Currently 16-year-olds can marry if they have the consent of their parents (stock image) (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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The legal minimum age to get married in England and Wales could be raised to 18 under backbench legislation being tabled by former chancellor Sajid Javid.

Mr Javid said he will be introducing a private member's Bill next week to protect vulnerable teenagers from religious and cultural pressures to marry too young.

He told The Times he was "optimistic" the measure would receive Government support – giving it a strong chance of becoming law.

Currently 16-year-olds may marry if they have the consent of their parents.

However, Mr Javid said what he described as a legal "loophole" was resulting in teenagers being forced into marriage – a practice he described as "child abuse".

But Sajid Javid is concerned the law allows for abuse
(Image: PA)

"The British Government is working tirelessly to end child marriage in the developing world and yet our own laws are permitting child marriage by the back door," he told the paper.

"Indeed, when Bangladesh lowered the legal age of marriage from 18 to 16, ministers there were said to have directly pointed to our laws to justify their move.

"It's clear that we must legislate to close this loophole so that vulnerable children cannot be pushed into such serious and life-changing commitments before they are ready."

Mr Javid, who is of Pakistani heritage, said he had looked into changing the law when he was home secretary in Theresa May's government having seen examples of the practice in his own community.

"I've seen this myself in the community I was raised in, young girls expected to enter into marriage far before they were ready to, with painful consequences," he said.

"Let's call this what it is: child abuse."