Swiss authorities have recorded a growing number of cases of girls under the age of 16 being forced into marriage.
The Zurich newspaper NZZ am Sonntag recently revealed numbers from a centre in Zurich, that aids victims of forced mariage, showing an increase of nearly 70% in the number of victims in 2016 compared to 2015. In 2015, the centre recorded 60 cases. Over the first seven months of 2016 they have recorded more than 100.
The centre is particularly alarmed by a spike in the number of marriages involving under age brides. Since opening in 2005, until the end of 2015, the centre had only seen five cases involving girls under 16. Over the last seven months they have seen 26 cases.
One case involved a ten year old Somalian girl, who, like all other children of her age went to school, but was already married. Or that of another young girl who was also married and, according to a female doctor, had been sexually abused.
The 26 cases occurred in the cantons of Zurich, Bern, Basel, St Gallen and Luzern. The married minors belonged mainly to Eritrean, Somalian, Iraqi and Syrian communities based in Switzerland, suggesting a link between increased migration from these countries. Anu Sivaganesan, who is in charge of the centre, pointed also to increased awareness of the problem among doctors and social workers.
Swiss authorities have been fighting against the problem for several years, a task made difficult because of the young victims fear of speaking out, and the complexity of gaining direct access to them.
In 2012, Switzerland’s parliament voted to stiffen penalties for forced mariage. Swiss law allows forced marriages and marriages involving minors to be annulled, even those concluded abroad. Those found guilty face penalties of up to five years in prison.
In addition, the changes affect migrant family reunification rules. In cases of forced marriage, family reunification isn’t possible. Victims however, can stay in Switzerland after a forced marriage has been annulled.