Marriage and other |
equivalent or similar unions and status
|Validity of marriages|
|Dissolution of marriages|
|Private international law|
Family and criminal code |
(or criminal law)
Forced marriage is a marriage in which one or both of the parties is married without his or her consent or against his or her will. A forced marriage differs from an arranged marriage, in which both parties consent to the assistance of their parents or a third party (such as a matchmaker) in identifying a spouse. There is often a continuum of coercion used to compel a marriage, ranging from outright physical violence to subtle psychological pressure. Forced marriage is still practised in various cultures across the world, particularly in parts of South Asia and Africa. Some scholars object to use of the term "forced marriage" because it invokes the consensual legitimating language of marriage (such as husband/wife) for an experience that is precisely the opposite. A variety of alternatives exist, including forced conjugal association, and conjugal slavery.
The United Nations views forced marriage as a form of human rights abuse, since it violates the principle of the freedom and autonomy of individuals. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that a woman's right to choose a spouse and enter freely into marriage is central to her life and dignity, and equality as a human being. The Roman Catholic Church deems forced marriage grounds for granting an annulment — for a marriage to be valid both parties must give their consent freely. Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery also prohibits marriage without right to refuse of herself out of her parents', family's and other persons' will and requires the minimum age for marriage to prevent this.
In 1969, the Special Court for Sierra Leone's (SCSL) Appeals Chamber found the abduction and confinement of women for "forced marriage" in war to be a new crime against humanity (AFRC decision). The SCSL Trial Chamber in the Charles Taylor decision found that the term 'forced marriage' should be avoided and rather described the practice in war as 'conjugal slavery' (2012).
In 2013, the first United Nations Human Rights Council resolution against child, early, and forced marriages was adopted; the resolution recognizes child, early, and forced marriage as involving violations of human rights which “prevents individuals from living their lives free from all forms of violence and that has adverse consequences on the enjoyment of human rights, such as the right to education, [and] the right to the highest attainable standard of health including sexual and reproductive health," and also states that "the elimination of child, early and forced marriage should be considered in the discussion of the post-2015 development agenda."
Marriages throughout history were arranged between families, especially before the 18th century. The practices varied by culture, but usually involved the legal transfer of dependency of the woman from her father to the groom. The emancipation of women in the 19th and 20th centuries changed marriage laws dramatically, especially in regard to property and economic status. By the mid-20th century, many Western countries had enacted legislation establishing legal equality between spouses in family law. The period of 1975-1979 saw a major overhaul of family laws in countries such as Italy, Spain, Austria, West Germany, and Portugal. In 1978, the Council of Europe passed the Resolution (78) 37 on equality of spouses in civil law. Among the last European countries to establish full gender equality in marriage were Switzerland, Greece, Spain, the Netherlands, and France in the 1980s.
An arranged marriage is not the same as a forced marriage, in the former the spouse has the possibility to reject the offer, in the later they don't. The line between arranged and forced marriage is however often difficult to draw, due to the implied familial and social pressure to accept the marriage and obey one's parents in all respects.
In Europe, during the late 18th century and early 19th century, the literary and intellectual movement of romanticism presented new and progressive ideas about love marriage, which started to gain acceptance in society. In the 19th century, marriage practices varied across Europe, but in general, arranged marriages were more common among the upper class. Arranged marriages were the norm in Russia before early 20th century, most of which were endogamous. Child marriages were common historically, but began to be questioned in the 19th and 20th century. Child marriages are often considered to be forced marriages, because children (especially young ones) are not able to make a fully informed choice whether or not to marry, being influenced by their families.
In Western countries, during the past decades, the nature of marriage—especially with regard to the importance of marital procreation and the ease of divorce—has changed dramatically, which has led to less social and familial pressure to get married, providing more freedom of choice in regard to choosing a spouse.
