Germany eyes tougher rules on forced marriages

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BERLIN, Oct 29 (Reuters) Germany is considering introducing new rules against forced marriages, a sensitive subject in Germany which is home to western Europe's second biggest Muslim population after France.

Conservative Chancellor Angela Merkel raised the issue in a speech to a women's conference on Saturday.

''I think the demand to make forced marriage an offence is absolutely right,'' she said.

Under existing rules, forced marriages themselves are not a crime although individuals can be found guilty of coercion if a victim is found to be in a forced partnership.

Some federal states have already made proposals to outlaw the practice to Germany's upper house of parliament but little has come of them so far, said a government spokesman.

Some Muslim women in Germany are forced into marriage, and while Muslim groups say they oppose the practice, they are wary about new legislation that could reinforce what they view as German prejudices against Islamic people.

''As Muslims we oppose forced marriage. We would welcome action as long as there is distinction between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage,'' Bekir Alboga of the DITIB Turkish-Islamic Union told Reuters yesterday.

''And any measures must not increase the level of general suspicion many Germany have of Muslims,'' he added.

About 3.2 million Muslims live in Germany, about 2.5 million of whom are of Turkish descent.

To improve integration, the government has in the last couple of years held a series of conferences with Islamic groups to discuss difficult issues -- like Islamophobia, mosque building and forced marriages.

In their coalition deal, Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Social Democrats (SPD) agreed to look at making forced marriage an offence but experts have raised objections.

One of the their arguments is that young people might be reluctant to report their parents if the penalty is a long jail sentence.

A new law which raised to 18 the minimum age for an individual who wants to move to Germany as a spouse was already showing positive results, a spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry said.

REUTERS SS KP0917

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