Child Marriages in Austria

In Austria, around 200 children per year are affected by forced marriages according to the government, though the actual number is likely much higher. Additionally, theoretically, married girls younger than 16 could be living here. Exact numbers are not known, as no data on this topic is collected. However, calls for reforming the marriage law are growing louder in politics.

Generally, the poorer a country, the more often underage girls are married off to much older men. The highest rates of child marriages are found in Bangladesh, Brazil, Ethiopia, India, and Nigeria. In Austria, the law prohibits child marriages, and marriage is allowed from the age of majority, which is 18 years. However, individuals who are at least 16 years old can marry if both parents have given written consent before a notary, and the spouse is at least 18 years old. Whether the 16- or 17-year-old enters the marriage voluntarily is not examined – a parent’s signature is sufficient. According to UNICEF’s definition, this exception constitutes a child marriage: “A child marriage is a formal marriage in which at least one of the partners is under 18 years old.” Moreover, there are also girls under 16 who are married in Austria – how is that possible?

In Austria, the marriage law of the country of origin applies, so marriages conducted abroad are valid, except if one of the partners is younger than 14 – as this is the minimum age for sexual consent. Only if the welfare of a child over 14 is at risk does the marriage violate the fundamental values of Austrian law and must be dissolved.

It is estimated that around 200 children are affected in Austria, though the actual number is likely much higher. Exact numbers are not available.

In a 2016 statistic in Germany, it was recorded that at that time, 1,475 underage foreign girls were married. 994 of them were between 16 and 18 years old, and 361 married children were younger than 16. Most of the underage married individuals were from Syria and Afghanistan, but also from European countries like Bulgaria, Greece, Poland, and Romania. As a consequence of this statistic, the law was changed, and since 2017, the marriage age has been set strictly at 18 years.

Hundreds of forced marriages in Austria: Ten million girls at risk of child marriages (

It is surprising that the government does not collect data on who marries at what age in Austria. As early as 2021, delegates demanded figures on this topic. Since then, nothing has happened. NEOS youth spokesperson Yannick Shetty is calling for the elimination of the exception and a strict minimum age of 18 years – following the German model. Justice Minister Zadic announced a reform of marriage and partnership laws last year, but these reforms are still in “political coordination.”

Girls and women living in forced marriages can seek help from various organisations. In Vienna, there are several non-profit associations advocating for women’s rights, including “Hope for the Future.” The child protection center “Die Möwe” can also be a contact point for victims of child marriages. In Graz, Caritas runs a counselling initiative called “DIVAN”, which specialises in counselling victims of violence in the name of honour and forced marriages. In Innsbruck, there is the association “Frauen aus allen Ländern” (Women from All Countries).

According to Women’s Minister Raab, after the numerous femicides in recent years, “protection against violence is a top priority.” The goal is to “massively expand” counselling centres for women across the country. These counselling centres should focus on the economic independence of women, empowering women and girls to lead self-determined lives. Additionally, there will be a focus on the area of sexualised violence.

Translated by Anna Smith

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