Historically, forced marriage was also used to require a captive (slave or prisoner of war) to integrate with the host community, and accept his or her fate. One example is the English blacksmith John R. Jewitt, who spent three years as a captive of the Nootka people on the Pacific Northwest Coast in 1802–1805. He was ordered to marry, because the council of chiefs thought that a wife and family would reconcile him to staying with his captors for life. Jewitt was given a choice between forced marriage for himself and capital punishment for both him and his "father" (a fellow captive). "Reduced to this sad extremity, with death on the one side, and matrimony on the other, I thought proper to choose what appeared to me the least of the two evils" (p154).
Forced marriage was also practiced by authoritarian governments as a way to meet population targets. The Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia systematically forced people into marriages, in order to increase the population and continue the revolution.
These marriage ceremonies consisted of no fewer than three couples and could be as large as 160 couples. Generally, the village chief or a senior leader of the community would approach both parties and inform them that they were to be married and at the time and place the marriage would occur. Often, the marriage ceremony would be the first time the future spouses would meet. Parents and other family members were not allowed to participate in selecting the spouse or to attend the marriage ceremony. The Khmer Rouge maintained that parental authority was unnecessary because it “w[as] to be everyone’s ‘mother and father.’”
Raptio is a Latin term referring to the large scale abduction of women, (kidnapping) either for marriage or enslavement (particularly sexual slavery). The practice is surmised to have been common since anthropological antiquity.
In the 21st century, forced marriages have come to attention in European countries, in the context of immigration from cultures where they are common. The Istanbul Convention prohibits forced marriages. (see Article 37).
Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery
The 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery defines "institutions and practices similar to slavery" to include:
c) Any institution or practice whereby:
- (i) A woman, without the right to refuse, is promised or given in marriage on payment of a consideration in money or in kind to her parents, guardian, family or any other person or group; or
- (ii) The husband of a woman, his family, or his clan, has the right to transfer her to another person for value received or otherwise; or
- (iii) A woman on the death of her husband is liable to be inherited by another person;
The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention, states:
Article 32 – Civil consequences of forced marriages
Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that marriages concluded under force may be voidable, annulled or dissolved without undue financial or administrative burden placed on the victim.
Article 37 – Forced marriage
1 Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that the intentional conduct of forcing an adult or a child to enter into a marriage is criminalised.
2 Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that the intentional conduct of luring an adult or a child to the territory of a Party or State other than the one she or he resides in with the purpose of forcing this adult or child to enter into a marriage is criminalised.
Causes of forced marriages
There are numerous factors which can lead to a culture which accepts and encourages forced marriages. Reasons for performing forced marriages include: strengthening extended family links; controlling unwanted behavior and sexuality; preventing 'unsuitable' relationships; protecting and abiding by perceived cultural or religious norms; keeping the wealth in the extended family; dealing with the consequences of pregnancy out of wedlock; considering the contracting of a marriage as the duty of the parents; obtaining a guarantee against poverty; aiding immigration.
For victims and society
Early and forced marriages can contribute to girls being placed in a cycle of poverty and powerlessness. Most are likely to experience mistreatment such as violence, abuse and forced sexual relations. This means that women who marry younger in age are more likely to be dominated by their husbands. They also experience poor sexual and reproductive health. Young married girls are more likely to contract HIV and their health could be in jeopardy. Most people who are forced into a marriage lack education and are often illiterate. Young ones tend to drop out of school shortly before they get married.
Depending by jurisdiction, a forced marriage may or may not be void or voidable. Victims may be able to seek redress through annulment or divorce. In England and Wales, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 stipulates that a forced marriage is voidable. In some jurisdictions, people who had coerced the victim into marriage may face criminal charges.
Forced marriages are often related to violence, both in regard to violence perpetrated inside the marriage (domestic violence), and in regard to violence inflicted in order to force an unwilling participant to accept the marriage, or to punish a refusal (in extreme cases women and girls who do not accept the marriage are subjected to honor killings).
Relation to dowry and bride price
The traditional customs of dowry and bride price contribute to the practice of forced marriage. A dowry is the property or money that a wife (or wife's family) brings to her husband upon marriage. A bride price is an amount of money or property or wealth paid by the groom (or his family) to the parents of the bride upon marriage. Dowry is mainly practiced in South Asia while bride price in Sub-Saharan Africa (see lobolo) and some regions in Southeast Asia (e.g. Cambodia, Thailand).
