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Sweden to crack down on child marriages

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Sweden to crack down on child marriages
Government investigator Mari Heidenborg detailing the proposal. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT
08:40 CET+01:00
A report commissioned by the Swedish government proposes ways to make it more difficult for child marriages from abroad to be recognized in Sweden, but critics say stopping short of a full ban is not enough.

The legal marriageable age in the Nordic nation is 18, but at present the country recognizes child marriages if they occurred abroad and neither party has links to Sweden. The new proposal would mean Sweden does not recognize the marriages if one of the parties is under 18 at the point of arrival in the Scandinavian country.

If the person has turned 18 by the time they come to Sweden however, the recognition of the marriage would not be affected. Government investigator Mari Heidenborg argued that as several EU countries allow marriage at the age of 16, a general ban is not possible:

"That would risk a conflict with the European conventions on the right to life and private life”.

The investigator also said that a current exemption rule should remain in place. That rule means that marriages of EU citizens in countries where it is legal to do so at the age of 16 are recognized in Sweden. Removing the exemption could create a conflict with EU freedom of movement rules.

READ ALSO: 'EU must help end medieval child marriages'

Charity GAPF is disappointed with the proposal and thinks it should go further.

"Sweden has to draw a line and say that child marriage is banned entirely. The proposal feels like one step forward and seven steps back," founder Sara Mohammad said.

"Sweden should focus on its own country and its own laws, and then if there are failings at an EU level, Sweden should drive the issue forward there and not back-off. It should stand up for children’s rights."

Unicef was more positive however.

"If there's a conflict between the UN Child Convention and EU regulation, our view is that the Child Convention should always take precedence. But in general the proposal is a step in the right direction and in line with the Child Convention," Unicef's head legal expert in Sweden Christina Heilborn said.

According to the Swedish Migration Agency (Migrationsverket), there were 132 married children living in Sweden as of 2016.

The Swedish government said it welcomed the proposal, which could enter into force by January 2019.

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