Nina Dethloff: "Child Brides on the Move - Legal Responses to Culture Clashes"


In many European countries, migration and, in particular, the recent influx of refugees has led to an increasing number of child marriages. Girls are frequently married at a very early age either before leaving their home countries or while fleeing. Often they are as young as 12 or 13 years old, sometimes even younger. This happens largely in accordance with the laws of their countries of origin and follows the respective local traditions and cultural norms. Increasingly, those marriages are also a result of the perceived need for protection during the perilous journeys ahead. However, upon arrival in the host countries, the validity of the marriage is often challenged. Even though marriages entered into by foreign nationals in their countries of origin according to the laws of that respective state might generally be regarded as valid in the host countries, there are limits to the recognition when it comes to child marriages. Most European legal systems have seen a constant rise in the age of consent for marriage during the past decades. In particular, lower age limits for girls than for boys have been abolished, and gender equality has been accomplished. Thus, the increasing presence of marriages between young migrant girls and often much older men raises the question if and under what circumstances such marriages should be legally recognized as well as if local youth authorities should act as legal guardians or representatives in the absence of parents and determine the girls’ places of residence as well as other relevant decisions to be taken.

The presentation examines the phenomenon of child marriages among refugees and migrants, taking into consideration diverging interests and guarantees. At stake is the protection against forced marriages and the safeguarding of the freedom to marry as well as the recognition and protection of a potentially existing family life including children already born out of the relationship. While in an increasingly globalized world different cultural traditions and concepts as well as religious beliefs and legal norms have to be taken into account and respected, some values and norms are deemed to be universal. This requires the careful drawing of a fine line in the case of marriages of minors.

Prof. Dr. Nina Dethloff

Nina Dethloff holds the Chair for Private Law, Private International Law, Comparative Law and European Private Law and is Director of the Institute for German, European and International Family Law at the University of Bonn. From October 2012 until September 2013, Nina Dethloff was Fellow at the Käte Hamburger Center for Advanced Study in the Humanities “Law as Culture”. Since October 2015 she is executive director of the Käte Hamburger Center.