The government has committed to raising the minimum legal age of marriage to 18 in England and Wales in a victory for campaigners.
Currently, 16 and 17-year-olds can marry with parental consent, but a coalition of charities has warned that this legal loophole is being exploited to coerce young people into child marriage.
In a letter to campaigners from the Ministry of Justice, shared with the Guardian, it said it was committed to raising the minimum legal age to 18 “as soon as legislative opportunity arises”.
The news came as Sajid Javid, the former chancellor, told the Times he would introduce a private member’s bill next week making it illegal for under-18s to marry.
Last month, the four co-chairs of the coalition Girls Not Brides UK wrote a letter to the prime minister warning that the current law on forced marriage law did not go far enough to protect young people.
The Conservative MP Pauline Latham has recently held meetings with ministers, including the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, to discuss the issue, including a proposal for a new criminal offence for adults who aid, abet or procure marriages for children.
On Thursday, a justice minister, Lord Wolfson, wrote to the Iranian and Kurdish women’s rights charity IKWRO; Karma Nirvana, which campaigns against forced marriage; Forward, an African women-led organisation working to end gender violence; and the Independent Yemen Group; saying: “The government supports raising the legal age for marriage in England and Wales to protect vulnerable children living here.
“[It is] committed to making sure children and young people are both protected and supported as they grow and develop in order to maximise their potential life chances. This includes having the opportunity to remain in education or training until they reach the age of 18.
“Child marriage and having children too early in life can deprive them of these important life chances.”
The letter said the department would consult with the Home Office on whether a new criminal offence was needed or whether the existing law on forced marriage could be amended.
Natasha Rattu, director of Karma Nirvana, which has protected girls as young as 11 from child marriage, said: “We are delighted that after relentless campaigning the government has listened to our joint calls to end child marriage by committing to raising the legal age to 18.
“But while this is a huge step in the right direction, it remains imperative the government also makes child marriage a crime.
“This would ensure maximum safeguards against all forms of child marriage and sends out the strongest possible message that child marriage is not accepted or tolerated by our government.”
Diana Nammi, founder of IKWRO, which has been campaigning to ban child marriage for more than a decade, said the loophole allowing children to marry with parental consent – introduced before the second world war to protect families’ reputations and land – left youngsters vulnerable to parental coercion.
“What we need to see now is confirmation from the government of when and how the change in the law will be implemented. There is no time for delay while children in the UK continue to be coerced into child marriage – a harmful and hidden practice that has been exacerbated by the pandemic,” she said.
Payzee Mahmod, a survivor of child marriage who was wed in London at the age of 16, said: “While I’m celebrating this news from the government, we now need to make sure every type of child marriage is banned.
“It is crucial child marriage is made a crime so young people are protected from every type of marriage, including religious and cultural non-registered marriages, and to prevent British men from marrying children from abroad.”
Mahmod’s sister, Banaz, was murdered in an “honour” killing after leaving the husband her family chose for her when she was 17.
IKWRO said it was working with other human rights organisations to push for a ban on child marriage in Scotland, where the law allows young people to marry from 16 without parental consent.
Latham said she was thrilled at the government’s response to her calls to end child marriage. She introduced a bill last year to raise the minimum legal age of marriage but its progress was stalled by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I hope the government’s legislative proposals will eliminate child marriage in the UK and send a clear message to other countries that the practice cannot be tolerated,” she told the Guardian.
Brexit: British Embassy launches survey on key issues affecting UK nationals in Spain | Brexit | International
The British Embassy in Madrid has launched a survey aimed at finding out how UK nationals in Spain have been affected by key issues, in particular, the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, a process commonly known as Brexit.
The poll is for Britons who are full-time residents in Spain (not those with second homes) and are covered by the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, i.e. they were officially registered in the country before December 31, 2020, when the so-called Transition Period came to an end.
Questions in the survey address issues such as access to healthcare and the uptake of the TIE residency cards, which were introduced as a replacement for green residency cards (either the credit-card size or the A4 sheet version, officially known as the Certificado de Registro de Ciudadano de la Unión).
The aim of the poll is to gather vital information on the experience of UK nationals living in Spain that will help the British Embassy provide feedback to Spanish authorities. The survey takes around 10 minutes to complete, and all answers are confidential.
Have you heard our Spanish news podcast ¿Qué? Each week we try to explain the curious, the under-reported and sometimes simply bizarre news stories that are often in the headlines in Spain.
‘The challenge for us now is drought, not war’: livelihoods of millions of Afghans at risk | Global development
The war in Afghanistan might be over but farmers in Kandahar’s Arghandab valley face a new enemy: drought.
It has hardly rained for two years, a drought so severe that some farmers are questioning how much longer they can live off the land.
Mohammed Rahim, 30, grew up working on a farm along with his father and grandfather in the Arghandab district of Afghanistan’s southern province. Famous for its fruit and vegetables, the area is known as the bread basket of Kandahar.
Like most in the valley, Rahim’s family relies solely on farming. “The fighting has just stopped. Peace has returned,” Rahim says. “But now we face another war: drought.
“Now we have to dig deep to pump water out of the land. It has been two years, there has been little rain and we have a drought here. I don’t know if our coming generations can rely on farming the way our ancestors used to do.”
Pir Mohammed, 60, has been a farmer for more than four decades. “Not long ago, there were water channels flowing into the farm and we were providing the remaining water to other farmers,” says Mohammed. “Before, the water was running after us, flowing everywhere – but now we are running after water.”
The water used to come free from the river but now the daily diesel cost for the water pump is at least 2,500 Afghani (£21).
“We don’t make any profit. We are in loss, rather. Instead, we are using our savings. But we don’t have any other option as we do it for survival,” says Mohammed. “However, the scarcity of water has affected the quality of crops as well.”
About 70% of Afghans live in rural areas and are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of drought.
Last week, Rein Paulsen, director of the Food and Agriculture Organization’s Office of Emergencies and Resilience, said severe drought was affecting 7.3 million people in 25 of the country’s 34 provinces.
He warned: “If agriculture collapses further, it will drive up malnutrition, increase displacement and worsen the humanitarian situation.”
Arghandab has been a favourite destination for farming because of the abundance of water and fertile lands. Neikh Mohammed, 40, left the Dand district of Kandahar to work in Arghandab in 2005. When he arrived he was amazed to see the greenery and pomegranate farms.
“It used to rain a lot here and we could not cross the river and come into our farms. We had a life with abundant water. But the past is another country now,” he says.
According to a report by the UN mission in Afghanistan, many local farmers were caught in the crossfire between the Taliban and the Afghan security forces. The Taliban carried out attacks from thick foliage on the farms, which provided a hiding place, ideal for an ambush.
“For the past 20 years, we did not have peace and could not work after dark in our farms. But now we can stay as long as we want without any fear,” says Neikh Mohammed. “Now the challenge is not just restoring peace but the drought and escalating cost of essential commodities.”
Farmers say they want support from international aid agencies and assistance from the new government headed by the Taliban to help them survive.
Pir Mohammed says: “The real challenge for us now is drought, not war. We need food, water, dams and infrastructure in our country. The world should invest in us and save us.”
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