Marriage by abduction
Marriage by abduction, also known as bride kidnapping, is a practice in which a man abducts the woman he wishes to marry. Marriage by abduction has been practiced throughout history around the world and continues to occur in some countries today, particularly in Central Asia, the Caucasus and parts of Africa. A girl or a woman is kidnapped by the groom-to-be, who is often helped by his friends. The victim is often raped by the groom-to-be, for her to lose her virginity, so that the man is able to negotiate a bride price with the village elders to legitimize the marriage. The future bride then has no choice in most circumstances, but to accept: if the bride goes back to her family, she (and her family) will often be ostracized by the community because the community thinks she has lost her virginity, and she is now 'impure'.
Forced marriage as a way of solving disputes
A forced marriage is also often the result of a dispute between families, where the dispute is 'resolved' by giving a female from one family to the other. Vani is a cultural custom found in parts of Pakistan wherein a young girl is forcibly married as part of the punishment for a crime committed by her male relatives. Vani is a form of forced child marriage, and the result of punishment decided by a council of tribal elders named jirga.
Widow inheritance, also known as bride inheritance, is a cultural and social practice whereby a widow is required to marry a kinsman of her late husband, often his brother. It is prevalent in certain parts of Africa. The practice of wife inheritance has also been blamed for the spread of HIV/AIDS.
In armed conflict
In conflict areas, women and girls are sometimes forced to marry men on either side of the conflict. This practice has taken place recently in countries such as Syria, Sierra Leone, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Historically, this was common throughout the world, with women from the communities of the war enemy being considered "spoils of war", who could be kidnapped, raped and forced into marriage or sexual slavery. Because women were regarded as property, it seemed reasonable to see them as the chattel of the war enemy, which could now be appropriated and used by the winner.
Forced marriage by partner
Escaping a forced marriage
Ending a forced marriage may be extremely difficult in many parts of the world. For instance, in parts of Africa, one of the main obstacles for leaving the marriage is the bride price. Once the bride price has been paid, the girl is seen as belonging to the husband and his family. If she wants to leave, the husband may demand back the bride price that he had paid to the girl's family. The girl's family often cannot or does not want to pay it back.
Abu Hurayrah reported that the Prophet said: "A non-virgin woman may not be married without her command, and a virgin may not be married without her permission; and it is permission enough for her to remain silent (because of her natural shyness)." [Al-Bukhari:6455, Muslim & Others]
It is reported in a hadith that A'ishah related that she once asked the Prophet : "In the case of a young girl whose parents marry her off, should her permission be sought or not?" He replied: "Yes, she must give her permission." She then said: "But a virgin would be shy, O Messenger of Allaah!" He replied: "Her silence is [considered as] her permission." [Al-Bukhari, Muslim, & Others]
It appears that the permission of an under-age bride is indeed necessary for her marriage to be considered valid. Despite the fact that this opinion is held only by a minority of classical scholars, the above narrations seem to clearly make the approval of the bride a condition for a valid marriage contract.
The contract of an Islamic marriage is concluded between the guardian (wali) of the bride and bridegroom, not between bridegroom and bride if she is virgin but her permission is still necessary. The guardian (wali) of the bride can only be a free Muslim.
A shotgun wedding is a form of forced marriage occasioned by an unplanned pregnancy. Some religions and cultures consider it a moral imperative to marry in such a situation, based on reasoning that premarital sex or out-of-wedlock births are sinful, not sanctioned by law, or otherwise stigmatized. Giving birth outside marriage can, in some cultures, trigger extreme reactions from the family or community, including honor killings.
The term "shotgun wedding" is an American colloquialism, though it is also used in other parts of the world. It is based on a hyperbolic scenario in which the pregnant female's father resorts to coercion (such as threatening with a shotgun) to ensure that the male partner who caused the pregnancy goes through with it, sometimes even following the man to the altar to prevent his escape. The use of violent coercion to marry was never legal in the United States, although many anecdotal stories and folk songs record instances of such intimidation in the 18th and 19th centuries. Purposes of the wedding include recourse from the male for the act of impregnation and to ensure that the child is raised by both parents as well as to ensure that the woman has material means of support. In some cases, a major objective was the restoring of social honor to the mother.
