MPs want to tackle forced marriage by raising the legal age you can wed – here’s why it won’t work

Collectively, all European countries need to tackle the issue of violence against girls and women and develop support for those at risk

  • Rabina Khan
  • While MPs debate whether to raise the legal age of marriage to 18 in the UK to avoid 16- and 17-year-olds being forced into arranged marriages, we should not forget that it is already illegal to coerce anyone into a marriage against their will.

Nevertheless, the government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) estimates that since 2012, between 1,200 and 1,400 forced marriages were recorded. But whether this new legislation will do anything to prevent forced marriages is questionable at best, because 80 per cent of them occur abroad.

Throughout my working life both as a community worker and local councillor I have dealt with victims of forced marriages from a wide variety of communities.

 Typical first indicators are when a previously studious teenage girl suddenly drops out of school for several weeks, when neighbours say that they haven’t seen the girl in a while but that they heard “that her dad took her on a long holiday” – or when a local shopkeeper realises that girls who always stop to buy sweets or drinks on the way home are suddenly absent.

These are all reliable indicators that something is wrong. And too often that “something” is a forced marriage.

Communities of all faiths and persuasions need to step up and get involved to stop this happening.

Public services such as the social services, the police and the Home Office then need to work with those communities. The Southall Black Sisters group have spent years campaigning for such a multi-agency approach and have made “extensive recommendations to the Home Office, the police, the foreign and consular service, social services, schools and health authorities on good practice when dealing with women and girls who are at risk of forced marriage and/or abduction”.

Although I agree with raising the legal age of marriage to 18, I feel that we need more than age-based legislation to protect vulnerable young girls. This is something that should also be implemented through the EU Court of Justice, as it is not just a British problem. Shockingly, every day across the world, 39,000 young girls under the age of 18 are married – more than a third of these are under the age of 15.


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