. Through collaboration between government agencies, support services, and community engagement, it is hoped that child marriage can be effectively addressed and eliminated in the UK, ensuring the protection and welfare of all young individuals.

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