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Campaign against child marriages

November 1, 2016

Calls to annul marriages between children, including refugees, have mounted on German Justice Minister Heiko Maas from conservatives in Chancellor Merkel's coalition. His ministry says the issue is highly complex.

Deutschland Berlin Terre des Femmes Protestaktion gegen Kinderehe
This Terre des Femmes protest in Berlin called for an abolition of underage marriageImage: Imago/C. Ditsch

German conservatives demanded more urgency in prohibiting and annulling child marriages on Tuesday, claiming recent refugee arrivals had exposed a trend that must be outlawed by the end of this year.

Human rights experts said annulment could rob offspring born into such marriages of their future entitlements, including maintenance payments from their young parents.

Current German law allows people aged 16 to marry an adult partner - aged 18 or older - but only if a family court grants permission. The issue becomes more complex when an already-married couple arrives, with one partner underage.

Germany's central registry of foreigners based in Cologne listed 1,475 married youth in July of which 361 were younger than 14.

Stephan Harbarth, the deputy chairman of Merkel's parliamentary grouping - comprising her Christian Democrats (CDU) and allied Christian Social Union (CSU) from Bavaria - reminded Maas, a Social Democrat, that Merkel's grand coalition had an agreement to prohibit child marriages by the end of this year.

"Marriages under 18 should not occur in Germany," Harbarth said in Berlin.

Null and void

Winfried Bausback, Bavaria's regional justice minister, said child marriages should be declared null and void, adding that current annulment proceedings in Germany's courts took too long.

Municipal youth agencies were unable to intervene while girls endured such marriages, Bausback said.

Julia Klöckner, one of five CDU deputy leaders, said the "annulment of marriages of minors" must become the norm. Refugee arrivals had exposed the need for regulation, she said.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer CDU ARCHIV
Ban child marriages Europe-wide, urges Kramp-KarrenbauerImage: picture alliance/dpa

Saarland premier Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said marriages of under-16s that had already taken place outside Germany should be annulled - at best Europe-wide.

Anti-refugee campaign?

The center-left Social Democrats' general secretary Katarina Barley accused the Bavarian CSU and its general secretary Andreas Scheuer of using the topic to create negative sentiment against other cultures and religions.

On Monday, a federal justice ministry spokesman said Maas planned to present a final legislative text by the close of this year. A previous draft only foresaw a court-ordered annulment. It did not contain a general prohibition.

A team comprising representatives of Germany's 16 regional states and the federal government was working at full pace on the "highly complex" issue, said the ministry spokesman.

ipj/msh (KNA, Reuters)