Shotgun weddings have become less common as the stigma associated with out-of-wedlock births has gradually faded and the number of such births has increased; the increasing availability of birth control and abortion, as well as material support to unwed mothers such as welfare has reduced the perceived need for such measures.
Forced marriage is prevalent in Madagascar. Girls are married off by their families, and often led to believe that if they refuse the marriage they will be "cursed". In some cases, the husband is much older than his bride, and when she becomes a widow, she is discriminated and excluded by society.
According to Human Rights Watch, Malawi has "widespread child and forced marriage" and half of the girls marry before 18. The practice of bride price, known also as lobolo, is common in Malawi, and plays a major role in forced marriage. Wife inheritance is also practiced in Malawi. After marriage, wives have very limited rights and freedoms; and general preparation of young girls for marriage consists in describing their role as that of being subordinated to the husband.
Forced marriage in Mauritania takes three principal forms: forced marriage to a cousin (known as maslaha); forced marriage to a rich man for the purpose of financial gain; and forced polygamous marriage to an influential man.
Forced marriage is common in Niger. Niger has the highest prevalence of child marriage in the world; and also the highest total fertility rate. Girls who attempt to leave forced marriages are most often rejected by their families and are often forced to enter prostitution in order to survive. Due to the food crisis, girls are being sold into marriage.
In South Africa, ukuthwala is the practice of abducting young girls and forcing them into marriage, often with the consent of their parents. The practice occurs mainly in rural parts of South Africa, in particular the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. The girls who are involved in this practice are frequently under-aged, including some as young as eight. The practice received negative publicity, with media reporting in 2009 that more than 20 Eastern Cape girls are forced to drop out of school every month because of ukuthwala.
Compensation marriage, known variously as vanni, swara and sang chatti, is the traditional practice of forced marriage of women and young girls in order to resolve tribal feuds in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although illegal in Pakistan, it is still widely practiced in Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
Forced marriage is very common in Afghanistan, and sometimes women resort to suicide to escape these marriages. A report by Human Rights Watch found that about 95% of girls and 50% of adult women imprisoned in Afghanistan were in jail on charges of the "moral crimes" of "running away" from home or zina. Obtaining a divorce without the consent of the husband is nearly impossible in Afghanistan, and women attempting a de facto separation risk being imprisoned for "running away". While it is not socially acceptable for women and girls to leave home without permission, "running away" is not defined as a criminal offense in the Afghan Penal Code. However, in 2010 and 2011, the Afghan Supreme Court issued instructions to courts to charge women with "running away" as a crime. This makes it nearly impossible for women to escape forced marriages. The Human Rights Watch report stated that
According to the UN, as of 2008, 70 to 80 percent of marriages in Afghanistan were forced, taking place without full and free consent or under duress. Another study found that 59 percent of women had experienced forced marriage.
Karma Nirvana, a charity set up by Jasvinder Sanghera who was disowned by her Sikh family aged 16 when she refused to marry a man in India, takes about 600 calls a month. The cultural preference for boys and the resulting adverse sex ratio has also caused a shortage of brides. This has fueled incidents of forced marriages.
Forced marriage remains common for Kurdish girls in Iran and is also one of the major reasons for self-immolation in Iran. UNICEF’s 1998 report found extremely high rates of forced marriage, including at an early age, in Kordestan in Iran, although it noted that the practice appeared to be declining. Kurdish cultural norms which facilitate the practice of forced and child marriage perpetuate the fear of violence amongst Kurdish girls in Iran.
As in other parts of South Asia, girls in Nepal are often seen as an economic burden to the family, due to dowry. Parents often compel young girls to marry, because older and more educated men can demand a higher dowry. In 2009, the Nepalese government decided to offer a cash incentive (50,000 Nepali rupees - $641) to men for marrying widowed women. Because widows often lose social status in Nepalese society, this policy was meant to 'solve' their problems. However, many widows and human rights groups protested these regulations, denouncing them as humiliating and as encouraging coerced marriages.
