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Marriage: 16 and 17-year-olds

Home Department – in the House of Commons on 28th October 2019.

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Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Labour, Rotherham

If she will bring forward legislative proposals to end marriages involving 16 and 17-year-olds.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

We have listened carefully to the debate on the legal age of marriage and continue to keep it under review. Tackling forced marriage is one of this Government’s priorities, and I am proud that we made it an offence in 2014.

Photo of Sarah Champion Sarah Champion Labour, Rotherham

The Minister is aware that 350 children a year are married in this country. We do not know how many of those are forced marriages, nor do we know how many unregistered or overseas marriages there are. The Minister can change this instantly, and change the culture around it, by making the legal age of marriage 18. Will she do it?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, knowing as I do the work that she is doing on this. We are very much looking at the evidence. In 2016, the last year for which we have figures, 179 people aged 16 to 17 entered marriage, out of nearly half a million who got married that year. In a way, the hon. Lady’s question demonstrates the complexities of this difficult subject, but I am very keen to work with her and other Members to look at the evidence on this important issue.

Photo of Pauline Latham Pauline Latham Conservative, Mid Derbyshire

Does the Minister really believe that it is still appropriate for children to marry, with parental consent, before they have completed mandatory education or training up to the age of 18?

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, Minister for Women

My hon. Friend has rather demonstrated the paradox in age legislation in our country. I take some comfort from the fact that marriages under the age of 18 are on the decline in this country. We know that that is sadly not the case elsewhere in the world, but I am happy to work with her and other Members from across the House on this difficult and thorny but important topic.