Since the beginning of the Syrian refugee crisis, hundreds of minors have reached Germany’s borders, many of them young girls. Their families often married them before the perilous journey as some sort of safety. No matter the intentions behind those marriages,they are child brides. And as such, they are in need of state protection. Germany’s federal state of Bavaria, one of the largest and first for immigrants to set foot in after taking the Balkan route, registered as many as 161 married children under the age of 16. In Germany, minors between 16 and 18 need parental and court consent to get married. According to German law, all these 161 children live in illegal marriages.

Germany is now debating whether to separate these couples. Should marriages that are legal in the refugees’ country of origin be accepted in their new homes? Even when they violate the UN convention on children’s rights? Politicians, especially conservative and right wing, say no.

But what would the consequences be? In some instances, the girls (and boys, too) would lose their only relative, a link to their communities, the sole connection to their homes. In densely populated refugee camps, a male companion is often the only protection young girls have, and the only legitimization within their peer group. After all the horror and deprivation that refugee girls have endured, declaring their family bonds illegal and taking their husbands away from them might just be the last act of violence in a long row of hardship and humiliation.

Clearly the refugee situation is complex and challenging for all involved. Are 161 cases too onerous to look at individually? Unlikely. If taking the girl away is the best answer, then so be it. Abusive relationships can be stopped immediately. Under close surveillance of authorities, the girls could live with their husbands outside the camps, in apartments accessible to social workers. Complex problems require thoughtful and flexible solutions. We should not give up the principles of child protection, but re-traumatizing these children any further is also not an answer.

-Kristina Kraemer
Junior Editor
Girl News International

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