By Emma Batha
LONDON, May 22 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Norway approved a law banning all child marriage on Tuesday, with campaigners saying it would set an example to others ahead of a global 2030 deadline for eradicating the practice.
The Nordic country has a minimum age of 18, but allows 16- and 17-year-olds to marry with parental consent and permission from the county governor. A government spokeswoman said very few under 18s had sought to wed in recent years.
"We believe ... this law will send a clear message, nationally as well as internationally, that we do not accept children getting married in Norway," Minister of Children and Equality Linda Hofstad Helleland said in emailed comments.
"A marriage should always be based on full, free and informed consent," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Globally, an estimated 12 million girls are married every year before their 18th birthday — nearly one girl every two seconds, according to global campaign group Girls Not Brides.
The United Nations has said all countries should end child marriage by 2030 under global development goals.
The Norwegian branch of aid agency Plan International, which has led calls to reform the law, said Tuesday's unanimous vote in parliament for a total ban was an important milestone.
"A major reason why the law needs to change is the global perspective," said spokeswoman Siv Meisingseth.
"How can we encourage other countries in the developing world to ban child marriage if we don't have our own house in order?"
Meisingseth said the reform, which comes a year after Denmark passed a similar ban, would give Norway one of the strictest laws on child marriage in Europe.
"We really want other countries in Europe to copy this law. This should be the standard," she said.
Child marriage forces girls to drop out of school, limits their opportunities, and traps them in poverty, experts say. It also raises the risk of domestic abuse, rape, and serious childbirth complications.
Parliament will hold another reading of the bill next week, but sources said this was a formality and the law would likely come into force shortly.
The law will also ban Norwegians from marrying abroad if either party is under 18. Meisingseth said there had been cases where girls had been taken overseas to be married off to men in their parents' country of origin.
The maximum penalty for child marriage will be three years' imprisonment.
(Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)