Nordic countries have been accused of complicity in child abuse, due to allowing child brides fleeing war-torn Middle Eastern countries, including Syria and Afghanistan, to remain in cohabitation with their older husbands. Authorities observe that, for refugee girls in such a position, it is less traumatic to stay with their partners, regardless of the age difference.
"Minors seeking asylum are in a difficult situation, where they have left their homeland, family and friends, and, the partner they have traveled with can be the only person they know and trust in Norway," said Heidi Vibeke Pedersen, a senior official from the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI).
In Norway, where 16 is the minimum legal age for sex and marriage, 10 out of 31,000 refugees arriving to the country over the course of a year were under 16 and married, and four had children. Some couples were allowed to live together, the UDI told Reuters.
"To place them with their partner in facilities rigged for adults is not acceptable," said Camilla Kayed, of the Ombudsman for Children Norway, an official watchdog for children's rights.
In February, the country's Integration Minister declared that child brides will no longer be accepted in asylum centers. The Ministry's representative said that couples under 18 would not be allowed to live together unless there are "exceptional reasons," and they are at least 15.
In Sweden, authorities said in January that some 70 girls under the age of 18 were married in asylum centers run by municipalities, including Stockholm and Malmo.
Child protection agencies insist that any bride under the age of 18 be accommodated in a special center for children, calling for separating such couples by force.
"The child bride refugee should be separated from her husband, even if they have children together, and even if they say they want to stay together," said Kjell Erik Oie, head of PLAN Norway, a non-governmental organization providing assistance to children in developing nations.