12 February 2016
Research report ‘Just married’

250 child marriages per year in the Netherlands

In 2013-2014, about 250 child marriages occurred per year in the Netherlands. Religious marriages without civil marriage also took place during that period. It is not clear how many occurred. This emerged from a study done by Maastricht University and the Verwey-Jonker Institute. The main recommendations are that the government should properly inform people about the conditions that apply to the ability to marry in the Netherlands, about the importance of civil marriage in the Netherlands, and about the status and risks of informal marriages. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment commissioned this research.

Child marriages

The research shows that about 250 child marriages took place per year in 2013-2014, in the Netherlands or abroad. Eighty of those marriages involved asylum seekers. In informal child marriages, the prospective spouses are usually 16 or 17 years old. These seem to take place less often nowadays because education is considered to be far more important for young people.

 

Religious marriages

It is difficult to determine how many religious marriages take place within different communities in the Netherlands without a civil marriage first being recognised by the municipality. Not everyone knows that in the Netherlands, a marriage can only be sealed by a religious leader after a civil marriage has taken place. People may not realise that because of this, marital situations exist that are not covered under Dutch law. In addition, the research clarified why people enter into religious marriages, how they come to exist and who is involved.

 

Good information

It is important that people be well informed about the conditions that apply to the ability to marry in the Netherlands, the importance of civil marriage in the Netherlands, and the status and risks of informal marriages. Although it has become clear that religious marriages are often taken for granted and extremely important to those involved, they should also be prevented as much as possible so people are not faced with unpleasant surprises. Susan Rutten, researcher from Maastricht University: ‘The government should pursue a customised policy aimed at informing and protecting partners who want to enter into informal marriages and, where necessary, aimed at protection from partners in informal marriages. A civil marriage is important when it comes to family law relationships (who is identified as the father, who has custody of the children, who are heirs, etc.). It is also important for the ability to request a divorce from the court if the marriage is no longer going well, for residence status and for certain social benefits.’

 

Research aim

The aim of the study was to gain insight into the nature and extent of child marriages and religious marriages (legal and illegal) in the Netherlands that are conducted within certain communities. The research was conducted by Dr Susan Rutten, Dr Esther van Eijk and Dr Khadija Kadrouch-Outmany from Maastricht University, and by Lisanne Drost and Eliane Smits van Waesberghe from the Verwey-Jonker Institute. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment commissioned this research. The report was submitted to the members of the Dutch parliament.
 

Glossary of terms

  • Child marriage: a marriage in which at least one of the prospective spouses has not yet reached the age of 18 at the time of the marriage.
  • Religious marriage: a marriage that is conducted according to the rules of a particular religion.
  • Unlawful religious marriage: a marriage that is conducted in the Netherlands prior to or without a civil marriage, in the presence of a religious leader and according to the rules and ceremonies applicable to a particular religion. These informal marriages are conducted without or prior to a civil marriage,

    Child marriage: a marriage in which at least one of the prospective spouses has not yet reached the age of 18 at the time of the marriage.

    Religious marriage: a marriage that is conducted according to the rules of a particular religion.

    Unlawful religious marriage: a marriage that is conducted in the Netherlands prior to or without a civil marriage, in the presence of a religious leader and according to the rules and ceremonies applicable to a particular religion. These informal marriages are conducted without or prior to a civil marriage, and are forbidden by Dutch law. We therefore prefer that these be referred to as unlawful religious marriages.

    Informal marriage: a marriage that is conducted in a manner that differs from the form that is prescribed by the law of the country in which the marriage takes place. Therefore, these are marriages conducted outside the official channels.

    and are forbidden by Dutch law. We therefore prefer that these be referred to as unlawful religious marriages.

  • Informal marriage: a marriage that is conducted in a manner that differs from the form that is prescribed by the law of the country in which the marriage takes place. Therefore, these are marriages conducted outside the official channels.