The Girls Not Brides UK partnership has warned that a legal loophole that allows 16- and 17-year-olds in England and Wales to marry with parental consent is being exploited and used to coerce young people into child marriage.
According to the group, more than 20 organizations have signed;a letter to Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, insisting that the current forced marriage law does not go far enough in protecting young people.
The group also noted;that there is no legal provision across the UK to prevent religious or customary child;marriages from taking place – at any age.
In the letter to Boris Johnson, the co-chairs of the Girls Not Brides UK partnership posited;that child marriage is not only a “‘developing world issue”.
“Child marriage is often viewed as a ‘developing world issue’ and one that exclusively takes place overseas. The reality is that child marriage is an invisible but thriving issue in the UK today”.
In a separate interview, founder of the Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organization (IKWRO), Diana Nammi, pointed;out how the “inadequate law” affects some girls.
“Too often under the current inadequate law we see failures by safeguarding professionals and the consequences of child marriage, which disproportionately affect a greater number of girls, usually married to older men.
“The impacts include reduced;education and employment opportunities, an increase in mental health problems and a higher incidence of domestic violence.”
According to the latest data from the UK government’s Forced;Marriage Unit, more than a quarter of cases (363) involved children aged under 18.
Karma Nirvana, which runs a national helpline supporting the victims of “honour” abuse and forced marriage, also said it had responded to 1,041 contacts on child marriage since 2015, some involving children as young as 11.
Young people should be free to focus on education
Payzee Mahmod, a popular campaigner against child marriage and FGM,;who is currently serving with IKWRO and Girls Not Brides’, has also called;for a ban on child marriage in the UK.
She posited that young people should be free to focus on their education and pursue their dreams.
Mahmod was a British child bride betrothed in 2003 to a man nearly twice her age. Her sister Banaz, who was married at 17, five months earlier than her, was murdered in a “honour killing” at the age of 20 after she left the husband her family had chosen for her.
Addressing child marriage, Mahmod called the act “one of the most harmful things any child can go through”.
“Child marriage is a hidden crime, yet it is very much a live issue here in Britain. Girls are raped on their wedding nights by older men and it is common for them to have forced pregnancies – something my sister and I both experienced.
“Given this issue has now been brought directly to the Prime Minister’s attention, there should be no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’ – it is a straightforward safeguarding issue.”
Mahmod also voiced out her concern that the pandemic might have put more children at risk.
“Girls have been out of school for so long and it’s really scary to think how many might have fallen under the radar without the oversight of teachers and other professionals.”