Tuesday, December 22, 2015

European Court Says Switzerland Need Not Recognize Underage Religious Marriage of Afghan Nationals

In Z.H. and R.H. v. Switzerland, (ECHR, Dec. 8, 2015), the European Court of Human Rights in a Chamber Judgment held that Switzerland was not required for asylum purposes to recognize the religious marriage between first cousins, entered when the bride was only 14 years old.  The religious marriage between the two, who are Afghan nationals, would have been illegal in Afghanistan because a woman must be at least 15 years old to marry there.  The religious marriage was contracted in Iran where the couple was living illegally, but it was not registered with Iranian authorities. The couple subsequently applied for asylum in Switzerland which they had entered illegally from Italy. Refusing to recognize them as husband and wife, authorities removed the husband to Italy.  However he soon returned illegally to Switzerland where apparently then Switzerland decided to recognize the marriage once the woman turned 17. The European Court did not treat this as mooting the appeal to it of Switzerland's initial decision.