Watch Payzeee Mahmod, IKWRO Campaigner’s TEDxLondon Talk  ‘A Survivor’s Plea to end child marriage’

Child marriage is “any formal marriage or informal union between a child under the age of 18 and an adult or another child” (UNICEF).

Parliament has recognised, by raising the minimum age for leaving education or training to eighteen, that childhood should be safeguarded as a time for learning and personal development.

Safeguarding children from child marriage will enable every child the opportunity to complete their education, make informed choices about their future and reach their full potential.

Child marriage causes lifelong harms

Types of child marriage 

Child marriage is impacting children from the UK and is also being perpetrated by men from the UK against children overseas. It takes the form of registered marriages, which are recognised under British law, and also religious or customary marriages, which can happen at any age and may or may not also be registered. An unregistered child marriage causes no less harm than a registered marriage.

The scale of the problem

Office of National Statistics (ONS) data shows that in the last 10 years, for which data is available (2007-2017), 3096 marriages involving children aged 16 and 17 were registered in England and Wales.

Registered marriages are only part of the picture of the UK child marriage problem; the ONS statistics do not capture non-registered religious or customary marriages or child marriages that take place abroad involving children or adults who live in the UK.

The fact that the average age of marriage in England and Wales has continued to rise and the number of people getting married aged under 18 has fallen (to 166 in 2017) shows that as a society most people no longer want child marriage.  However, as the data shows, child marriage is continuing and the damage that it causes to the children it harms is so profound, that no time must be wasted in ensuring the law is fit for purpose to safeguard children from this abuse; every child matters.

Child marriage is a hidden form of child abuse, so it is important to look to a range of sources for prevalence. In 2020 a quarter of cases 26%, (199) dealt with by the UK’s Forced Marriage Unit involved children under 18.

The vast majority of victims/ survivors (79%) were females, showing that this issue is disproportionately affecting girls. The cases relate to 54 countries outside of the UK, demonstrating the breadth of the UK child marriage problem globally.

Since 2015, the National helpline for “honour” based abuse received 1041 child marriage cases involving under-18 year olds, and many other charities working domestically have been supporting many more children at risk of child marriage within the UK and abroad.

Many child marriages are never reported nor captured by statistics. Current ambiguity in the law is a barrier to protection and likely keeps the known numbers down.

Comparisons to other age related laws

The Children Act 1989, in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as ‘a person under the age of 18’. Under the age of 18 a person cannot:

Current law is failing to safeguard children from child marriage

There are two failures in current law which together leave children vulnerable to child marriage.

  1. Marriages involving children aged 16 and 17-years-old can still be registered in England and Wales through the legal exception of parental consent, which too often amounts to parental and community coercion.
  2. Child marriages, involving a child of any age, are not automatically recognised and prohibited as a forced marriage on account of them being a child. As the law stands, the onus is on the child to secure their own protection from the child marriage. They first need to recognise that the marriage is a forced one (which coercive control makes much more challenging). Then they have to speak out against their own family and community, which can have dangerous consequences including “honour” based abuse and which, understandably, many children are too terrified to do.

Child Marriage can be both a cause and a consequence of trafficking and modern slavery. By tackling child marriage, progress in curbing these abuses will be strengthened.

“As the National Policing Lead for “Honour” Based Abuse, Forced Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation, I am delighted to lend my support to this campaign to see a change in the law to prevent child marriage under 18. Society has moved on since these antiquated laws, more needs to done to protect children when they are vulnerable between the ages of 16 and 17, not to be forced into what is effectively child marriage. A change in the law, making it clear that all marriage under 18 were a crime, would assist all parts of the criminal justice system in protecting children.”

Commander Ivan Balhatchet, National Police Chiefs Council Lead for “Honour” Based Abuse, Forced Marriage and FGM

What needs to happen

The minimum age for registering a marriage must be 18 with no exceptions and Forced Marriage law must be updated to explicitly prohibit all forms of child marriage (civil, religious and customary).

Having clear law prohibiting child marriage will act as a deterrent and empower those at risk. It will also make it clear to statutory agencies that all children must be safeguarded from child marriage and that they must take positive action and assist victims/ survivors, even if there are no obvious indications of sexual or physical violence. Currently such cases can sometimes be overlooked.

Only adults should be culpable for child marriage. There should be no change to the age of sexual consent, which is a distinct matter.

Campaign update

CAMPAIGN WIN!!! We are delighted to share that in a historic moment, on 28th April 2022 the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill gained Royal Assent and became an Act of Parliament. When it commences, the Act will remove the exception of parental consent, so that child marriages involving 16 and 17-year-olds will no longer be able to be registered. It will also mean that all child marriages (whether registered or not) will be banned, including where the child marriage is planned to take place outside of England and Wales.

How you can help

To ensure that all children are safeguarded from child marriage, it is crucial that the change in the law is widely known about.

  • Help spead the word that the law is changing.
  • Watch and share Payzee’s TEDx Talk which sets out why this change in the law is so vital.
  • Contact IKWRO at to arrange training for your organisation to ensure you are up to date on the change in the law and safeguarding all children from child marriage.

IKWRO leads this campaign as Co-chairs of Girls Not Brides UK, part of the Girls Not Brides global network which comprises over 1500 organisations working to end child marriage around the world.

Download the Safeguard Futures Ban Child Marriage campaign briefing here.

If you are worried about someone knowing you have visited this website please read this safety information.

There is an escape button at the bottom right corner of the page opposite this box. Please test it so you know how it works.