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Finland: Finnish Parliament Revokes Underage Marriage Exception

(Mar. 12, 2019) On February 19, 2019, the Finnish Parliament adopted changes to its Marriage Act, revoking the exception that persons not yet 18 may marry with special prior approval from the Ministry of Justice. (Press Release, Eduskunta [Parliament], Marriage with Underage Individuals Prohibited (Feb. 20, 2019) (in Swedish), Parliament website.) The parliamentary press release did not provide the exact date the law would take effect but stated that it would enter into force as soon as possible. (Id.)

Under the current law, the Ministry of Justice may grant exceptions in special cases (särskilda skäl) to the requirement that a person be 18 years or older to marry provided that the guardian of the underage applicant be heard before official approval is given. Examples of “special cases” include “pregnancy, religious beliefs, and cultural reasons.” (Betänkande LaUB 17/2018 rd — RP 211/2018 rd [Report] (in Swedish), Parliament website.) Typically the Ministry of Justice has received 10 to 30 applications for underage marriages in recent years. (Id.)

According to the Lagutskottet [Finnish Parliament Law Committee], the new rules will better harmonize with Finland’s obligations under international law, including the protection of children, especially with regard to limiting the risk of forced marriages. (Id.) In addition, the Committee found that the new rules would increase the equality and independence of women, as most of the exceptions granted were for underage girls. (Id.) At the same time, the Committee recognized that the prohibition on child marriages would risk increasing the number of minors who travel outside of Finland to marry in accordance with foreign law, as well as the number of Finnish citizens who marry according to religious law in Finland. (Id.)

Under current law Finland does recognize marriages that have been concluded when one party was underage, but only if both persons at the time of recognition are over the age of 18. (Id.) Thus, the new rule would not affect the current procedures for recognition of foreign underage marriages. (Id.)

Forced marriages are illegal in Finland and considered as human trafficking, gross human trafficking, or duress/compulsion. (25 kap. 3, 3 a and 8 §§ Strafflagen [Penal Code].) In addition, planning a forced marriage is illegal. (Id. 18 kap. 1 §.) Therefore, the new prohibition on underage marriages does not affect the illegality of forced marriages.