LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A British woman whose sister was murdered in a so-called honour killing after being pushed into marriage as a teenager urged the government on Wednesday to outlaw all child marriage.
Britain, which has been vocal about ending child marriage in developing countries, allows 16 and 17-year-olds in England and Wales to wed with parental consent.
But Payzee Mahmod said her own story showed how families were exploiting the consent clause to force their children into marriages which destroyed their lives.
“The law needs to change because it’s not protecting children,” said Mahmod, who was repeatedly raped and abused after being married off at 16 to a much older man.
“Children shouldn’t be married. A law would send a message ... that it’s not okay, it’s child abuse.”
Mahmod was speaking as politicians and women’s rights groups launched a major campaign to push for the criminalisation of all marriage under 18.
A bill introduced in the upper house of parliament this week envisages making it an offence punishable by up to 14 years in jail to encourage or assist a child under 18 to marry.
The proposed legislation would also cover religious marriages and marriages abroad if at least one party normally resides in England or Wales.
Parliamentarian Pauline Latham, a driving force behind the bill, said she would be talking to ministers to galvanise support.
Nearly 2,000 people in Britain were wed before the age of 18 between 2010 and 2015, according to official data, but campaigners say the numbers do not include those married in religious ceremonies or sent abroad to wed.
Girls from South Asian and Middle Eastern backgrounds are seen as most at risk.
Mahmod told how she and sister Banaz were pushed into early marriage after an older sister rebelled, causing her family to lose status in their Iraqi Kurdish community.
Banaz died after being strangled in 2006 on her family’s orders after trying to leave her abusive husband. Her father, uncle and two other men were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Mahmod, now a fashion stylist, said she was a normal London teenager interested in pop stars and fashion when she was told she would be marrying a man 15 years older.
“Just like that, my marriage happened. There was no way I could have said to my parents, ‘I don’t want to get married’. I just had no choice,” she said.
“It is all of our responsibility to do something about this because there are so many children at risk.”
Mahmod, who managed to escape the marriage following her sister’s death, said a law would have allowed her to stand up to her parents.
“I’m 33 now and just about recovering and becoming the women I want to be. It took away my childhood, it took away my education.”
Latham said the current law was also undermining Britain’s efforts to end child marriage globally.
“We should be setting an example. We are telling other countries with our aid money not to allow child marriage and they are pushing back now and saying, ‘Why should we listen to you because you allow it?’,” she said.
Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org