Finnish Justice Minister Antti Häkkinen of the center-right National Coalition Party has announced his will to push forward an outright ban on minors getting married, presenting it to lawmakers as soon as possible, national broadcaster Yle reported.
In effect, Häkkinen intends to make good on plans to ban underage marriages that he first voiced last summer. According to Häkkinen, the main motivation behind his initiative is the protection of children.
"It is in the child's best interest that they can be married when they are adults and do so of their own free will," Häkkinen said, adding that the underage marriage ban would also send a signal to other countries.
At present, Finland maintains an age qualification of 18 years in order to get married. However, 17-year-olds are free to apply for special permission from the Justice Ministry to enter into wedlock earlier, a possibility used by about 30 applicants a year. According to the Justice Ministry itself, the exemption requests are most often given on religious beliefs and the majority of the 17-year-old applicants are girls. The legal age of consent in Finland is 16.
Previously, Häkkinen doubted that religious beliefs suffice for a marriage permission. He also stressed that Islamic Sharia law had no place in Finland.
In recent years, the Finnish practice of granting minors permission to marry has prompted the condemnation of international watchdogs, including the UN Children's Fund UNICEF. Activists argue it could promote human trafficking and forced marriages.
At present, Finland remains the only Nordic nation to provide such exceptions, as the Scandinavian nations of Sweden, Norway and Denmark have all banned underage marriages in recent years.
In practice, though, child marriages went from virtually non-existent to a major concern following the 2015 migrant crisis. In Sweden alone, a Migration Board survey numbered at least 132 cases (most of which involved girls from Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq), with an unknown number suspected of having gone under the radar due to questionable age assessment methods.
Earlier this year, Sweden's former "red-green" coalition government comprised of the Social Democrats and the Greens, voted down a proposal intended to make it more difficult to recognize child marriages from abroad. The government parties explained that a total ban would disregard EU nations that allow the marriage of 16-year-olds, such as Spain and Austria, and thus violate the right to free movement.