What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?
There is no publicly available government data on child marriage in Germany.
Over 1,000 child marriages have been recorded in recent years, which has largely been driven by an influx of migrants entering the country. 188 marriages of child migrants have been documented in the North Rhine-Westphalia region.
Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?
Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that women and girls are somehow inferior to men and boys. In Germany, child marriage is also driven by:
- Migration: 1,475 married minors were registered in Germany at the end of July 2016, and 361 of them were under the age of 14. According to the German Interior Ministry, the largest group of married children came from Syria, followed by Afghanistan, Iraq and Bulgaria.
- Force: German police records from 2012 show that 70% of forced marriage victims were women aged between 16-21, and about one third of these women were under the age of 18.
What has this country committed to?
Germany has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. The government did not provide an update on progress towards this target during its Voluntary National Review at the 2016 High Level Political Forum.
Germany co-sponsored the 2017 Human Rights Council resolution recognising the need to address child, early and forced marriage in humanitarian contexts, and the 2015 Human Rights Council resolution to end child, early and forced marriage, recognising that it is a violation of human rights.
Germany co-sponsored the 2013 and 2014 UN General Assembly resolutions on child, early and forced marriage, and the 2013 Human Rights Council resolution on child, early and forced marriage. In 2014, Germany signed a joint statement at the Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.
Germany ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1985, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.
In 2017 the CEDAW Committee raised concerns about legislation enabling marriage under the age of 18 in exceptional cases, and the significant number of girls from migrant families experiencing harmful traditional practices such as Female Genital Mutilation and Cutting (FCM/C).
At the Girl Summit in July 2014, the government signed a charter committing to end child marriage by 2020.
What is the government doing to address this at the national level?
Germany supports efforts to combat child marriage through its development cooperation. The German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ) has supported initiatives in Burkina Faso and Guinea. The paper “Population Dynamics in German Development Cooperation” (2013) includes a focus on child marriage.
What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?
In June 2017 the German parliament passed a law officially raising the minimum legal age of marriage to 18. Previously, 16 year olds were allowed to marry adults in certain cases with court permission.
The legislation also nullifies any existing marriages in which at least one spouse was under the age of 16 at the time of the wedding. This is particularly aimed at marriages done outside of Germany, after the refugee influx saw brides even younger than 14 years arrive in the country. The law amendment was drawn up to protect minors, especially girls, by annulling foreign marriages involving underage children. Youth welfare workers will be allowed to take underage girls into care, even if they were legally married abroad. If necessary, they will also be separated from their husbands.
Breitbart, Report: More Than 1,000 Known Child Marriages in Germany, [website], 2016,(accessed April 2018)
European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Addressing forced marriage in the EU: legal provisions and promising practices, 2014, (accessed March 2018)
Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Population Dynamics in German Development Cooperation, 2013, (accessed April 2018)
Girl Summit 2014, The Girl Summit Charter on Ending FGM and Child, Early and Forced Marriage, [website], 2015, (accessed February 2018)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Joint statement on child, early and forced marriage, HRC 27, Agenda Item 3, [website], 2014, (accessed April 2018)
The Telegraph, Germany to dissolve child marriages, 2017, (accessed April 2018)
UN CEDAW, Concluding observations on the combined seventh and eighth periodic reports of Germany, 2017, p.7, (accessed April 2018)
United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017, (accessed February 2018)
* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)