On Friday 30th November, eight year 10 students went to Beechurst hall to give their arguments for and against the marriage age being raised from 16 to 18. They had to debate in front of two year 10 English classes, Mr Hampson and Lucy Frazer: the local MP. Overall, the winners were Claire McLeod and Gemma Bridges. The 8 debaters then got the chance to go to Parliament, on Thursday 13th December, and left for London at the start of lunchtime. After a very long train journey, they arrived at King’s Cross Station and then journeyed on the tube to Westminster, where they then were ushered into one of the meeting rooms where the debate would take place. After some consideration, the judge (Sir Brian Leveson), chose the winner as Alex Lee from Witchford Village College, and three runners up: George from Kings Ely, Georgia from Ely College, and Gemma from Soham Village College. Everyone then got the privilege of having a tour around parliament led by Lucy Frazer.
Here are some of the proposition arguments that were introduced in the first debate by Claire and Gemma:
We are here to make our arguments for raising the marriage age from sixteen to eighteen. First of all, if we raise the minimum age of marriage to 18, it will help protect against forced marriages as well as encourage the idea of legally being an adult until you are 18 and cannot vote. As a minor, you would not have the maturity or experience to make an educated decision. Minors are not physically or emotionally ready for the extra responsibilities marriage brings, and your parents may not recognise this, or may choose to ignore this, which is also one of the main reasons why forced marriages happen.
Forced marriages, as well as marriages involving a minor, can also result in early pregnancy, social isolation, limited career choices, a higher risk of domestic violence and interrupted schooling. For example, they are twice as likely to live in poverty and three times more likely to be beaten by spouses than married adults are. They are also at a considerably higher risk of diabetes, cancer, having strokes and experiencing other physical and mental illnesses. This is particularly important because education and training is not easily compatible with a married environment at this age, as marriage puts a lot of responsibility onto young shoulders, particularly if the young couple are living alone together.
Last year there were just under 1,200 forced marriages and over a quarter of these were forced child marriages – involving one or more persons under eighteen – and only one case in thirty was prosecuted, epitomising how the minimum age needs to be raised. The government stated that the “existing requirement continued to provide adequate protection and had seen no evidence of any failing that required raising the minimum age to eighteen.” The fact that there is only one in thirty cases being prosecuted is evidence that there is failing and that the government is not giving adequate protection. This would help, because while the number of prosecutions are rising, this is not enough to protect children from what can be classed as ‘modern slavery’. It should be our priority to protect children, and that may mean from themselves as well as from potential dangers from others.
Philip Cowley, a professor at Nottingham university, said that: ‘There has been a generational shift in terms of the slowing down the development of young people’. This shows that this generation is growing up more slowly than in the past, and the laws should be refined as ways of living change – the current marriage law was passed in 1929, a very different society to the one we live in now. The majority of young people at that time were wage-earners, unlike now when you must stay in full-time education, train or start an apprenticeship until you reach 18. None of these options are compatible with a married environment.
As a teenager who is almost 15, I cannot even begin to imagine getting married in just over a year, and being married while studying for A-Levels and taking my GCSE exams. The law is basically insinuating that you can get married in the last year of secondary school, once you meet the minimum age. As you need the consent of the parents to be married, surely this shows that minors are not mature enough to make the decision themselves?
Raising the minimum age of marriage to 18 could also influence other countries that have lower incomes (such as Bangladesh) to also change their laws, as many Commonwealth countries still follow the legal lead of England. This would be beneficial to them and would also have a positive impact globally, because if there are less young people who are married, the fertility rate could decrease, meaning the world’s population should not be growing at the same rate as it is now, which is a current problem – the Earth is overpopulated by about 6 billion people. For example, the International Human Rights Conventions on women’s rights and children say countries should end the practice of enabling child marriage below 18. The UK is violating these commitments.
As well as this, 70-80% of child marriages end in divorce, and divorce costs £1,500 (including hiring a lawyer). At that age you are not likely to have substantial funds to pay for this due to more pressing costs, as it is probable that the young person will not have a stable job to support this.
This competition was an incredible experience, and it is recommended that many other SVC students participate in the future. It gave this year’s competing students a large confidence boost, many reporting that they were nervous of speaking in front of a room full of people prior to this experience, but can now boast that they have done so in a building with such gravitas.
By Gemma Bridges, Year 10