SOLICITORS in Dorset have hailed a “landmark” new law banning marriages and civil partnerships for under 18s. 

Family law specialists at Ellis Jones Solicitors, which has offices in Bournemouth, Poole, Ringwood, Swanage, Wimborne, welcomed the legislation to raise the legal age from 16 to 18 as an important breakthrough to protect vulnerable children. 

After a five-year campaign, the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act has come into force and means those aged 16 and 17 in England and Wales cannot get married or enter a civil partnership, even if they have parental consent. 

The new law also applies to non-legally binding cultural or religious ceremonies considered as marriages by the individuals and families involved. 

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Solicitor Georgia McWilliam, from Ellis Jones Solicitors, said: “This landmark law is long overdue to protect vulnerable young people from exploitation and forced marriage. 

“It is a hugely significant breakthrough and closes a loophole which allowed marriages of boys and girls aged 16 and 17 to proceed with parental consent. 

“This law has the power to transform and safeguard the lives of those children who would have otherwise found themselves coerced or persuaded into a marriage against their will. 

“It sends a clear message that this will not be tolerated and for anyone affected to seek help.” 

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The new law came into force following a private member’s bill introduced into Parliament by Mid Derbyshire MP Pauline Latham and means children married under the age of 18 are now considered victims of forced marriage. 

Under the law it is a criminal offence to cause a child to marry, carrying a sentence of up to seven years in prison.  

According to figures released by the ONS last year, a total of 140 teenage girls and 43 teenage boys were married with parental consent in 2017. 

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said perpetrators will face the “full force of the law”, with someone found guilty of arranging child marriages potentially getting a sentence of up to seven years in prison. 

He said: “This law will better protect vulnerable young people, by cracking down on forced marriage in our society.”