Marriage in England and Wales at the age of 16 could be outlawed under the plans (Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

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The minimum legal marriage age is to be raised to 18 over fears current laws allow child marriage "by the back door".

Teenagers can now get married at 16 with their parents’ consent.

But former chancellor Sajid Javid is next week expected to introduce a new bill to make it illegal for anyone to marry below the age of 18.

Javid told The Times that 16-year-olds being forced to marry is "child abuse".

He said: "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.

Bride and groom at wedding ceremony
(Image: Getty Images)

'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.

"That’s why I will be introducing a private member’s bill to raise the legal age of marriage to 18 in England and Wales.

"The government is listening, and while they haven’t yet confirmed that they’ll be supporting my bill I’m optimistic that we can work together with colleagues to combat child marriage."

According to The Sun the bill is expected to get cross-party support and ministers have indicated they will support the plan.

Javid, who is of Pakistani heritage, says he has witnessed child marriages taking place 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.

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

Weddings at the age of 16 would be outlawed in England and Wales
(Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The former chancellor is also expected to challenge Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to change the law in Scotland too.

Sixteen is the lower age-limit today under the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977 and parental consent is not required by couples.

More than 20 organisations have sent a letter to the prime minister saying the current legislation does not protect young people and permits marriages where women are forced to wed against their will.

The four co-chairs of Girls Not Brides UK wrote: "Child marriage is often viewed as a ‘developing world issue’ and one that exclusively takes place overseas.

"The reality is that child marriage is an invisible but thriving issue in the UK today."