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German Court Rules “Child Marriage” Might Be Legally Protected; Seeks High Court Help

December 27, 2018

The case of a Syrian refugee who married his 14-year-old female cousin under Sharia law in a Syrian court may be permissible and “effective” under German law, the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) in Germany declared in a recent decision. The BGH has asked Germany’s highest court, the Federal Constitutional Court (FCC), which adjudicates Basic Law (the equivalent of the US constitution), to clarify the matter.

According to an article in Die Welt (page translated via Google), the couple were married in February 2015 in Syria and fled to Germany in August of that year as war broke out in their home country. The man was 21 at the time of his marriage; his bride was 14 years old.

When the couple arrived in Germany after taking the “Balkan route” out of Syria, they were separated at a refugee reception facility in Schweinfurt because of the girl’s age; she was placed in a “youth welfare facility,” with the state acting as her guardian.

At the time, Germany’s legal minimum age of marriage was set at 16; it was raised to 18 in 2017.

Subsequent to her retention, her husband appealed to Germany’s court system. A lower court found that there was no evidence the marriage was “forced.”

Die Welt says the BGH decision suggests restricting “child marriage” may be unconstitutional, which is why “the judges asked the Federal Constitutional Court the question of how far child marriage lawfully concluded abroad was generally ineffective in Germany.”

Die Welt also writes that the BGH believes the FCC “should therefore examine whether the effectiveness of child marriage should not be better assessed on a case-by-case basis” rather than declaring child marriage illegal in all cases. 

In a report by, the judges considered whether “child marriages” involved any children born of such marriages, and what, if any, protections existed under Basic Law for spouses and their children in such circumstances.

(The original German language Die Welt report can be read here.)




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