Marijn Meijer y Bodisco Massink
“On my wedding day I felt very happy. The ceremony took place at my parent’s house, my dress was new and hand made, I put on make-up and my hair was done really beautifully. That day I really felt like a princess. I have four brothers and four sisters, at this moment my mother (35) is pregnant with her 10th child. My name is Jawer; 14 years old and two months pregnant of my 40 year old uncle.”
Worldwide there are 15 million girls annually, just like Jawer, who are married before the age of 18, according to UNICEF’s research at The State of the World’s Children 2016.
In Europe, in some cases child marriage in case of refugees is allowed, if the parents agreed, or if the judge agreed in court. In every EU country the legislation and minimum age is different in regard to child marriage. Because there is no EU law based on the minimum age to get married, furthermore the European Commission cannot dispute marriages that occurred in non-EU countries even if it conflicts with EU law.
Since December 2015, as an example, The Netherlands has a law against forced marriage. This means that no marriage is accepted until the child is 18 years old, even though the parents agreed on the marriage overseas. The only reason a child could be considered an adult is if she becomes a mother. However, this doesn’t mean that if she is considered an adult in these circumstances, that the marriage is confirmed, according to Dianne Kroezen, Chairwomen of the Association of Family Lawyers Divorce Mediators (vFAS).
Nevertheless, what happens if a girl like Jawer enters the Netherlands with her husband and wants to ask for asylum? The marriage will not be legal, but what kind of consequences does this have in practice?
Child marriage is against the law of many international agreements, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and The Convention of the Rights of the Child. On the other hand, in practice it is also unethical to divide a family, confirmed the right to private and family life.
In The Netherlands, if there are no parents, the Nidos (Youth protection for refugees) becomes the guardian of the girl. In partnership with the COA (Central Shelter for Asylum-seekers) they will decide what happens to the situation and what is best for the family. Discussions will be held with the girl, so that they can decide if there is a matter of forced marriage, including abuse or violation. In the Netherlands there is no single legislation based on these circumstances, the COA and Nidos discuss each case individually.
This means that in case of Jawer she probably will be staying with her husband; because she was never able to give here own opinion. But if you ask her if she wants her children to be married at the age of 13, she directly says no.