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Imams may face fines for marrying children

November 2, 2016

Germany's interior ministry has suggested a fine of up to 1,000 euros for imams officiating child marriages. Other officials urge a blanket annulment for refugees who married too young.

Deutschland Berlin Terre des Femmes Protestaktion gegen Kinderehe
Rights groups have staged fake ceremonies, like the one pictured here, to draw attention to child marriage in GermanyImage: Imago/C. Ditsch

A spokesman at Germany's interior ministry on Wednesday confirmed a report first published in the newspaper "Die Welt", saying that conservative Thomas de Maiziere's ministry had suggested imposing fines on imams in Germany who conduct marriages involving underage children, generally girls. 

However, state and federal officials are still at odds when it comes to recognizing child marriages already concluded abroad, as well as the strictness of age limit for weddings in Germany itself.

De Maiziere reportedly wants to introduce fines for religious officials marrying people under 16 years of age. The fine could be as high as 1,000 euros (over $1,100), according to information cited by "Die Welt".

The proposal was being considered by a special working group aiming to update German regulations on child marriage. The group was formed several months ago by Germany's justice ministry, prompted in large part by the recent influx of refugees from Africa and the Middle East.

Recent figures say 1,475 minors were registered as married in Germany, 361 of them under the age of 14.

'Still checking'

The team of federal and state officials has met several times since September to hammer out the new regulations. The current law states that people need to be 18 or older to marry. However, the state allows 16-year-olds to wed with approval of a family court if their partner is over 18.

Politicians from the two largest German parties, the Christian Democratic Union and the Social Democratic Party, have urged for this loophole to be closed. Womens' rights activists have also supported the change.

"I believe that 18 years of age, the legal 'of age' status, is a good limit to establish the independence of a woman," Berlin lawyer for sexual abuse victims Seyran Ates told "Die Welt." "All other paths need to be blocked."

Justice Minister Heiko Maas has been largely reserved on the issue, pointing out that marriage is protected by German Basic Law and that his ministry was "still checking" on potential legislative changes. 

Blanket ban for migrant minors

Another hotly contested issue is recognizing marriages from abroad when one or both partners are underage. Bavarian Justice Minister Winfried Bausback has called for declaring all such child marriages null and void at the moment of entering Germany.

"This is the best way to protect the well-being of children, and it sends out the clearest signal against child marriages, both in and outside Germany," he said.

Other officials suggested that all child marriages should be individually considered for annulment before a German court. Some experts have argued that blanket measures could actually hurt the minors, for example by taking away their spouse's income, exposing them to sexual abuse or preventing them from returning to their home country.

The working group is expected to come up with a draft law before the end of the year.

dj/msh (dpa, AFP)