“But child marriage is legal in the UK—so why shouldn’t it be allowed here?"
Those were the words of a Bangladesh government official who I met to discuss the terrible harm child marriage causes in Bangladesh, like depriving girls of education, exposing them and their babies to serious health risks from early pregnancy, sinking their families deeper into poverty, and raising the risk that they will face domestic violence. In Bangladesh, half of all girls marry as children, 18 percent of them before age 15.
As I sat in his office, I struggled to answer to his question. Bangladesh has signed up to two international human rights conventions—on women’s rights and children’s rights—which define child marriage as being wed before the age of 18, and demand that the country end the practice. But then so has the UK—and that hasn’t stopped it violating these same commitments either.
The minimum age of marriage is 18 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, but children age 16 and 17 can marry with their parents’ permission. In Scotland, the minimum age of marriage is 16, with no parental permission required.