Germany mulls tighter child marriage laws

German laws protecting youth must also be applied to refugees, the government has said. Concern is rising over the increase in cases of young girls being forced to marry before their arrival in Germany.

Berlin was considering tightening legislation against child marriages on Monday in light of the refugee crisis. Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has expressed its concern that migrant children who entered into marriages abroad may be forced to continue living in such marriages upon arrival in Germany.

Middle East | 12.06.2016

"We need a clear law," said Thomas Kutschaty, a Social Democrat (SPD) and justice minister for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia to the daily "Bild" newspaper.

According to the paper, there are hundreds of child brides living in Germany. The recent wave of migration to Europe has seen that number of minors married to each other or to adults increase significantly. In May, a judgment by a court in the Bavarian city of Bamberg made it clear that these marriages are not valid in Germany.

Volker Kauder, parliamentary head of Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU), said the Bundestag needs to debate and develop stronger laws. Germany "cannot accept the oppression of women in whatever form it may take," he told Bild.

Press Releases | 31.05.2016

"We cannot accept forced marriages. These cases shows that our child and teenager protection laws must also be extended to refugees," said Federal Family, Women and Youth Minister Manuela Schwesig.

In Germany, the age of majority is 18. The youngest age allowed for marriage is 16, and then only if the other partner is a legal adult, and parents or a family court have granted permission.

Child marriage 'epidemic' on the rise in South Asia

Lowering the age bar

In a report released on Tuesday, June 9, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the Bangladeshi authorities to spur efforts to deal with what it calls an "epidemic" of child marriage. The international rights group criticized Bangladeshi legislation which proposes lowering the legal marriage age from 18 to 16.

Child marriage 'epidemic' on the rise in South Asia

Before their 15th birthday

Around 30 percent of girls in Bangladesh are married off before their 15th birthday, according to the report "Marry Before Your House is Swept Away." The HRW report is based on interviews with scores of Bangladeshi child brides. Child marriage is illegal in Bangladesh, but birth certificates can easily be forged by bribing officials to facilitate underage marriages.

Child marriage 'epidemic' on the rise in South Asia

Poverty is a reason

Frequent natural disasters have pushed many Bangladeshis into greater poverty. This has also resulted in more child marriages, as a girl is considered a financial burden in most South Asian families. Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina pledged to end marriages under the age of 15 by 2021 last year at a conference in London. But rights groups say her government hasn't done much to fulfil that promise.

Child marriage 'epidemic' on the rise in South Asia

Domestic abuse and marital rape

Studies show that the lack of education for girls traps them not just in a cycle of poverty, making them economically dependent, but also puts their health at serious risk. Young brides targets of domestic abuse and marital rape as well.

Child marriage 'epidemic' on the rise in South Asia

Rampant in South Asia

The issue is not confined to Bangladesh. Forced early marriages are widespread in the whole of South Asia, also because of cultural and religious ideas about the appropriate marriage age. According to UNHCR estimates, globally more than 140 million girls will be married off before their 18th birthday over the next decade, and almost 50 percent of these brides are in South Asia.

Child marriage 'epidemic' on the rise in South Asia

Social practices vs laws

Child marriage is prohibited by national and regional laws in South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. But the practice persists unabated. According to a report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), 24.4 million women between the ages 20 to 24 were reportedly married before they were 18 years old between 2000 and 2010.

Child marriage 'epidemic' on the rise in South Asia

Change in attitude

Stephen Adkisson, UNICEF's Deputy Regional Director for South Asia, told DW it was crucial to engage communities to promote dialogue on issues such as child marriage, maternal deaths and gender-biased selection in order to change mindsets, which are the result of deeply embedded social, economic, cultural and political factors.

es/kl (AFP, KNA)

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