Ideas into action: the campaign to end UK child marriage

TEDxLondon is always keen to support the work of our speakers and take powerful ideas and put them into action. This year you have the opportunity to support Payzee Mahmod and the campaign to end child marriage in the UK. In 2019, Payzee became a Survivor Ambassador for the Safeguard Futures, Ban Child Marriage campaign. We spoke to her about her work with the campaign network, Girls Not Brides UK, to find exactly how we can help.

What is the new campaign Safeguard Futures, Ban Child Marriage aiming to do?
The campaign aims to change domestic law so that marrying a child under the age of 18 is a crime. Our current law is out of date – dating back to before the Second World War! Under the current law, child marriage at any age is not criminalised, and a marriage can take place at the age of 16 and 17 with parental consent in England and Wales.

Why does the campaign seek to change both the minimum age of marriage and to criminalise child marriage?
As the law stands, the onus is on the child to declare that the marriage is forced in order to get protection. Many children in this situation don’t understand what is happening to them or feel too scared to speak out. When I was married at 16 years old, I didn’t even know that I had a choice to not go through with the marriage. I couldn’t recognise that I was being coerced and even if I had, I was too scared to be the one to challenge my family. Criminalising all marriage under the age of 18 will deter families from arranging child marriages in the first place and it will also prevent men from the UK perpetrating child marriage against children abroad. I want every child to have the chance to complete their education, become informed about their rights and make their own choice about if, and who, to marry as an adult.

What is the scope of the child marriage problem in the UK?
Data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) shows that from 2006 to 2016, 3,354 marriages involving children aged 16 and 17 were registered in England and Wales. However, registered marriages are only part of the picture of the UK child marriage problem. These statistics do not capture non-registered religious and cultural marriages, or child marriages that take place abroad involving children or adults who have lived in the UK. Since 2015 the national charity Karma Nirvana have received 924 calls relating to child marriage on their helpline. Between February and September in 2019, the helpline supported 72 children at risk of marriage – the youngest of which related to a 10-year-old British schoolgirl. The new proposed law will cover every type of child marriage: registered, religious and customary.

How does child marriage link to other forms of gender inequality?
Child marriage predominantly impacts girls, who will often be married to much older men. Such an imbalance in power means it’s common for girls to suffer domestic abuse, rape and other forms of gender based violence. Some girls will also be at heightened risk of “honour”-based abuse and even “honour” killing if she seeks to leave the marriage. Tragically, this is what happened to my sister Banaz, who was murdered for leaving her abusive child marriage. Some girls are also “prepared” for child marriage by having female genital mutilation inflicted upon them. In some cases, boys are also victims of child marriage, as in some communities social norms coerce children into marrying young.

Isn’t the UK a leader in campaigning against child marriage globally?
The UK is hypocritical when it comes to child marriage. On the one hand, the UK sees itself as a world leader tackling this kind of abuse and has signed up to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals which includes a commitment to end child marriage. On the other hand, the UK’s work is undermined by our outdated domestic law. The UK’s hypocrisy has had terrible consequences internationally, including when Bangladeshi officials cited UK law as a justification for lowering their minimum age of marriage. 

THE SCALE OF THE PROBLEM

3354 marriages registered to children aged 16 and 17 in England and Wales over a decade (2006 – 2016)

1 in 3 of all cases dealt with by the UK’s Forced Marriage Unit in 2018 involved children under the age of 18

How can we support the campaign?
Every one of us here has the power to make a difference. Your MP has a duty to represent the wishes of their constituents. Stand with us, tweet your MP, email them, go and see them if you can.
Sign and share our petition.

Show your support using #SafeguardFuturesBanChildMarriage on social media.
You can find your MP at https://www.theyworkforyou.com/.

Suggested tweet
As my MP I call on you to back the #SafeguardFuturesBanChildMarriage campaign to make child marriage under 18 a crime in England & Wales so every child can thrive.


Girls Not Brides UK is Co-Chaired by four NGOs – IKWRO, FORWARD, Karma Nirvana and the Independent Yemen Group. The Girls Not Brides UK partnership is the UK arm of the wider Girls Not Brides global network.



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