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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.
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?
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.
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.