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Article Sweden: Parliament Limits Recognition of Child Marriages

(Dec. 10, 2018) On November 21, 2018, the Swedish Parliament (Riksdagen) passed legislation that will limit the instances in which child marriages are recognized in Sweden. (Förbud mot erkännande av utländska barnäktenskap, RIKSDAGEN (Nov. 21, 2018).)

Under the new provisions marriages that were conducted when one or both parties were underage will be recognized only after both parties turn eighteen and if motivated by synnerliga skäl (extraordinary reasons). (Civilutskottets betänkande 2018/19:CU4, Förbud mot erkännande av utländska barnäktenskap [Committee on Civil Affairs Report 2018/19:CU4, Prohibition of the Recognition of Foreign Child Marriages] (Bet. 2018/19:CU4).) Under current rules, such marriages can be recognized if none of the parties had a connection to Sweden at the time of marriage. (See 1 § Lag om om vissa internationella rättsförhållanden rörande äktenskap och förmyndarskap (Svensk författningssamling [SFS 1904:26 s. 1]).)

The new rules will take effect on January 1, 2019, and apply only to marriages that have been entered into on or after that date. Thus, the recognition of married persons already in Sweden will not be affected. (Bet. 2018/19:CU4, at 1.)

Child marriages and forced marriages (those involving social pressure) are illegal in Sweden, as is coercing someone to marry (using the threat of physical force). Having a child travel internationally under false pretenses to be married in another country is likewise illegal. (4 kap. 4c & 4d §§ BROTTSBALKEN (BRB) [CRIMINAL CODE].)

Child marriages came into the Swedish national spotlight during the 2015 refugee crisis when a number of underage girls were placed in living accommodations together with their adult husbands. Girls under the age of fifteen cannot consent to sexual relations in Sweden, whereas girls and boys aged fifteen and older may participate in consensual sex. Although the question mainly surrounded child brides fifteen and younger, members of Parliament were also questioning whether girls aged fifteen to eighteen should be placed in housing together with their husbands as it was unclear if real consent could ever be given. (Fredrik Malmberg, “Sverige ska utgå från ett skyddsperspektiv – barn kan aldrig samtycka till äktenskap,DAGENSJURIDIK (Feb. 4, 2016).) The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen) published a brochure addressed “to those who are married to a child,” which drew heavy criticism and had to be withdrawn. (Sweden Struggles over Child Marriage, POLITICO (July 30, 2018); Malmberg, supra.)

The vote took place only weeks before a Swedish District Court sentenced a man to six months in prison after he had had intercourse with his thirteen-year-old wife on their wedding night in Turkey. The couple were from Syria, where child marriages reportedly are common, but were married in Turkey, where sex with a child of thirteen years of age was illegal. (See Isak Bellman, Hade sex med 13-årig hustru under flykten mot Sverige – döms för barnvåldtäkt, DAGENS JURIDIK (Nov. 5, 2018).)

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