Let’s Tune In To The EU’s Periphery: Spain’s Dangerous Culture Double Standards Ruling

Nicholas Zalewski
Picture of the court which reduced the sentence of a man accused of raping 12 year old girl side by side with the silhouette of a young girl. Source: The Publica

While Spain has made the news last year for becoming EU’s first member state to pass legislation providing for women to take paid leave for painful menstruation, the nation still has work to do in order to protect girls and women. In Ciudad Real, a city in Central Spain, a Judge ruled that despite raping and impregnating a 12-year-old girl, a Roma man would serve a significantly reduced prison sentence due to it being an acceptable cultural practice amongst gypsies. Instead of 37 years, the defendant will serve eight years and nine months in prison. This is contrary to Spanish legislation, which specifies the legal age of consent as sixteen. The judge used a loophole in the legislation which allows for legal exemptions if the two people who had relations are close in age. Besides cultural traditions, the judge also decided to reduce the prison due to the girl acting older than her true age.

Gypsy Girl Bought and Sold

In the same city, authorities have arrested several people accused for buying and selling a 13 year old girl. The case was discovered after the 13-year-old chose to voluntarily abort a fetus due to serious malformation. When authorities found her, she was pregnant yet again. The girl is already married despite being only 13 years old. A twelve year old girl in the same region was found by authorities after friends reported that she told them she would be sold for 3,000 euros. Authorities started investigating the matter when she stopped attending school. Her step father was found with 3,800 euros in his pocket, which he tried to claim he made during the olive harvest. It is important to note though that in Spain the minimum age for marriage is 18. With judicial approval, this age limit can be lowered to 16 in specific cases. While it may be uncomfortable for people to admit, not all cultural traditions can be accepted in Europe. Spain outlawed slavery in 1817 and should not permit young girls to be bought and sold if done on the premise of cultural traditions. This creates the dangerous reality of two sets of legislation. One for Spaniards, and another for members of minority communities. If this is done, this risks the social cohesion of the nation. As it is, Roma students still suffer a significant educational gap, with 62.8 percent of Roma between the ages of 18-24 failing to finish, compared to only 4 percent overall in Spain for the same age group. The poverty rate for Roma households is 87.4 percent

Cañada Real, Europe’s largest slum mainly inhabited by Romani and illegal immigrants.
Source: Madrid Metropolitan

Potential Consequences of Ruling

By not cracking down on this instance of rape and impregnation of a minor, this failure to sentence the rapist to a reasonable period of time in prison time may risk leading to hatred rather than acceptance. Roma faced social exclusion not only in Spain, but throughout the European Union. This ruling will do little in order to help persuade Spaniards and Europeans that more actions should be taken to integrate Roma communities in order to help improve the quality of lives for these communities.

Besides potential discrimination that may arise, more important is the reality that rulings like this pave the way for abuse of girls in minority communities. While Spain should allow for minority groups the freedom to practice their cultures, this must still take part within the Spanish legal framework. Detrimental cultural practices such as child marriage, sex with minors, and female genital mutilation should not be allowed within Spain (or the European Union) regardless of who is maintaining these practices. While EU member states should encourage people to preserve their heritage and traditions, not all traditions are equal.

Simultaneously however, Romani activists and organizations interested in helping Roma communities integrate spoke up to clarify that abuse is not part of Roma culture. Beatriz Micaela Carrillo, the General Director of Equal Treatment and Non-Discrimination and Against Racism of the Spanish Ministry of Equality also condemned the ruling, saying that courts need to defend the rights of Romani girls as well.

Map of age of consent within the EU. Source: Euronews


While this ruling may have been made with good intentions, it may have extremely negative consequences for minority groups in Spain. A ruling that goes against Spanish legislation and allows an individual to commit a crime due to their background may inflame tensions between Spaniards and minority groups. It is crucial for not only Spaniards but for everyone to remember that just because one individual may commit a crime or behave poorly, does not mean people similar to these specific individuals do the same.

The Spanish government must due more to protect victims of sex crimes and potentially change the legislation. While it can be considered logical to allow for legal exemptions in cases involving individuals close to the age of consent, it should be strictly limited to individuals who also have a small age difference. In Italy and Cyprus, judges can make exemptions in ages involving minors who have a maximum age difference of three years. The defendant had an 8-year age difference with the victim. Regardless of whether or not she may have started to go through puberty younger and appear older does not make her an adult. A minimum age of consent can help protect children, particularly girls, from not only abuse but also pregnancy at a young age. This is extremely important due to the complications of childbirth that may arise if a girl is too young and not yet fully physically developed.

Please Read The Following For More Information:

Mesa, Jesus. “Outrage in Spain After Child Rape Verdicts Consider ‘Cultural Context’” Newsweek 3 June 2024.

Bello, Camille., & Llach, Laura. “Painful periods? Spain just passed Europe’s first paid ‘menstrual leave’ law” Euronews. 16 February 2023.

Beswick, Emma. “How do different European countries define the age of sexual consent?”. Euronews. 14 Novemeber 2017.

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Let’s Tune In To Th…

by Nicholas Zalewski time to read: 4 min