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Dublin: 10 °C Saturday 28 May, 2016

Court was right to not recognise marriage of 14-year-old girl

The girl and her ‘husband’ were seeking asylum.

Image: Shutterstock/Oleg Elena Tovkach

THE EUROPEAN COURT of Human Rights has found that Swiss authorities were right to consider the asylum applications of an Afghan couple separately.

The couple, identified as Ms ZH and Mr RH, had argued that this violated Article 8 (right to respect for private and family life) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Swiss authorities did not consider the couple legally married as the wedding took place when the girl was just 14 years old and the man was 18 years old.

The couple were born in Afghanistan in 1996 and 1992 and live in Geneva.

They entered Switzerland via Italy, and presenting themselves to the authorities as a married couple, applied for asylum in September 2011. According to the couple they had married in a religious ceremony in Iran in 2010.

Their asylum request was rejected in December 2011 and March 2012. Migration authorities viewed that, under European Union law, Italy was responsible for examining their asylum application as it was the first EU state that they had entered.

The ECHR noted that in the subsequent appeal proceedings, the domestic courts upheld the rejection of their asylum request, finding that the couple had failed to submit a certificate of marriage.

Regardless, the marriage could not be recognised in Switzerland because the law in Afghanistan prohibits marriage for women under the age of 15.

Against the law

Furthermore, the couple’s marriage was incompatible with Swiss law given that sexual intercourse with a child under the age of 16 is a crime in Switzerland.

As such, the girl could not be viewed as a member of the man’s family under EU law and they could not claim a right to family life under the European Convention.

The ECHR found that the Swiss courts had to rule on “the importance attached to the protection of children and the fostering of secure family environments”.

The man was expelled to Italy on 4 September 2012, but returned to Switzerland illegally a few days later. His asylum application eventually succeeded.

Read: ‘Prostitution happens a lot, but what can you do? You have to eat’

Read: ‘We need some breathing room’ – Sweden is tightening its asylum rules

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