Germany says “no” to polygamy and underage marriage


Integrating the more than 1 million asylum seekers who’ve recently arrived in Germany is proving challenges at many turns.


Now, Germany has declared they will not accept polygamy and underage marriage.

“No-one who comes here has the right to put his cultural values or religious beliefs above our law,” said Justice Minister Haiko Maas to the “Bild” newspaper.

“Cultural immunity” not an option

The law regarding polygamy in Germany is clear: it is not allowed to be married to more than one person at a time. However, in many cases polygamy is “quietly tolerated” or authorities turn a blind eye. For example, if a man dies, his inheritance can be split between his two wives.

In other parts of the world such as the Middle East, Indonesia and much of Africa, polygamy is legal. Under Muslim law, a man is allowed to have up to four wives.

And with the influx of more asylum seekers, Maas says Germany needs to tackle the issue of polygamy head on.

“Everybody must abide by the law, no matter whether he has grown up here or has only just arrived,” he says. “For that reason multiple marriages cannot be recognized in Germany.”

Maas also said that cases of underage married must be outlawed, especially with the fear that the minor has been forced into marriage.

“We cannot tolerate forced marriages, above all, if they affect under-age girls.”

Challenges for asylum registration 

Authorities are especially facing challenges during registration of asylum seekers. They are unable to register more than one wife to the same man. The other wives are then listed as single, or single mothers if they have children. This also causes a challenge for state benefits and inheritance.

The German state of Bavaria has thus far registered 550 cases of married girls under 18, and 161 under 16 years old. In Germany, the minimum age for marriage is 18, but it possible for a person aged 16 or 17 to be married with their parents consent if the other party in the marriage is over 18.

However, most of the polygamous and underage marriages took place before the migrants arrived in Europe. Thus far, there is no clear law on how to treat these issues. Therefore, German courts have been working on a case-by-case basis.

According to the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees, one solution towards the prevention of registration of forced marriages is to alert youth authorities if the wife is underage and then decide if the family is allowed to stay together or not.

In the future, integrating asylum seekers—culturally, financially, socially, etc.—will continue to be a challenge for both parties.