The MP Pauline Latham will step in to adopt Sajid Javid’s private member’s bill to end child marriage after his promotion to health secretary.
Javid presented a bill raising the minimum legal age of marriage to 18 in England and Wales to parliament earlier this month, but is not able to take it forward because he is no longer a backbencher.
Latham who has campaigned to end child marriage for more than three years, and brought forward a similar bill in the previous parliamentary session, will guide Javid’s bill on to the statute books.
She said: “The current law on age of marriage is nearly a century old, and was as much about protecting property rights as it was about love. The loophole that allows 16- and 17-year-olds to marry with their parents’ consent is now more often used as a mechanism for abuse.”
Latham added: “The UK has made international commitments to end child marriage, and this bill will ensure the country leads by example to eradicate the practice worldwide.”
Javid said child marriages are associated with appalling outcomes, including a heightened risk of domestic, sexual and so-called “honour”-based violence.
He said: ““As far as I’m concerned, child marriage is child abuse. No one pressures their 16-year-old into getting married for good reasons. I’ve seen testimony from young women describing how their parents attempted to marry them off to settle debts, strengthen family links and to prevent them from being with the people they love – especially those of the same sex.”
In 2019, more than a quarter of cases, 363, dealt with by the UK’s Forced Marriage Unit involved children under the age of 18.
The Ministry of Justice wrote to child marriage campaigners earlier this month assuring them the government would support raising the minimum legal age of marriage to 18.
Payzee Mahmod, survivor of child marriage and campaigner at IKWRO, said: “It is a really positive step but it is crucial child marriage is also made a crime so young people are protected from every type of marriage, including religious and cultural non-registered marriages, and to prevent British men from marrying children from abroad.”