Finland's Justice Minister Is Calling for a Child Marriage Ban
The minimum marriage age in Finland is 18, but special exceptions can be — and are — made.
Earlier this year, Norway banned child marriage, setting the minimum age for marriage firmly at 18, in the hopes of setting a global example — and it appears to be working.
Antti Häkkänen, the minister of justice of neighboring Finland, is calling for the country to ban child marriage by closing legal loopholes that allow children under 18 to marry in the country, the Helsinki Times reported.
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Currently the minimum age of marriage in Finland is 18, but exceptions can be made by the Ministry of Justice. Though Finland does not have a high rate of child marriage — rights organizations estimate that approximately 30 children are married in Finland every year — activists have criticized the Nordic nation’s policy.
According to Inka Hetemäki of UNICEF Finland, children are not always consulted before their marriages are approved.
Seven out of 11 marriage applications involving a child under 18 were approved in 2017, Yle reported. And though that figure is relatively low, advocates say even one child forced into marriage is too many.
Child marriage is a harmful practice that disproportionately affects girls. Around the world, 650 million girls and women alive today were married as children, according to the organization Girls Not Brides.
Poverty and lack of education are often major drivers of child marriage. In places where child marriage is common, the practice is often justified for religious or cultural reasons. However, forcing children into marriages before they are ready robs children of the chance to realize their full potential.
“Cultural and religious reasons, for example, are in my opinion not strong enough to allow underage people to marry even under the special permit procedure,” Häkkänen said in a press release on June 19.
Mirja Vehkaperä, a member of the European Parliament, agreed and urged Finland to take progressive action on the issue in a blog post.
“Child marriages have stirred up critical debate in both Finland and abroad, and almost all Nordic countries have taken action to prevent child marriages,” she said. “Finland must continue on the same road and show the way also for other countries considering the same question.”