Senior politicians have thrown their support behind raising the minimum age of marriage to 18.
An investigation by The Times into the forced marriage of children has led to a bill in parliament fighting to protect potential victims.
The new law would make it illegal to marry under the age of 18 in England and Wales, even with parental consent. The campaign, spearheaded in parliament by senior Conservative backbencher Sajid Javid, now has the support of justice ministers and other parties.
The Times’ investigation uncovered the practice of teenage girls being forced to marry abroad, then raped and impregnated before being sent back to the UK to make their new husbands eligible for UK visas. The Home Office had approved visas for abusers even when they had been informed that victims wanted them to be blocked.
To find out the extent of the abuse taking place in the UK, The Times conducted “dozens of interviews with victims and campaigners” as well as undercover work, analysed two decades of family court records, and used legal rights protected by the freedom of information act to access previously unseen files. Those files were key in understanding the Home Office’s role in bringing forced spouses’ husbands to the UK.
Within days of the report being published in 2018, then-home secretary Javid called such marriages “child abuse” and vowed to act on The Times’ findings. Now, as a backbencher, it is expected he has enough support in parliament to ensure the new law can pass.
Javid praised The Times’ work on spotlighting the victims of the legal loophole, saying: “The Times has a proud record on fighting against child marriage, having campaigned to prevent underage British victims being forced to marry men from other countries for the purposes of immigration fraud.”