250 illegal child marriages every year in Netherlands

About 250 underage children get married in the Netherlands every year, according to a study done by Maastricht University and the Verwey-Jonker Institute on behalf of the Ministry of Social Affairs. Most of these marriages take place in closed communities, so exact numbers are difficult to give, news wire ANP reports.

The study looked at child marriages over 2013 and 2014. About 500 child marriages took place in that period. 160 of them happened among asylum seekers. The phenomenon is also relatively common in the Somali community. In many cases the child gets married in secret or abroad, after which the married couple returns to the Netherlands.

Most of the married kids are 16 or 17 years old. According to the researchers, this age is increasing because more parents attach importance to a good education for their child before they get married.

Forced marriage is illegal in the Netherlands. Anyone in who forces someone into a marriage - whether child or adult - faces a prison sentence of two years. Up until 2017 the government is putting 1 million euros annually into tackling forced marriages. That money is used to train teachers to recognize the signs of forced marriages. Volunteers are also trained to talk about "taboo-subjects" like forced marriage in communities.

"Children are supposed to go to school and have fun, not to get married. Since last year underage marriage is not permitted under any circumstances", Minister Lodewijk Asscher of Social Affairs said.