Authorities have registered hundreds of cases of children being married to adults before they arrive as refugees in Germany, Bild reported on Saturday.
In nearly all of the cases, underage girls had already been married in their homelands to grown men.
The newspaper cited figures from state authorities as well as from the Conference of Justice Ministers.
Bavaria, for example, registered at the end of April 161 cases of kids under 16 years of age being married and 550 cases of kids under 18.
Baden-Württemberg registered 117 cases, and North Rhine-Westphalia at least 188 cases.
Now the conference of justice ministers from each state is considering whether the legal age for marriage in Germany should be raised to a general age of 18 and whether foreign marriages under this age should be recognized.
Currently, 18 is the minimum age for marriage, but with parental consent and court permission, 16-year-olds are allowed to marry adults.
The justice minister for North-Rhine Westphalia, Thomas Kutschaty, told Bild that “there is no clear legal foundation to prohibit in Germany what we believe to be indecent”.
“We need a clear law.”
Federal Family Affairs Minister Manuela Schwesig also told Bild that she supported such action.
“No one should be forced into a marriage, let alone underage girls,” she said. “These cases show that protections for children and youth must also be applied to refugees.”
Elisabeth Winkelmeier-Becker, spokeswoman for the CDU/CSU (Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union) faction in the German parliament, confirmed that “there is a growing number of underage girls that are already married, mostly to adult men”.
“In Germany the marriage between, for example, a 14-year-old and a grown man is completely unacceptable,” Winkelmeier-Becker continued. “The state here has a protective obligation to also look after underage refugees.”
Last month, a court in Bamberg, Bavaria, decided to recognize the marriage of a Syrian girl who had been married to her adult cousin when she was 14.
International NGO SOS Children’s Villages warned in May that ever more refugee children are forced to marry against their will. The group said that there has been an increase in particular among girls from war-torn Syria.
Before the war, 13 percent of all marriages in Syria were between couples where one or both of them were younger than 18. Now this number is more than 51 percent.
One of the reasons is that families want to both financially and physically secure their daughters, according to Alia Al-Dalli, director of SOS Children’s Villages in the Middle East.
But the consequences can be devastating: girls not only drop out of school and are socially isolated, but they also are often victims of domestic and sexual abuse by the much older husbands, Al-Dalli says.
The World Health Organization reports that child brides are also much more vulnerable to dying from complications from pregnancy or birth.