The German region of North Rhine-Westphalia has seen 188 marriages of migrants who are underage, some as young as 14, as calls grow for the government to stop the practice.
The migrant crisis has brought to Germany practices that have long been outlawed or at the very least considered taboo. One of these practices is the marriage of girls under the age of consent.
One region in Germany has so far seen the recognition of 188 cases of underage girls that have been married overseas, at least three of which are only 14 years old, reports Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung.
The region of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) is now faced with having to deal with the cultural practice of child brides due to the influx of migrants from parts of the world where it is accepted. The state government, after being questioned by German media, was forced to admit that the child marriages do not violate German law because they were conducted overseas, rather than in Germany.
The vast majority of the underage brides are from Syria where, according to NGO Girls not Brides, 13 per cent of all girls under 18 are married and three per cent by the age of 15. The effect of the civil war has seen a dramatic increase in child marriages among Syrians.
The organisation says that the marriage of child brides is even more prevalent in migrant camps in neighboring countries like Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey were mothers marry off their young daughters in hopes it will protect them from sexual violence in the camps.
Iraqi child brides come a distant second with 23 cases, almost tied with Afghanis at 21. Of the 188 total cases 18 girls were aged 15, 54 were 16, and 113 were 17 years old.
Susanne Schneider of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) expressed concern at the government’s admission saying: “188 cases in NRW alone is very worrying.” Ms. Schneider said that the welfare of the girls must take precedence over any marriages that have occurred abroad saying: “I expect that the state government is doing everything to protect married refugee minors. It should also ensure that marriages may be concluded only under German law in Germany.”
In Germany the marriageable age is 18, or 16 with court permission and parental consent.
The issue may be a hard one for law makers to tackle after a landmark ruling last month by a judge in Bamburg, Bavaria, recognised the marriage of a 14-year-old Syrian girl to her 20-year-old cousin. The question arose after the 20-year-old wanted to be recognised as his cousin’s legal guardian after she was moved to a home for teenage migrant girls.
The issue has also arisen in Scandinavia where earlier this year Norwegian officials revealed dozens of child marriages among incoming migrants, some as young as eleven. The total number of child marriages for all of Norway was around 60, a figure that is dwarfed by North Rhine-Westphalia alone. The total national figure will be even higher when combined with the rest of Germany’s regions.