Child Brides Sometimes Tolerated in Nordic Asylum Centers Despite Bans

Alister Doyle, Reuters, April 21, 2016

Some child brides are living with older husbands in asylum centers in Scandinavia, triggering a furor about lapses in protection for girls in nations that ban child marriage.

Authorities have in some cases let girls stay with their partners, believing it is less traumatic for them than forced separation after fleeing wars in nations such as Afghanistan or Syria.

Some girls have also passed themselves off as adults.

Both these issues have caused unease in Scandinavia, where critics say that the authorities risk complicity in child abuse.

Of 31,000 asylum seekers who arrived in Norway in the past year or so, 10 of those aged under 16–the minimum local age for sex or marriage–were married and four had children, the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) said.

Of the 10 “some live in adult asylum centers, some in their own rooms and some with their partners,” it said in emailed replies to Reuters questions.

“Minors seeking asylum are in a difficult situation where they have left their homeland, family and friends, and the partner they have traveled with can be the only person they know and trust in Norway,” said Heidi Vibeke Pedersen, a senior UDI official.

A subsequent tightening of rules means such couples arriving now are separated, she said, and child protection authorities were reviewing all cases from 2015.

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In February, Danish Integration Minister Inger Stojberg said that she would “stop housing child brides in asylum centers” after a review found dozens of cases of girls living with older men.

Couples younger than 18 would not be allowed to live together without “exceptional reasons”, said Sarah Andersen, spokeswoman for the Integration Ministry.

“There will never be exceptions in cases where one side is below the age of 15,” she said.

In Denmark, 15 is the minimum age for sex and for marrying with a special permit. Denmark took in 20,000 asylum seekers last year.

In January, after reports by Swedish Radio, authorities said that at least 70 girls under 18 were married in asylum centers run by municipalities including Stockholm and Malmo.

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In Sweden, the lowest age for sex is 15 and marriage 18.

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