Confronted by the snowballing problem of child marriages amid a refugee influx, Denmark decided to get a firm grip of the situation by banning anyone less than 18 years of age from the bonds of matrimony altogether. Needless to say, the law was met with mixed reactions.
A large majority in Danish parliament voted for the amendment banning minors from getting married. The amendment effectively closed the previously existing opportunity for young people between 15 and 17 to get an exemption. At the same time, it became more difficult to get a foreign marriage contract approved in Denmark. Under the new law, which was designed with "imported" child marriages in mind, "compelling reasons" are required for underage spouses to get their matrimony approved in Denmark.
The law against child marriage was pushed through by the Liberal Party, the Danish People's Party and the Social Democrats. The left-wing parties were highly critical of the law, arguing that previous legislation provided adequate protection for minors.
"What on earth is wrong with parents accepting that their 17-year-old daughter is marrying her 20-year-old boyfriend due to pregnancy?" Marianne Jelved of the Danish Social Liberal Party said during a parliamentary debate, as quoted by the Danish tabloid newspaper Extra Bladet.
According to Jelved, minors aged 15 and over no longer constitute child brides.
Criticism of the law was also expressed by the Danish Children's Council and the Danish Lawyers Association, which both suggested that minors were adequately protected by existing regulations and ventured that amendments may prove counterproductive, since the authorities would be unable to take children's interests into account.
However, Children's Minister Mai Mercado shrugged off the criticism by making it clear that marriage has traditionally been reserved for people above the age of majority and it shall remain this way.
The move is widely seen as a response to last year's report by the Danish Integration Ministry that revealed no fewer than 27 minors as young as 14 in the Danish asylum system who have spouses or registered partners. This led to an order from Integration Minister Inger Støjberg to physically separate such couples. Several months later, the course was reversed and married couples were re-united, as the Danish Immigration Service acknowledged that the policy was a violation of asylum seekers' rights.
Other Nordic states have been following suit or are considering doing so. In 2014, Sweden abolished its exemption for people under 18 to consummate marriage. In Finland, the Justice Ministry requires "special reasons" when permitting teens to marry. Recently, though, the Justice Ministry embarked on a project to investigate whether the procedures related to marriages with minors should be reviewed.
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