The case of a pregnant 14-year-old refugee girl from Syria, who also already had an 18-month-old child when she arrived in Norway with her husband this autumn, has posed a major dilemma for Norwegian authorities. Police have now decided to investigate, and may file charges against the 23-year-old father.
Under Norwegian law, the girl is a victim of sexual abuse and alleged forced marriage, and her husband may be guilty of having sex with a child. The offenses clearly occurred, however, outside Norway, which initially prompted Norwegian police to refrain from filing any charges when the young family first crossed the border from Russia in Northern Norway.
Public outcry when the case of the child bride became known, along with clear signals from government officials and many top politicians, prompted police to reconsider. “We will follow this up as a criminal case,” prosecutor Jens Herstad of the Øst-Finnmark Police District told state broadcaster NRK. Herstad said other state agencies will also be mobilized to assist the 14-year-old, who is now staying at an asylum center in southern Norway along with her child and husband.
While the police were roundly criticized for not acting immediately, Norwegian social anthropologist Unni Wikan warned that more such cases are likely to arise and present more dilemmas over how to handle asylum seekers who are child brides.
“Norway may have to accept that underage refugees are married and have children,” Wikan told NRK. Wikan doesn’t defend how young girls can be married off to older men, but expressed concern that the girls may suffer even more if authorities file charges and annul the marriages. Countries all over Europe may face similar problems.