The Swedish parliament has launched a crackdown against child marriage, a problem largely unknown in the Scandinavian country before the onslaught of the migrant crisis. It passed a law allowing Sweden to disregard marriages involving children concluded abroad.
Today, children married abroad aged 15 and over are regarded as spouses according to Swedish law, even if their union had no connection to Sweden. According to a new law which will come into force on January 1, 2019, such marriages will no longer be recognised, national broadcaster SVT reported.
However, as the law lacks retroactive force, so previously acknowledged child marriages will continue to be considered valid.
The bill was introduced in May by Social Democrat Immigration Minister Helene Fritzon. It was first green-lit by the Civil Affars Committee and has now received parliament's backing.
This step was hailed by the national organisation GAPF, which deals with 'honour-related' violence and the oppression of women and children.
"At last, Sweden takes a stance against child marriage based in the best interest of the children," GAPF manager Sara Mohammad told SVT, adding that the law had 'no major shortcomings' in her judgement. "You cannot prosecute 70-year-olds who were married off some 60 years ago," she commented on the law's implications.
"We must protect children from underage marriage from becoming mothers while they are still children themselves, not to deprive them of their future," she concluded.
“It would be a great thing for the Swedish government to show the world that we protect children from child marriage"— GAPF — Glöm Aldrig Pela och Fadime (@GAPF) 20 ноября 2018 г.
GAPFs grundare Sara Mohammad i @NBCNews artikel:https://t.co/Dfxwoo8SaZ#glömaldrig_gapf #gapf #hedersförtryck #svpol
By contrast, senior members of the right-wing Sweden Democrats party Angelica Lundberg and Anders Eskilandersson said the law "had no practical effect" and was "toothless as a newborn baby". In an opinion piece published by the newspaper Aftonbladet, the two also stressed that Sweden lacked effective tools to find and help children and young adults living in both registered and unregistered child marriages.
The number of married children in Sweden is a matter for debate. In 2016, following the peak year of Europe's migrant crisis, the Swedish Migration Board identified 132 married children, but the true number of the victims is feared to be much higher, as in some communities an unofficial ceremony witnessed by members of the clan suffices as proof of marriage.
Of the 132 married children (most aged 16-17), 129 were girls and three boys. Almost all of them came from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria and sought asylum in 2015 and later. About a third of the married children had children of their own.
The National Board of Health and Welfare is currently conducting a national survey to identify more cases of underage marriage in Sweden. The result will be presented in early 2019.