THE minimum age of marriage without parental consent should be lowered from 21 to 18, a subcommittee of the Law Reform Commission will recommend. The subcommittee considers a lower age necessary because young people in Hong Kong are maturing earlier. At present, the minimum age for marriage with consent is 16. If either party is under 21 but above 16 and not a widower or a widow, then written consent from a parent is required. Miriam Lau Kin-yee, chairwoman of the subcommittee on guardianship and custody, said: 'Young people can vote, drive and even become the director of a big company at 18. But the only thing they need their parents' approval for is to get married. This is not consistent.' The proposal, if adopted by the Government, would bring Hong Kong in line with several overseas countries such as Britain, the Netherlands and some states in the United States. It would also mean that hundreds of youngsters could get married solely on their own wishes. The average age of marriage in Hong Kong is 30.9 for men and 27.7 for women. However, Reverend Paul Ng Chun-chi, of Christian charity the City of David Cultural Centre, said the existing rules should be maintained. He said the Government must be careful when examining the proposal. Mr Ng, who led a 500-strong parade in Tsim Sha Tsui in January to promote virginity, stressed marriage was different from other behaviour, such as casting a vote or buying a flat. 'Marriage is a life-long commitment. We should bear in mind that family is the most basic unit in society,' he said. 'Parental consent is aimed to ask the parents to have some commitment and help over the marriage of their young children. This should not be changed.' The proposal was part of a commission review to reform the family law in Hong Kong. One major proposal is to abolish the long-standing practice of leaving children in the custody of one parent after a divorce. It says a parent's rights and responsibility of a child should not be denied because of the change of marital status. 'We have received 51 responses from the consultation period last year and they are mainly supportive,' Ms Lau said. 'However, many women's groups have expressed grave concern that the new rules, if adopted, will open the gate for irresponsible and even abusive husbands to cause trouble. These are valid concerns but we think this should be handled by other law and administrative departments.' The report, to be tabled to the commission in the next couple of months, will also call for more recognition of the role of grandparents. At present, grandparents and other relatives do not have the right to apply to be guardians of children, even if they have been responsible for the day-to-day care of the child. The subcommittee wants restrictions removed so that they may apply to the Family Court, to act in the best interests of the child. This might occur when one or both of the child's parents die, and could also be relevant in divorce cases. The subcommittee will also propose that police should have the power to detain a child about to be removed from Hong Kong, to prevent them being taken out of the SAR illegally.