Child Marriage in Germany: Mathias Rohe calls for Legal Readjustments

brown judges gavel lies on a table

In an interview with the German newspaper Allgemeine Zeitung, Mathias Rohe, Islamic Scholar and director of the EZIRE, talks about the phenomenon of child marriage. In Islamic countries, child marriage was first and foremost a phenomenon of poverty and often took place in combination with patriarchal family structures. In these cases, underaged girls were married to older men to secure the subsistence of the whole family. This was the case, among other countries, in Afghanistan. In times of refugee crises, there was often an increase of child marriage: Young girls were married to not have to flee their home country by themselves. This kind of child marriage could frequently be observed with regard to Syrian refugees.

Accordingly, Rohe assumes that the number of child marriages has increased because of the refugee movements of the last years. At first, there had been a certain legal uncertainty with regard to the topic. It was thus a positive development that the legislator has drawn a clear-cut line to prohibit child marriage. So-called “limping marriages”, that is, marriages that are prohibited in Germany but legal abroad – were to put up with. However, it was important that the annulment did not harm those affected.

For Rohe, the new law has first and foremost a symbolic worth, which should not be underestimated. The law represented the core principles that guard life in Germany. Concerning the practical repercussions of the law, the Islamic scholar is not so optimistic. Many cases of child marriage were not even brought upon the authorities. In other cases, it was impossible to prove the underage status of those affected, since the respective documents were missing. Furthermore, many refugees were anxious and would repel an interference of the authorities. For Rohe, the child protective services are in charge in these cases: They had to step in from the beginning, to clearly show the affected people that they were there to help – and not to discriminate against them. It was important to teach the young women that it was necessary for them to independently finish their education.

Another problem remains unsolved, according to Rohe: In some cases, the child marriage was annulled, but the former husband than appointed as the girls legal guardian. The law text implied this solution, because the husband had the closest connection to the child. Sometimes, the parents also supported this solution. EZIRE director Rohe here calls for a readjustment of the respective paragraphs. By adding an extra passus, it should be forestalled that the former husband could be appointed as guardian for his underage ex-wife.