The Ministry of Justice has an "open mind" about a private member's bill in Parliament which would raise the minimum age for marriage from 16 to 18, it emerged on Friday, 22 May.
Conservative MP Pauline Latham is seeking to pass a bill which would “revoke parental…consent which permits the marriage…of a child and to criminalise child marriage…under the age of 18.”
Ms Scolding notes Mr Gould’s concerns around balancing rights and not wanting to criminalise those in legitimate relationships, stating that the courts often play a key role in clarifying the legislation. #ReligiousOrganisationsandSettings— InquiryCSA (@InquiryCSA) May 22, 2020
The bill ran out of time in 2018 but is being redrafted and will be submitted as a 10-minute rule bill. Baroness Hussein-Ece, a Liberal Democrat peer who is of Turkish Cypriot origin, introduced the bill in the House of Lords in January.
At a hearing of the Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse on Friday, Matthew Gould, the Ministry of Justice’s Deputy Director of Criminal Courts and Criminal Law Policy, said they had an “open mind” about the bill.
Fiona Scolding QC, lead counsel to the Child Protection in Religious Organisations and Settings investigation, questioned Mr Gould about the Ministry of Justice’s position on the bill which is designed to end the practice of coerced “child marriages”.
Mr Gould pointed out that out of 235,000 marriages that were conducted in England and Wales, only 183 individuals were under the age of 18.
Under English law people aged 16 or 17 can only get married with the consent of their parents or - if they are orphans or have grown up in care - with judicial consent.
The inquiry is currently looking at "safeguarding cultures in religious organisations”, including Jehovah’s Witnesses, Baptists, Methodists, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism and non-conformist Christian denominations.
The inquiry is being chaired by Professor Alexis Jay, who also led an independent inquiry into sexual exploitation in Rotherham by men from the town’s Pakistani community.
Fiona Scolding QC is asking whether common safeguarding templates, materials or training could be prepared, or whether it must be tailored to individual religious organisations. /1— InquiryCSA (@InquiryCSA) May 22, 2020
Rotherham’s Labour MP Sarah Champion has supported Mrs Latham’s attempt to outlaw “child marriages”.
The pair wrote a joint article in January in which they highlighted the case of one 16-year-old girl who was coerced into getting married.
In the article they said: "Payzee was just 16, growing up in a suburb and preparing for her GCSEs when her father arranged her wedding. All she wanted was to pursue her dream of university; she didn’t fully understand the consequences of marriage. Not wanting to upset her father, she secretly hoped the marriage would be stopped."
The article goes onto say that Payzee married, got pregnant and experienced domestic violence and was divorced by the age of 18.
“Today, she is battling to overcome the lifelong harms caused by her child marriage,” it concluded.