Top MP Javid Slams Child Marriage as ‘Child Abuse’, Admits It’s ’Prevalent in Certain Communities’

A young actress plays the role of Giorgia, 10, forced to marry Paolo, 47, during a happening organised by Amnesty International to denounce child marriage, on October 27, 2016 in Rome. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP) (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images)
GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images

Conservative MP Sajid Javid has said allowing children under 18 to marry is “child abuse”, admitting it was a cultural practice “prevalent in certain communities”.

Mr Javid, who had served as home secretary and chancellor of the exchequer, made the remarks after drafting a Bill to scrap the legal loophole which allows underaged people to be coerced into marriages. Under current law, 16- and 17-year-olds can marry with their parents’ consent in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, the legal age to marry without parental support is 16.

Speaking to GB News on Wednesday, Mr Javid called child marriage “child abuse”, continuing that “when I bring this up with people, they think it’s awful and something that happens in developing countries, but actually it’s happening right here in our own country. And the outcomes for these children is absolutely awful.”

The MP for Bromsgrove in the West Midlands admitted that “it does seem to be more prevalent in certain communities”.

Javid, of Pakistani heritage, said: “When I was growing up, I saw this for myself. I’ll never forget the sight of a 16-year-old girl getting married — when I was barely an adult myself — to a 30-year-old man.

“The reason it was happening, she was a British girl married to a man in Pakistan that she’d never met, and her parents wanted to get a visa for him so he could come and work as cheap labour for the family business… This still goes on and it’s coerced marriage just as much as forced marriage.”

Mr Javid had previously said that the majority of cases involve “young girls, coerced into marrying older men for religious and cultural reasons”. The latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) found that in 2017, more than three times (140) the number of teenaged girls were married with parental consent compared with boys (43).

He added that child marriage is associated with complications during pregnancy, ‘honour’ violence, and domestic and sexual abuse.

The Bill is set to be debated in November, and the Conservative MP said he is “confident” ministers will back his proposal — which is needed for the bill getting on the parliamentary schedule. If passed, it would outlaw marriages for under-18s in England and Wales. However, two previous attempts to raise the minimum age for marriage failed to be passed. During the 2016 attempt, lawmakers heard that “the Government believe that the existing requirement of parental or judicial consent” provided “adequate protection”.

But anti-child marriage campaign groups have said that parental consent amounts to parental coercion.

Figures from the government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) published last summer found that in 2019, more than one-quarter of cases involved minors. Across all age groups, the highest prevalence of cases involved the “focus” country of Pakistan (41 per cent), followed by Bangladesh (11 per cent), and India (five per cent).

The UK in recent years has seen poor conviction rates for the form of child abuse, with a 2017 report finding that while the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) was handling record-high calls from children fearing or being subjected to marriages, there had been just one conviction for forced marriage up to the end of 2016, which can carry a penalty of up to seven years in prison.

By 2018, there had been three convictions, but a report revealed that police were only pressing charges in around three per cent of cases of reported suspected marriage coercion. Speaking at the time, the forced marriage charity Karma Nirvana said: “We’ve got a number of professionals who are turning a blind eye. They don’t want to rock the multicultural boat.”

In 2013, Karma Nirvana spearheaded the special ‘code’ for children fearing they would be taken abroad for a forced marriage, telling them to put a spoon in their underwear which would trigger metal detectors and allow a chance for children to talk safely away from their family to airport authorities about their concerns.

Airports have also become focuses for British and American authorities to tackle female genital mutilation (FGM), which is associated with migrants from Africa and Asia. Police and border patrol officers will look for signs that parents could be taking their daughters overseas to be subjected to the mutilation at airports during the summer vacation, which had acquired the unfortunate name of “cutting season”.

Migration from the third world has also brought another form of child abuse to British shores in recent years: breast ironing. Brought by African migrants, the abuse involves pressing a hot stone or other objects against a pubescent girls’ breasts to prevent them from developing — allegedly to make them less vulnerable to sexual assault — but which results in long-term psychological and physical damage. A 2019 report claimed that up to 1,000 girls and women had been subjected to the abuse in the UK.

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