BERLIN -- Germany's government on Wednesday proposed criminalizing forced marriage, a tradition that some Muslim immigrant families impose on their children, even ones who were raised in Germany's more liberal society.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet agreed to a proposed law that would make forced marriage in Germany a crime that can be punished with up to five years in prison.
The legislation still needs to pass parliament.
"Forced marriages are a serious problem in Germany," Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said, adding that by criminalizing them Germany would make clear that this is no longer "a tradition from olden times or different cultures that is ... tolerable."
About 4.3 million Muslims live in Germany, and forced marriage is still fairly common, especially among Turks and Arabs.
There are no official figures on the number of forced marriages, but rights groups say that increasing numbers of young immigrants who grew up in Germany and identify with Western values and the right to choose their own partners are rebelling against the tradition.
On Wednesday, the government also proposed modifying a general immigration law to ease an existing restriction on immigrants who are forced into arranged marriages overseas.
Such immigrants often lose their residency status in Germany, if they are kept out of Germany for more than six months.
Under the proposed law, such so-called "vacation brides" would receive an unlimited right to return to Germany, if they have lived in the country for at least eight years and attended school for six years. Those who have spent less time in Germany also would be able to return to Germany, if they can prove that they are well integrated here.
The German human rights organization Forum Menschenrechte said Wednesday that such legal changes would not go far enough.
For example, it said women who are brought to Germany from Turkey and forced to marry a Turkish immigrant need more protection.
Currently, if these women manage to get a divorce during the first three years of their time in Germany, they are automatically deported to their home country, unless they can prove they suffered a special hardship in their relationship.