UK MPs vote to raise 'bewildering' minimum age for marriage
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UK lawmakers on Friday voted to raise the minimum age for marriage in England and Wales from 16 to 18, after a pressure campaign joined by victims of forced child marriages.
The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Bill passed its final stage unopposed in the House of Commons, and is expected to be adopted too by the Lords upper chamber before it becomes law.
Currently, anyone aged 16 or 17 in England and Wales can get married as long as they have parental consent.
But in too many cases, campaigners say, parents are complicit in trafficking young daughters into arranged marriages.
In the early 2000s, Payzee Mahmod and her sister Banaz were taken from their London home to become child brides in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Payzee escaped her marriage and went on to campaign for a change in the law. But Banaz was strangled in 2006 in a so-called honour killing. Their father and uncle were among those convicted of her murder.
The bill would make it easier to prosecute parents or relatives who send under-18s abroad to be wed.
Payzee Mahmod said that at the age of 16, she was too young to realise what was happening when she was escorted into a room and told to say words that turned out to be marital vows.
"This is actually amounting to parental coercion, which is what I experienced," she told the BBC in an interview to mark the bill's passage.
"It should have been on all the adults around me to safeguard me, and to protect me from that."
The bill's Conservative sponsor, Pauline Latham, said it marked "a huge step in the right direction" that brought England and Wales into line with UN campaigns against child marriage, of which the UK is a signatory.
Anna McMorrin of the opposition Labour party said: "The fact that a young person must remain in education until they are 18 but can marry at 16 is bewildering, and has no place in the 21st century."
The UK government urged the devolved administrations of Scotland and Northern Ireland -- where 16- and 17-year-olds can still marry without parental consent -- to fall into line.