Netherlands: No action against informal marriages

Minister of Justice Ernst Hirsch Ballin said in parliament that contracting informal Muslim marriages should not be punished, but fought with information and dialog.

Hirsch Ballin answered the parliamentary questions of Khadija Arib and Jeroen Dijsselbloem (of the Labor Party, PvdA). They fear that informal Muslim marriages could cause undesirable issues such as polygamy and forced marriages.

Maurits Berger, professor of Islam in the modern day Western world at Leiden University, supports the minister. He says that everybody in the Netherlands can live with a partner of his own choice, and may confirm that with self-chosen rituals.

It is forbidden by Dutch law to contract marriages without being registered. A religious marriage is allowed, but must be preceded by a civil marriage. Hirsch Ballin doesn't intend to actively persecute offenders, as Arib and Dijsselboem suggest.

Berger calls the penalty clause 'outdated', and says that other group who want to perform their own marriage rituals and that do not go through a civil marriage, such as New Age or Hare Krishna, are never persecuted according to the law that the PvdA wants to make more severe.

In their parliamentary question the Labor Party members also pointed out the more practical drawbacks of Islamic marriages, such as the fact that a child of such a marriage is not registered anywhere and thus cannot travel abroad. Hirsch Ballin answered that it's easy to overcome when the mother declares the birth and the father recognizes the child.

Arib and Dijsselbloem spoke of their concerns about the fact that Muslim marriages were popular among the Hofstad group and therefore form an indication of radicalization. Berger says that that's too general. There's a considerable group of Muslim who contract Muslim marriages and do not register it in the Netherlands, but rather by their own country's consulate. This group includes people who don't know that a marriage must be registered in the civil registry. Additionally there are orthodox Muslim who consciously choose not to register their Muslim marriage. Berger says that this group shouldn't be seen as radicals just for that.

On request of the PvdA, Hirsch Ballin will try to investigate how often Muslim marriages are contracted in the Netherlands without first doing so according to Dutch law. The Justice Minister sees problems with such a study since the ceremony is often conducted without much company: two male witnesses (both Muslims) is sufficient and the presence of a cleric is not required. He does see a possibility to perform such a study if Muslim umbrella organizations like Diyanet (Turkish) and VIM (Moroccan) are enlisted. Berger admits that it will be problematic to get a handle on Muslim marriages which are contracted outside the mosque.

Source: Wereldjournalisten (Dutch)

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