If I were asked for general advice I would advise that it is better to experience a bit of life before committing to marriage – and to leave getting married until at least mid 20s.
In Ireland, the absolute minmum age of marriage is 18.
In the UK it is 16, but marriage under 18 can still happen if you have the written consent if both your parents.
This matter is not very important to most people in our society.
But it is very important to the Irish Traveller Community as a significant number of their young people marry between the ages of 16 and 18.
There is a long history of young Traveller weddings in Ireland.
I heard, and lawyers please correct me if I am wrong, that at one time the President of the Irish High Court had the power to allow Marriages even under 16?
Generally speaking, Traveller parents these days, wa t their children to wait until they are 18 + in order to marry.
But younger Travellers are now putting their parents under immense pressure y the boy and girl “running away” and spending a night or several days with each other.
This causes the parents to panic – in as the girl especially might have had sex and could be pregnant
To be pregnant out of wedlock is a massive disgrace for a Traveller girl or woman and leads to great ridicule in the whole community – with the feeling no other man will touch her again.
So the parents and girls are left between a rock and a hard place.
I, for one, have solved some of these cases by celebrating the marriages of under 18 year olds with their parents written consent – consent that has be be given in front of me as a priest or a solicitor in their own locality.
I think the RCC insists on brides and grooms being 18?7
Of course, if the law changes in the UK and those laws are legally applied in Norther Ireland, I will no longer be able to perform legal marriages for such people.
I think the UK law is designed to stop the forced marriages of 14 year old girls in the Muslim community etc.
I suppose it is a balance between stopping abuse, protecting minors, the rights of the community and the rights of individuals.
The MP bringing in the new legislation is Pauline Leatham.
I dropped her an email yesterday’s and made her aware of Irish Traveller culture and asked her to take them into consideration.
We are all influenced by our own cultures and its not always easy to understand other cultures and customs.
PAULINE LATHAM’S REPLY
Thank you for your email.
My bill will have effect for all communities in England & Wales, including Travellers. It does not discriminate and indeed treats everybody in exactly the same way.
I do disagree with you about the desirability of allowing child marriage in the Traveller community. For me, one of the main motivations for this change in the age of marriage is to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to complete their compulsory education before taking a decision as life-changing as a marriage. You point out that many Traveller couples marry at 16 and 17 with their full and free consent – I would argue that a 16 or 17 year old cannot consent to what they do not understand – and that marriage is too important and significant a decision to be taken by a child.
Furthermore, a House of Commons Select Committee report from 2019 (https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201719/cmselect/cmwomeq/360/full-report.html#heading-13) highlights the disparity in educational outcomes faced by Traveller children. It seems to me that at least some of this disparity is affected by child marriage (a girl taking the decision to marry at 16 will not be able to concentrate on her studies), and so I would like them to be able to focus solely on their education or vocational training until they are 18 years old, as is required by the law, and only then take decisions about the rest of their lives.
However, whilst I hope that the above points have set out why I think this change is important to safeguard children’s futures, they will not directly apply in the situations you describe (in Northern Ireland). Currently, marriage is a devolved policy, and so my bill will only set the age of marriage to 18 in England & Wales. I hope that Northern Ireland will follow suit, but it will not be compelled to by my bill.
Pauline Latham OBE MP