The German government is expected to pass a bill banning the marriage of minors, a traditionally rare occurrence but one that’s come to the forefront with the arrival of one million refugees over the past two years.
This bill by Social Democrat Justice Minister Heiko Maas aims to better protect children who are victims of forced unions, especially girls and adolescents married to men older than themselves.
The new legislation must also apply to marriages of minors legally contracted abroad and provides that a girl may eventually be separated from her husband and, if applicable, taken into the care of social services.
A strengthening of the current legal provisions is necessary, especially with regard to unions contracted abroad, according to Justice Minister Maas.
In practice, foreign marriages involving adolescents under 16 years of age will be considered invalid and those of 16 or 17 year olds may be annulled by family courts.
Fines will be imposed for cases where minors are married religiously or traditionally.
The number of married foreign minors that arrived during the past two years was approximately 1475, of which 361 have not yet reached 14 years of age. Almost half of these minors (664) are from Syria, the rest mainly from Afghanistan (157) and Iraq (100).
A court in Bamberg, Bavaria, evoked some controversy last year when it determined a union contracted in Syria between a 15-year-old teenager and her 21-year-old cousin was legal.
The legal age of marriage in Germany is 18 years old, although exceptions can be made if one partner is 16 years old and the other is over 18 years old.