A regional German court has recognised as valid the marriage of a 14-year-old Syrian girl to her 20-year-old cousin, despite the legal age for marriage in Germany being 16. The case represents a landmark ruling, with the Federal Court set to adjudicate on the implications for the country as a whole.
Among the hundreds of thousands of migrants arriving in European countries over the eighteen months have been a number of underage wives, some as young as eleven, others already mothers. But although most European countries stipulate that a girl must be 16 to marry, the authorities seem unsure what to do with young bride migrants.
In what is likely to become a landmark ruling, the Oberlandesgericht Bamberg (Higher Regional Court in Bamberg, Bavaria) has this week decided that the marriage of a 14-year-old girl to her 20-year-old husband must be recognised as the wedding has already taken place, was recognised as legal in their native Syria, and was conducted in accordance with Sunni marriage rites.
It had been asked to rule on whether the husband was the girl’s legal guardian in lieu of her parents, after the girl had been removed from an asylum centre where they were both living and placed in a centre for teenaged girls.
Appealing a previous ruling which had granted weekend visitation rights to the husband, the local Youth Work Officer, who had guardianship of the girl, requested the visits be restricted to three hours a week to prevent intercourse between the couple.
But the court disagreed. It said it could find no evidence that the marriage was a forced one, and granted guardianship instead to the husband.
It also refused to draw up a visitation schedule on the grounds that, as her guardian, he is free to interact with the girl whenever he likes. And in light of the fact that the marriage had already been consummated, it further recommended contraception for the couple.
The judge however recognised that the Federal Court had not yet ruled on whether underage marriages legally conducted abroad should be likewise recognised in Germany and that as such it’s ruling may be declared invalid, inviting the Federal Court to now come to a decision.
There are no official figures on the number of child bride migrants living in Europe, but the number is thought to be in the hundreds. Although in some cases the girls have been separated from their husbands and placed in child protection facilities, in others, the authorities have been content to let them remain with their husbands for fear of traumatising them.
“Minors seeking asylum are in a difficult situation where they have left their homeland, family and friends, and the partner they have travelled with can be the only person they know and trust in Norway,” said Heidi Vibeke Pedersen, a senior official at the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration.
But charities have countered that line of argument, pointing out the sharp increase in forced marriages in Syria and in concentration camps. According to Die Welt, just 13 per cent of marriages in Syria involved a partner under the age of 18 before the war. Now the figure is around 51 per cent.
Robin Classen of the Criticising Immigration blog has called the verdict a “scandal”, highlighting that the judge “openly and completely uncritically quoted sharia law, applying it directly to this case.
“Therefore ‘only a marriage of a Muslim woman to a non-Muslim is void,’ in the judge’s own words, because Islamic law forbids this.”
Mr. Classen argues that the case is a prime example of Germany importing a foreign culture through mass migration.
“With mass immigration has come not only the sort of terrorism seen in Paris and Brussels and the sexual offences of New Year’s Eve, but also a completely different set of social values ideas,” he says.
“Mohammed married his ‘favourite wife’ Aisha when she was just six years old. He first had intercourse with her when she was nine. This is not a minor opinion within Islam, within Sunni and Shi’ite Islam it is absolutely undisputed.
“Since Mohammed is considered in Islam as an exemplary and virtuous man, this moral assessment also applies to his marriages with several women and the child Aisha, which is why forced marriages of children are completely normal in both Shi’ite and Sunni Islam.”