Immigration Law & Child Brides

Canadian immigration officials have the authority to reject applications of potential immigrants and applications for sponsorship, but they can’t seem to specifically stop the problem of “child brides” being sponsored into Canada by much older husbands.

According to the Toronto Sun (, older Muslim men, who are Canadian citizens or permanent residents, are sometimes getting married in arranged marriages abroad in countries including Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan and Leganon and then attempting to sponsor these girls in their immigration application to Canada.
Federal immigration officials say there’s little they can do to stop “child brides” from being sponsored into Canada. 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.
Some of the brides can be 14 years old or younger and many are forced to marry. And while the marriages are permitted under Sharia Law, they are not permitted under Canadian laws if they were to be performed here. But what is interesting is how little our law can do to invalidate or void these marriages when the parties were married elsewhere and then move to Canada.
A child marriage is punishable but it does not render the marriage invalid. Apparently all that Immigration Canada can do is refuse such application and not allow the young brides into Canada. If an application is turned down, this doesn’t void the marriage. It just means that the man has to wait and then can reapply when his bride turns 16.
While this practice has been going on for years and “is a concrete loophole that can’t be fixed” it brings to light some interesting questions about the role of Canadian law in governing marriages that take place abroad. Is it our place to void marriages that would not have been legal if they had taken place in Canada? It seems bizarre that Canada would play any role in saying what is legal/illegal for marriages in another country and yet at the same time, that we wouldn’t be able to void a marriage that took place elsewhere if the parties then come to Canada.
It is a complex issue of both law and culture and what our role is in governing both new immigrants and what Canadians do abroad. With new sex tourism laws in place in Canada now, under which Canadians who engage in sex with minors while abroad can now be charged back in Canada, it would seem that these laws would apply to a situation where an older Canadian man travels to another country and “marries” a 14 year old girl despite what is this man’s cultural norm. What do you think? How do you think Canadian law should deal with this situation?

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