An independent senator has said that Ireland should send out a clear signal that child marriage was not acceptable.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout co-sponsored a motion calling for changes in the way exemptions may be granted to allow minors to marry, which was passed in the Seanad yesterday.

The motion proposed that the Government would consider whether to remove or amend the statutory provision allowing court exemptions for children under-18 to marry.

Although the legal age for marriage is 18, the Circuit Family Court can give exemptions under law in certain cases.

However, it does so without any legal guidelines in place, and neither the Health Service Executive nor child and family agencies need to be present during the case, which is heard in camera.

A total of 29 exemptions were granted last year to allow a child under the age of 18 to marry.

The Government is now to set up an inter-departmental working group to look at the issue.

Senator van Turnhout pointed out that once a child gets married, they legally become an adult and child protection laws no longer apply to them.

Her private member's motion, co-sponsored by Senator Ivana Bacik, calls for clear guidelines on when exemptions can be granted or for marriage under-18 to be banned altogether.

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, she said that based on the exemptions she had seen, she would prefer the Government to be unequivocal.

She said: "If we continue to have exemptions, we need to put extremely clear guidance (in place) of why and how those exemptions can take place.

"For me, I would like to see us protecting childhood and say the age for marriage is 18. Let's not have exemptions," she added.