I know that marriages between 16- and 17-year olds are a cause for concern for many. It is also a complex area and Ministers listen very carefully to the debate on the legal age of marriage.
In a response to a written question on this issue, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Justice the Rt Hon Alex Chalk replied:
The Government continues to listen carefully to the debate on the legal age of marriage. Justice officials liaise closely with officials in other departments that have an interest in this matter and in forced marriage, which the Government made an offence in 2014.
Evidence shows that the number of people marrying in England and Wales at 16 or 17 has been in decline over the years. In 2017, the latest year for which statistics are available, 183 of the people entering 235,910 opposite sex marriages did so at those ages. Primary legislation would be needed to raise the marriageable age to 18 and thereby to remove the existing requirement for parental or judicial consent at 16 or 17. Such changes would not in themselves, however, prevent marriages taking place under 18 outside the ambit of the domestic law.
More widely, I believe we must do all we can to protect 16- and 17-year olds from abuse. We must send a very clear message to the perpetrators about how seriously the Government takes these crimes, and similarly our intent to deal with it.
The courts will always consider a case more seriously when the victim is a child, and this includes 16-or 17-year olds. The Sentencing Council’s definitive guidance on sexual offences came into effect in April 2014, and it provides for the courts to sentence individuals more severely in cases where victims are particularly vulnerable, as will often be the case with sexual exploitation involving 16 or 17 year olds.
Similarly, the sentencing guidelines reflect that the use of alcohol or drugs in targeting a particularly vulnerable child is considered an aggravating factor. The law is clear that a young person’s consent to take drugs or alcohol can never be viewed as consent to sexual acts.