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Bavarian court declares child marriage lawful

A court in Bavaria has declared child marriage to be legal - because the marriage was concluded in Syria, where child marriages are permitted under Islamic law. But may the standards of Islamic law also apply to German society? Does this mean that Sharia will find its way into German courts?

Susanne Schröter heads the Frankfurt Research Institute Global Islam. The ethnologist researches, among other things, the change in gender systems in the Islamic world and Islamic extremism. Most recently she presented a study on devout Muslims in Germany: “Closer to God than your own carotid artery - pious Muslims in Germany”.

Benedikt Schulz: Different laws apply in different countries - and sometimes these laws conflict with each other. In Syria, it is allowed to marry underage girls because Islamic law applies there in civil law. This is not allowed in Germany - but what if there are underage wives living in Germany who were married in Syria? The question is topical, also because of the high number of refugees who come to Germany from Syria and it is now also a matter for courts. The Higher Regional Court in Bamberg recently ruled that the youth welfare office may not retain guardianship for a Syrian minor because she is married to a 21-year-old Syrian who also lives in Germany. And, that's the bottom line: The court found this marriage concluded in Syria to be lawful and thus, in principle, legally legitimized child marriage on German soil. On the phone is now Susanne Schröter, ethnologist and head of the Frankfurt Research Center Global Islam. Good morning Ms. Schröter!

Susanne Schröter: Good morning!

Schulz: Ms. Schröter, your research is about Islam, you are not a lawyer now. Nevertheless the question: How do you find such a judgment?

Schröter: You have to distinguish between two levels. One is the legal level, which I can't really say much about. In my opinion there are good reasons - and this has been the practice time and again in the past - that marriages were recognized that were legally concluded in other countries, although they violate our law. But now we are faced with the problem that it is not just very rare exceptional cases that no one takes notice of, but that we are naturally confronted with a phenomenon through the refugees that is a bit more relevant. And then of course the moment comes into play, whether these marriages and the values ​​and norms concluded abroad, whether they should endure with us or whether they violate the 'public policy'. That means against the values ​​and legal norms that apply to us. And then I would say relatively clearly: Yes, they do. We can - although there may be good reasons in individual cases to recognize something like this, we cannot, in principle, open the door to the recognition of standards that may apply in Syria or other countries, but also simply go against the morality in our country.

Schulz: But now German law has legally ennobled something that is actually forbidden in Germany. What are the consequences? Where will this lead in Germany?

Schröter: Yes, if you are not careful, this will set precedents and others will invoke it. It's not like that in all marriages the girls are already 15 years old, where you can perhaps say - well - that's a borderline case. The other day I had a discussion with a legal scholar who said: 15 - you can just accept that - but we also have girls, they are eleven, they are twelve, they are 13 years old. And where do you want to draw the line? I think in this case German law should be the point of reference. It has also been considered whether the marriage age should not be raised to 18 anyway. I actually think that's a good measure. In our country, unlike in other countries, marriage has something to do with the fact that young people are able to take responsibility for this step and to be aware of the consequences of this marriage. It is different in other countries. You get married and the consent of the young people, especially the girls, is not expected. These are fundamentally different requirements. But in my opinion we have to defend our rights and our order, which we have for good reason.

"We have to be very clear about human and women's rights."
Schulz: Yes - you mentioned it. It's a legal decision, but it's actually about a cultural conflict that exists here. Can German society really accept such a decision or live with such a decision?

Schröter: No, it can't. It's about a cultural conflict. And of course we now have to deal with a whole series of similar cultural conflicts. We have to come to an understanding about this, we have to discuss in which direction our society should go. And in my opinion we have to orientate ourselves very clearly towards human rights and also towards the rights of women. And that does not mean that minors who cannot be clear about the scope of such a decision - they are minors - are allowed to marry or that one agrees that they will be married.

Schulz: The judges have now decided in favor of the claims of the Syrian husband and did not address the claims of the underage wife. Is it like this? Does legal protection take precedence over protection against minors?

Schröter: Yes, as I said, that is a legal question. Now, as a cultural scientist, I would always say: We have to see which values ​​and norms endure with us, which we also see as fundamental for our society. And the protection of minors and also the protection of girls and women is a very central value.

For a legal ban on Muslim child marriage in Germany
Schulz: In the Netherlands, after a change in the law last winter, child marriages are no longer recognized. Are you demanding that the legislature in Germany clearly follows suit and says that this is simply no longer possible?

Schröter: Yes, I think that's a good measure.

Schulz: How is marriage with minors in Islamic societies - you are concerned with Islam and Islamic society - how is this child marriage justified or legitimized? Is that now religious, culturally or patriarchally justified - or all together possibly?

Schröter: Yes, it's all together. So religious - there are countries that invoke Islamic law and claim a certain interpretation of Islamic law. And here one refers to the life of Muhammad as a model for all Muslims. And Mohammed himself married a minor. And that is the reason why in many Muslim countries the marriage of minors, sometimes girls from the age of nine, is considered legitimate. That would be the religious component. On the cultural and social level, one tries to marry girls off as quickly as possible as soon as they reach puberty, because then she is safe from losing her honor. Loss of honor means that she may have a boyfriend, may not want to marry the man she was meant to be, so that she makes her own decisions. And that's why you try to get girls under the hood as quickly as possible so that they don't even think of making their own decision. Of course, these are all things that don't work with us at all.

Another problem: polygamy
Schulz: And now, in addition, this number of underage married people has increased since the Syrian conflict. Right?

Schröter: Yes, of course. First of all, if you marry young people, then you assume that if girls flee now that they will have a certain protection from their husbands - even if they are minors themselves. It's still better than when they go on their own. In addition, one assumes that everything will then be in order, i.e. that moral ideas are also preserved, because girls are married more quickly. This means that we are now, through the refugees from Syria but also from other countries, increasingly confronting with the fact that we have very young married couples and that we also have girls, some of whom have been married to much older men. Not just as a first wife, by the way. We also have exactly the same problem as to whether we recognize second marriages, or possibly a third party, which will now also come to us as a result of the globalization of our society.

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