As from today, 27 February 2023, the minimum age for marriage in England and Wales is 18 years. The same age limit applies to civil partnerships.
It also (without saying so) applies to "common law marriages" which are ceremonies that do not have official recognition arising from before the UK had various Marriage Acts and where a marriage was created by a commitment in front of witnesses. The oft-cited example of that of Hells Angels marrying over a motorcycle.
There is no exception for parental or other consent.
For the avoidance of doubt, this includes religious ceremonies which would not be registered with the State authorities but would be regarded by the participants as binding.
There is an offence, with a jail sentence on conviction, of forcing a young person to go through a purported marriage.
There is no offence of presiding at such an illegal "wedding."
Previously the minimum age was 16
This creates a mis-match: the age of consent for sexual intercourse remains at 16.
"New criminal offence to cause a child to marry, with sentence up to 7 years in prison. Offence includes forced marriage in non-legally binding ceremonies"
The Act does not affect marriages in Northern Ireland of Scotland : on the face of it, eloping to Gretna Green will return to popularity. Other elopement destinations are available. How effective this will be against marriages held in India and Pakistan, even if not forced, remains to be seen.
The minimum age for marriage is extremely disparate around the world with some of the originating countries for child abuse having the youngest ages, often as young as 12.
Child marriage is often used as a cover for trafficking in minors.
The Act has failed to prevent such harm by ordering the refusal at ports of entry of those foreign citizens who are under-age and claiming to be married overseas or making it clear that, in the case of British citizens, marriage overseas will not be recognised in England. It is not known whether couples' visas will be issued where one or both parties are under-age.
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