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End Child Marriage – it’s child abuse

Child marriage graphic

Child Marriage is a form of child abuse and it is a human rights issue, as recognised by the UN Human Rights Council, which adopted their first resolution on the matter on 27th September 2013.

Child Marriage is the marriage of anyone under the age of 18. Article 1 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is signed by the UK and came into force in this country on 15 January 1992, defines a child as ‘every human being below the age of 18 years’.

According to the Forced Marriage Unit, who in 2012 gave advice or support in 1485 cases related to a possible Forced Marriage, 35% of the victims were under 18 years old. This figure, over 500 cases, is just the tip of the iceberg as many cases go unreported, often because the victims are threatened not to disclose the marriage to anyone.

Reasons that a family might want their daughter to marry whilst still a child include:

  • trying to protect their perceived “honour” before their daughter “opens their eyes” and becomes interested in boys, loses their virginity or has any sexual activity
  • to ensure that their daughter marries a “suitable” husband including in terms of religion/ race/ community
  •  to keep wealth within the family
  • to strengthen family/ tribal ties
  • to secure a carer for an elderly/ disabled person

Photograph by Stephanie Sinclar

Child Marriage has devastating lifelong impacts. It denies childhood and can subject the victim to a lifetime of rape and other forms of sexual abuse and physical violence, as well as emotional, financial and physical control. It often restricts access to education which curtails financial independence and can result in lower living standards, child pregnancy and associated and other health problems. According to UNICEF a mother under the age of eighteen is 60% more likely to die in its first year of life than one born to a mother over the age of nineteen. Research from the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) found that girls married before the age of 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence and depression than those who marry later.

To end Child Marriage in the UK we must take a holistic approach through; community work, addressing the issue on the national curriculum, tackling unregistered religious Child Marriages including those under Sharia law and ensuring that all relevant frontline professionals receive comprehensive training. We must also ensure that our legal framework prohibits Child Marriage.

As one of our clients – a 17 year old girl at risk of Forced Marriage – put it:

‘I think that the law should protect children and that child marriage should be illegal. If child marriage was illegal it would help people like me. It would automatically be clear to my parents that if they made me marry they would get in trouble’

Unlike several European countries including Belgium, Finland, France, Germany and Ireland, UK law currently permits Child Marriage. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, a 16 and 17 year old can marry with parental consent and in Scotland the minimum marriageable age is 16.

To protect children, the minimum marriageable age must be raised to 18 in Scotland and parental consent in England Wales and Northern Ireland must be abolished; if an individual is not considered to be old enough to make their own decision to marry, then they should not enter a marriage until they are an adult and are able to independently give informed consent.

We must also ensure that the law being drafted to criminalise Forced Marriage specifically protects children from Child Marriage by stating that no child can consent to marriage meaning that any Child Marriage is a Forced Marriage offence.

See our open Letter to David Cameron here.

IKWRO are proud to be members of the Girls Not Brides Network.

What IKWRO does

IKWRO provides support to Middle Eastern and Central Asian women and girls who are at risk of different forms of violence including ‘Honour’ Based Violence, Forced Marriage, Child Marriage, Female Genital Mutilation and Domestic Violence. We have a dedicated and experienced staff of caseworkers who speak several Middle Eastern and Central Asian languages including Arabic, Kurdish, Farsi, Turkish, Dari and Pashtu. We work directly with hundreds of women and girls every year, for whom we provide support, advocacy, counselling and secure protection. We hold a Quality Assurance Award.

IKWRO is one of the most dynamic organisations in the UK supporting Middle Eastern and Central Asian women and girls. We have been helping women to escape violence, campaigning to raise awareness about the different forms of violence and training professionals on these issues for over ten years.

We offer:


“Honour” Based Violence

Heshu Yunes

“Honour” Based Violence and “Honour’ Killings are forms of Violence Against Women and Girls which currently occur predominantly amongst populations from the Middle East and South Asia, although they may occur in other areas, and historically have been recorded in Southern Europe.

“Honour” works to restrict women’s autonomy, particularly sexual autonomy within male-dominated societies which place a high value on women’s chastity. Within “honour” crimes, families may collaborate to commit violence against a relative who is thought to have violated the restrictions around female behaviour. Such violations might include dress or make-up which is not approved by the family, resisting an arranged marriage, seeking divorce, reporting domestic violence and some so-called offences may appear trivial.

Since the murder of Heshu Yones, IKWRO have been heavily involved in raising the profile of crimes related to “honour”, and in increasing the profile and understanding of these forms of violence.

The need for such efforts was demonstrated in the murder of Banaz Mahmod in 2005, which displayed failings within the police to apprehend the risks attached to family violence with a  relationship to “honour”. IKWRO have been commended by the Association of Chief Police Officers on account of their expertise in “honour” based  crimes.


Client support

IKWRO prides itself on a high level of client-centered support which prioritises the needs and safety of women at risk.

Our caseworkers deal with women’s personal issues with sensitivity and understanding of the pressures upon them, and have experience and training in how to achieve the best results.

IKWRO’s clients say:

IKWRO is like my family. Whenever I have a problem, I will turn to them. They are my only family that I have got and can trust.

 IKWRO saved my life and my daughter from violence and indignity. I lived with a very violent and abusive husband for three years suffering imprisonment and torture. I suffered alone and in silence. He told me that I will be deported if anyone knew about me. I didn’t know anything and I was afraid of everyone. I had no where to go. I didn’t know anyone, had no any money, couldn’t speak a word of English and had a very young baby daughter.

I couldn’t bear any more. After he raped and beat me up, he walked out. I took my baby and ran out into the street crying. I saw a police officer and all I could say was ‘help!’ They called IKWRO. At first I was too scared to talk, but the very kind voice on the other end made me feel better and I opened my heart to IKWRO’s advisor.
It was then I began to feel the light in the tunnel. They helped me to find safe accommodation, sorted out my income, helped me apply for Indefinite Leave to Remain, and I am now starting English classes … and the most important thing is that I have my lovely daughter who is now walking and talking. I’ve got my confidence back.

I will teach her to become a strong woman. Thank you IKWRO!