THE GOVERNMENT TODAY supported a motion proposed by Labour senators to remove a provision in law which allows minors to marry if they apply for court exemption.
A section of the Family Law Act 1995 makes it possible for a person to get married at 16 or 17 if they go to court to prove they have parental approval.
Senator Ivana Bacik proposed the motion this afternoon and said she was concerned that keeping this exemption in place may facilitate the practice of forced marriage as it could lead to young girls being coerced into entering marriages.
Last year, 29 of the 21,770 marriages registered involved parties under the age of 18.
Minister of State Fergus O’Dowd spoke in the Seanad on behalf of Minister Frances Fitzgerald and stated that the government would be supporting the motion.
The motion focuses on the issue of forced marriage of minors, which is an area of particular concern given the added vulnerability of children to coercion and threats. Children are uniquely vulnerable in the context of forced marriage because of their dependence on the protection of their families.
“They are especially vulnerable if those who are supposed be their protectors exert coercive force on them to enter marriages that they have not freely chosen,” he said.
O’Dowd also said it is “imperative that we ensure that children are protected from any coercion in relation to a proposed marriage”.
Parents may very well be well-intentioned in arranging a marriage for a child. However, it is our collective responsibility to ensure that no child should be put in the invidious position of being pressured into a marriage that he or she does not want.
The government’s acceptance of the proposals were broadly welcomed by Labour senators and various interest groups.
CEO of Plan Ireland, David Dalton said today that child marriage is a “public health issue as well as a human rights issue”.
“Girls married early are more likely to experience violence, abuse and forced sexual relations,” he commented. “They are more vulnerable to sexually transmitted infections and have reduced levels of re-productive health.”