Government backs campaign to raise legal age of marriage to 18

The Government is set to raise the legal minimum age of marriage from 16 to 18, it has been confirmed.

According to the coalition of charities behind the campaign, a legal loophole is being “exploited” to coerce young people into child marriage.

Sixteen and 17-year-olds can marry under existing laws, but only with parental consent. However, the group, known as Girls Not Brides UK, warned that marriage laws are not protecting Britain’s most vulnerable children.

The coalition says children can protest against an arranged marriage, but family pressures and coercion mean reports are extremely rare.

Commenting on the campaign, the four co-chairs of Girls Not Brides UK said: “More than 185,000 people have signed our petition to update the law to ban child marriage demonstrating an overwhelming and united public consensus on this issue.

“Making child marriage a crime will ensure that all children are safeguarded against all forms of child marriage and sends out the strongest possible message that child marriage is not accepted or tolerated.”

Responding to concerns, Sajid Javid, the former Home Secretary, said the Government will back a private members’ bill which – if approved – will make it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to marry.

“It’s clear that we must legislate to close this loophole so that vulnerable children cannot be pushed into such serious and life-changing commitments before they are ready,” he said.

A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) spokesman added: “The Government supports raising the legal age for marriage to protect vulnerable children and will outline its next steps in due course.”

According to the latest data available, there were 3,354 marriages involving 16 and 17-year-olds in the 10 years to 2016. But these figures do not include non-registered or cultural marriages or marriages abroad.

For help and advice with related matters, please get in touch with Alison Green, Head of our Family and Relationship Team at Mackrell.Solicitors on +44 (0) 20 7240 0521 or at

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Alison Green
Alison joined Mackrell.Solicitors in 1989 and qualified as a solicitor in 1991, becoming a partner in the firm in 2010. Her expertise covers matrimonial work, including divorce and the associated financial and children issues; pre and post-nuptial agreements; co-habitation disputes; civil partnership agreements and the breakdown of civil partnerships.