Even before these new requirements, the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations required that a marriage that takes place outside Canada must be valid both under the laws of the jurisdiction where it took place and under Canadian law. The new requirements have clarified the provisions and created some exceptions for the members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
Former Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird delivered an address to the United Nations General Assembly in New York City in September of 2013, highlighting child marriage in foreign policy. Known also as forced marriage, this practice has become a principal concern for the Canadian government. It’s a central part of the government’s mandate to address harassment and vulnerability of women and girls, and to reduce the exploitation of same.
According to the International Centre for Research on Women (ICRW), one third of girls in the developing world are married before the age of 18; at least 1 in 9 of are married before the age of 15. ICRW also reports that in 2010 alone, 67 million women aged 20-24 had been married before the age of 18. A great deal of these unions are made without consent; often, the girls themselves are the last to discover that they’ve been wed. Girls living in poorer households are twice as likely to marry before coming of age, and the consequences of this harmful practice have been shown to further perpetuate the destructive cycle of poverty.
In India, the Child Marriage Restraint Act prohibits the practice of child marriage. Anyone who marries a child (defined as females under 18 and males under 21 years of age) or performs, conducts or directs any child marriage can be punished with imprisonment. A large number of girls under age 18 voluntarily get married but most of them marry under some form of pressure.
The Canadian government has changed it’s sponsorship requirements to help curb this practice. Here’s a breakdown of the amendments and related exceptions:
1. Raising the minimum age of eligibility.
The minimum age requirement to be eligible for sponsorship has been raised to 18 years of age. Only spouses over the age of 18 can be sponsored as such. Exceptions to the rule include spouses or common-law partners who are considered dependents under 18; individuals in the underage category can be sponsored as dependent children or de facto family members.
Another exception makes mention of spouses or common-law partners from refugee camps who are under the age of 18. These may still be considered ‘de facto’ dependents, and can be considered for sponsorship based on humanitarian or compassionate grounds. Applicants are then assessed by Canadian immigration officers on a case-by-case basis, to assure vulnerable applicants are afforded some degree of flexibility.
2. Marriages conducted by proxy
Marital unions conducted by fax, telephone, through the internet or by any similar means are insufficient for spousal sponsorship. Long-distance participation in a marriage ceremony, while formerly considered for immigration purposes though never legally valid in Canada, is now also excluded.
Both parties must be physically present at the ceremony. Consent is more difficult to ensure when one or both parties are in attendance. Again, this amendment is in place by the Canadian government to reduce the exploitation of women and girls. It is the government’s position that marriages by proxy often necessitate forced marriage.
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces away on service leave are exempt. Should a marriage fall under the category of excluded relationships but nevertheless qualifies as common-law, the sponsorship application will be processed as common-law and not under spouse. Again, if an individual’s safety or well-being is at risk, immigration officers still retain some humanitarian flexibility under the new regulations.
3. Five-year sponsorship bar
This amendment applies to those who have previously been sponsored to come to Canada in the spouse and common-law categories. Sponsors that become permanent residents or Canadian Citizens after being sponsored under these two categories must hold status as a permanent resident or citizen for a minimum of five years immediately prior to applying for sponsorship.
Changes in the Canadian immigration laws would help but are not likely to have any substantial affect. The agencies involved should seek to create awareness in countries where these practices continue to be prevalent and their respective laws regarding forced and child marriages be enforced.