Germany’s cabinet has agreed a new draft law banning child marriages after the recent refugee influx saw brides even younger than 14 arrive in the country.
The draft law, agreed by the cabinet on Wednesday, has been drawn up to protect minors, especially for girls, by annulling foreign marriages involving underage children.
Youth welfare workers will be allowed to take underaged girls into care, even if they were legally married abroad. If necessary, they will also be separated from their husbands.
The draft law is set to receive parliamentary approval by July. "Children do not belong in the marriage registry office or the wedding hall," said Justice Minister Heiko Maas, who drew up the draft law.
"We must not tolerate any marriages that harm minors in their development.
"The underaged must be protected as much as possible.”
Mr Maas added that as a result of the change, no minor must suffer restrictions on their asylum or residential status. The age of consent for all marriages in Germany will be raised from 16 to 18 years.
Currently in some cases an 18-year-old is allowed to marry a 16-year-old if a family court allows the marriage. Foreign marriages involving spouses under 16 are considered invalid.
Family courts can annul those involving 16 or 17-year-olds. Rare exceptions are possible if the couple were married as children but both are now adults and want to stay married.
The authorities will also consider not applying the law in special cases of hardship, such as a severe and life-threatening illness.
The draft law would also fine any attempts to marry minors in traditional or religious rather than state ceremonies. In Germany, 1,475 married minors were registered at the end of July 2016 - 361 of them were aged under 14 according to the latest figures released after a parliamentary request.
The German interior ministry said that of these, 1,152 were girls. The largest group, with 664 children, came from Syria. This was followed by 157 children from Afghanistan, 100 from Iraq, and 65 from Bulgaria.