Federal immigration officials say there’s little they can do to stop “child brides” from being sponsored into Canada by much older husbands who wed them in arranged marriages abroad.
Top immigration officials in Canada and Pakistan say all they can do is reject the sponsorships of husbands trying to bring their child-brides to Canada. The men have to reapply when the bride turns 16.
The marriages are permitted under Sharia Law.
Muslim men, who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents, return to their homeland to wed a “child bride” in an arranged marriage in which a dowry is given to the girl’s parents.
Officials said some of the brides can be 14 years old or younger and many are forced to marry. The practice occurs in a host of countries including Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Lebanon.
In classified documents, Canadian visa officer Steve Bulmer said he refused to allow one Pakistani man to sponsor his 15-year-old bride in August 2009.
“I can find no section (of law) that states the marriage is ‘invalid’ or ‘void,'” Bulmer wrote in e-mails obtained by lawyer Richard Kurland under Access of Information. “I am afraid the age does not invalidate the marriage even if it is illegal to marry.”
Abdul Hameed, of the Canadian embassy in Islamabad, said child marriages are not valid in Canada.
“A child marriage is punishable but it does not render the marriage invalid,” Hameed said. “We are refusing such application on grounds the marriage will not be valid as per Canadian laws.” William Hawke, of immigration’s Permanent Resident Unit, said the young brides won’t be allowed in Canada.
“Sponsorship applications submitted for a spouse under 16 will be refused,” Hawke said. “Once an underage spouse turns 16 they are a member of the family class” and can be sponsored.
He said the application is rejected if a spouse turns 16 during processing. Kurland said there’s little that can be done to stop Canadians from marrying child brides.
“A 15-year-old bride doesn’t void a marriage,” Kurland said on Thursday.
“The application is turned down and the person can reapply when his bride turns 16.”
He said the practice has been going on for years and “is a concrete loophole that can’t be fixed.”
Immigration officials quoting an Afghanistan Law of Marriages said in some countries it is “customary for young females to wed men considerably older, especially if the man is in a position of financial or social power.”
According to the law, it is not uncommon for marriages between first cousins or extended family members.
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