Imam Oussama El-Saadi, of the Aarhus mosque in Denmark, said that child brides should be looked at from a “different perspective.”
“It is an extraordinary humanitarian situation, and I think you have to take care of these families. They’re married, and even if the man is twice as old as they have built a family. We have to accept that it is a different culture, and we cannot destroy family life,” he told Danish newspaper Metroxpress.
El-Saadi went on to explain the alleged benefits of such situations.
“If you look at the situation in the refugee camps, it is often filled with violence and uncertainty. If your daughter marries early and gets a man, it can give the family a safer situation,” he said.
However, he told the newspaper that he wouldn’t actually let his own daughter marry until she was 18.
The imam’s comments follow an announcement by Danish Integration Minister Inger Støjberg, who said that Denmark would be separating child brides from their husbands.
“It is completely unacceptable that there are currently minors within the Danish asylum system living with their spouses or partners and I have asked the Danish Immigration Service to immediately put a stop to it,” Støjberg said.
“We should naturally ensure that young girls are not being forced to live in a relationship with an adult at the asylum centers,” she added.
The Danish Integration Ministry revealed in January that there were 27 minors living as part of a married couple in the asylum system. An investigation by Metroxpress found brides as young as 14 living in refugee centers.
Denmark registered 21,000 asylum applications in 2015, making it one of the top EU destinations for refugees per capita, after Finland, Austria, Germany, and Sweden.
Meanwhile, government data from Norway shows that at least 61 minors were married when they sought asylum in the country last year, several of whom were under the country’s age of consent. The youngest was an 11-year-old girl.
Just six months ago, a UN report on child marriages among Syrian refugees in Jordan stated that such situations leave girls vulnerable to domestic abuse, poverty, and health problems. It noted several factors responsible for child marriage, including providing protection for young girls, continuing traditions, cultural or family reasons, and serving as an escape for girls living in abusive homes.