German law allows minors sixteen and over to get married if their parnter is of legal age and the parents consent. They do not, however, recognize marriages contracted abroad if one of them is under the age of fourteen, but German family courts often have the final say in matters like that, and they don’t always agree with German law. Sounds familiar.
In May, an appeals court in Bamberg recognized the marriage of a 15-year-old Syrian girl to her 21-year-old cousin. The court ruled that the marriage was valid because it was contracted in Syria, where such marriages are allowed according to Islamic Sharia law, which does not set any age limit to marriage. The ruling effectively legalized Sharia child marriages in Germany.
The case came about after the couple arrived at a refugee shelter in Aschaffenburg in August 2015. The Youth Welfare Office (Jugendamt) refused to recognize their marriage and separated the girl from her husband. The couple filed a lawsuit and a family court ruled in favor of the Youth Welfare Office, which claimed to be the girl’s legal guardian.
The court in Bamberg overturned that ruling. It determined that, according to Sharia law, the marriage is valid because it has already been consummated, and therefore the Youth Welfare Office has no legal authority to separate the couple.
The ruling — which has been described as a “crash course in Syrian Islamic marriage law” — ignited a firestorm of criticism. Some accused the court in Bamberg of applying Sharia law over German law to legalize a practice that is banned in Germany.
“Religious or cultural justifications obscure the simple fact that older, perverse men are abusing young girls,” said Rainer Wendt, head of the German police union.
Monika Michell of Terre des Femmes, a women’s rights group that campaigns against child marriage, said: “A husband cannot be the legal guardian of a child bride because he is involved in a sexual relationship with her — a very obvious conflict of interest.”
The Justice Minister of Hesse, Eva Kühne-Hörmann, asked: “If underage persons — quite rightly — are not allowed to buy a beer, why should the lawmakers allow children to make such profound decisions related to marriage?”
Others said the ruling would open the floodgates of cultural conflict in Germany, as Muslims would view it as a precedent to push for the legalization of other Islamic practices, including polygamy, in the country.
Child marriage is a Germany-wide problem: 559 married children are living in Bavaria; 188 in North-Rhine Westphalia; more than 100 in Lower Saxony; and at least 100 in Berlin.
In Baden-Württemberg, the number of known child marriages jumped seven-fold in the past two years, from 26 in 2013 to 181 at the end of 2015. Of those, 162 are girls, and 18 are younger than 15 years of age.
The exact number of child marriages in Germany is currently unknown because authorities have lost track of many migrants. Of the 1.1 million who have entered the country, only 447,000 have applied for asylum. This means that there are over five hundred thousand migrants unaccounted for. That’s quite a startling number if you think about it.