A new Bill making its way through the House of Lords wants to raise the age of consent for marriage and civil partnerships from 16 to 18.
The Bill, which had its first reading two days ago (25th May, 2016), also seeks to make it an offence for a person under the age of eighteen to be caused to enter into a marriage or civil partnership.
The age of consent in this context is defined as the age at which a person’s consent to getting married or entering into a civil partnership, is valid in law. At the moment, only same sex couples can enter into a civil partnership.
The Bill appears to focus in part on forced marriage and child marriage concerns, as it requests that S.121 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (offence of forced marriage: England and Wales) be amended to include civil partnerships.
But perhaps it’s not just about child marriage.
Civil Partnerships are not typically associated with forced marriage, and are more commonly used to gain immigration advantages so that the parties can stay in the UK.
The Bill also seeks to remove parental consent completely where the two parties looking to enter into a civil partnership are under 18. Under the proposed Bill anyone under the age of 18 would no longer be able to enter a civil partnership even with the consent of their parents, which could imply that the Bill is an attempt at stemming an influx of immigrants into the UK.
However, another way of looking at these proposals could be that the Bill may just be an effort at updating the law and making it egalitarian, by providing same sex couples who wish to enter into civil partnerships the protections currently offered for other types of unions, and to prevent children from being used for fraudulent immigration purposes, perhaps.
What do you think? Is this Bill without compassion for those desperately trying to escape violence in their own countries, or a legitimate mechanism to bring the law up to date and protect vulnerable children?
Does raising the age at which a person can get married or enter a civil partnership from 16 to 18 offer a form of protection for vulnerable young men and women, or is this kind of measure ineffective in preventing child marriage? (See our article on Spain and its efforts at raising the minimum age of marriage with a view to preventing forced marriage).
The Bill itself has been proposed by Baroness Jenny Tonge, best known for her critical views on the Israeli government, although she has a strong interest in child marriage and its eradication world wide, having helped to produce a report in 2012 on the subject.
Whatever its true intent, it is a Private Members Bill and such Bills, especially those originating from the House of Lords rarely become law, so there may be little to discuss in the long run.
If you’re interested in the evolution of marriage, this short and very helpful summary from Parliament’s website gives you the lowdown. For anyone interested in an in-depth look, we highly recommend Cretney’s Family Law in The Twentieth Century: A History.