Family and Relationships

Silvia Izquierdo/AP
U.K. Immigration Minister Phil Woolas

Britain Ups Minimum Marriage Visa Age to Curb Forced Marriages

November 06, 2008 02:30 PM
by Anne Szustek
Both parties will have to be at least 21 years of age in a bid to stem forced marriages of young immigrant women.

Stopping Forced Weddings

In an effort to prevent forced marriages and immigration abuse, the British government has raised the age at which foreigners can apply for a marriage visa to enter the country. The age will change from 18 to 21 years of age on Nov. 27.

“It is important that we protect vulnerable young people and this measure will help avoid exploitation,” U.K. Immigration Minister Phil Woolas was quoted as saying in The Daily Telegraph. “We believe it is important to protect young people from being forced into relationships they do not want at a time in their lives when they could be establishing a degree of independence as an adult through further education or work. “

The new minimum U.K. marriage visa age will come into effect a few days after the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act, an Act that will permit anyone to request a legal halt to a wedding ceremony if it is believed that it is forced or involves one of the spouses-to-be being taken across national borders for the purposes of marriage.

Many forced marriages in the U.K. involve impoverished young women from Bangladesh and Pakistan who often have a weak command of English, preventing them from integrating into society.

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Chris Huhne supported the government’s measure, telling The Daily Telegraph, “But we must also give more help to legitimate spouses to learn English so they can play a full part in society.”

Background: Forced marriages in Western Europe

Comparable measures have been discussed in other parts of Western Europe recently, based on similar concerns of exploitation and societal subjugation.

In October 2007, the two biggest parties in Germany’s parliament, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD), were discussing a coalition deal to criminalize forced marriages.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a member of the CDU, said in an October 2007 speech, "I think the demand to make forced marriage an offence is absolutely right.”

A law that raised Germany’s minimum marriage visa age to 18 “was already showing positive results,” a spokesperson for the German Interior Ministry told Reuters.

However, any law banning forced marriages might be perceived as prejudice against the country’s Muslim population of 3.2 million, nearly 80 percent of whom are of Turkish descent.

Bekir Alboga, a spokesperson for Germany’s DITIB Turkish-Islamic Union, told Reuters in October 2007, "As Muslims we oppose forced marriage. We would welcome action as long as there is distinction between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage.”

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines