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What is the legal marriage age in UK? Change to law in England and Wales, response and penalties - explained

New marriage age law will ‘transform the life chances of many girls’ according to MP who proposed bill

The legal age of marriage in England and Wales is set to change from 16 to 18, in a bid to prevent child marriages.

Anyone caught breaking the law can face up to seven years in prison and a hefty fine.

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The new law will apply to religious or cultural marriages which aren’t legally registered, whether or not they are carried out in England and Wales.

This means that anyone who takes a child to another country with the intention of marriage, can still be prosecuted when they return to the UK.

Here’s everything you need to know about the legal marriage age in the UK.

What is the legal marriage age in England and Wales?

The current legal age for marriage in England and Wales is 18 years old, with those wishing to marry at age 16 or 17 needing consent from their parents.

However, there is no law to prevent religious or cultural marriages that happen under those ages and are not officially registered with local councils.

Why is the legal marriage age changing in England and Wales?

The legal marriage age is changing to prevent child marriage.

The practice is still happening, with Office of National Statistics data showing 3,300 marriages involving children took place in England and Wales during the ten year period up to 2016 .

The backbench bill, which was introduced in 2021 by Conservative MP Pauline Latham, passed without opposition in parliament on Tuesday (26 April) and is expected to come into force soon.

Speaking about the bill’s introduction, Latham said it will "transform the life chances of many girls".

Child marriage and Iranian and Kurdish Womens Rights campaigner Payzee Malika, who was forced into marriage at 16, took to Twitter to share her experience of child marriage and feelings about her campaign for the new bill.

In 2006, Malika’s sister Banaz Mahmod was murdered in a so-called honour killing as she tried to flee a violent and abusive forced marriage.

Malika said: “Struggling to put in to words what this means. I feel so many emotions. This is real life change. This is for me, for Banaz, for any child impacted by child marriage.

“This journey has been an incredible one. I’ve worked with so many women who have supported me, one another and this campaign. There is no us without you all. This is for every girl.”

Will the law change for every region in the UK?

The change in the law will only apply to England and Wales.

In Scotland, the minimum age for marriage is 16 years old and you do not need to have consent from your parents.

In Northern Ireland, the minimum age for marriage is 16 year olds but parental consent is needed for the marriage to go ahead.

What are the punishments for anyone breaking the new law?

Under the new law, adults who facilitate an underage marriage could face a seven-year jail sentence and a fine.

Children will not face any punishment.

Marriages that took place before the new law came into effect will not be impacted.