A 2004 report in the journal Reproductive Health Matters found that forced marriage in Sri Lanka was taking place in the context of the armed conflict, where parents forced teenage girls into marriage in order to ensure that they do not lose their chastity (considered an increased risk due to the conflict) before marriage, which would compromise their chances of finding a husband.
In 2011 the family ministry of Germany found that 3000 people were in forced marriages of which 30% were underage. In 2016 the German ministry of the interior found that 1475 children were in forced marriages. Of those 1474, 1100 were girls, 664 were from Syria, 157 were afghans and 100 were iraqis.
Forced marriages can be made because of family pride, the wishes of the parents, or social obligation. For example, according to Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, many forced marriages in Britain within the British Pakistani community are aimed at providing British citizenship to a member of the family currently in Pakistan to whom the instigator of the forced marriage feels a sense of duty. In response to the problem of forced marriages among immigrants in the UK, the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 (applicable in England and Wales, and in Northern Ireland) was passed, which enables the victims of forced marriage to apply for court orders for their protection. Similar legislation was passed in Scotland: the Forced Marriage etc. (Protection and Jurisdiction) (Scotland) Act 2011 gives courts the power to issue protection orders.
In June 2012 the British Government, under Prime Minister David Cameron, declared that forced marriage would become a criminal offence in the United Kingdom. In November 2013 it was reported that a case was brought before the High Court in Birmingham by local authority officials, involving a then 14-year-old girl who was taken to Pakistan, forced to marry a man ten years her senior and two weeks later forced to consummate the marriage with threats, resulting in pregnancy; the court case ended with Mr Justice Holman saying he was powerless to make a "declaration of non-recognition" of the forced marriage, since he was prevented by law from granting a declaration that her marriage was "at its inception, void". Mr Justice Holman said that the girl, now 17, would have to initiate proceedings herself to have the marriage nullified. British courts can also issue civil orders to prevent forced marriage, and since 2014 refusing to obey such an order is grounds for a prison sentence of up to five years.
The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 makes forcing someone to marry (including abroad) a criminal offence. The law came into effect in June 2014 in England and Wales and in October 2014 in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, the Human Trafficking and Exploitation (Criminal Justice and Support for Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2015 criminalises forced marriage (section 16 - Offence of forced marriage).
In July 2014, the United Kingdom hosted its first global Girl Summit; the goal of the Summit was to increase efforts to end child marriage, early, and forced marriage and female genital mutilation within a generation.
The first conviction for forced marriage in the United Kingdom occurred in June 2015, with the convicted being a man from Cardiff, who was subsequently sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Schools in Skåne in the southern part of report that they discover that about 25 youth are forced to marry annually due them being part of a shame society. An investigation by government organisation Ungdomsstyrelsen reported that 70 000 youth perceived they were unfree in their choice of spouse.
In July 2016 an Afghani man in Sweden was sentenced to 4 years in prison for forcing his daughter to marry someone in Afghanistan and sexually molesting her Swedish boyfriend in the first Swedish sentence.
The UK Forced marriage consultation, published in 2011, found forcing someone to marry to be a distinct criminal offence in Austria, Belgium, Turkey, Denmark, Norway and Germany. In 2014 it became a distinct criminal offence in England and Wales.
The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence defines and criminalizes forced marriage, as well as other forms of violence against women. The Convention came into force on 1 August 2014.
In November 2014 UCL held an event, Forced Marriage: The Real Disgrace, where the award-winning documentary Honor Diaries was shown, and a panel including Jasvinder Sanghera CBE (Founder of Karma Nirvana), Seema Malhotra MP (Labour Shadow Minister for Women), and Dr Reefat Drabu (former Assistant General Secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain) discussed the concept of izzat (honour), recent changes in UK law, barriers to tackling forced marriage, and reasons to be hopeful of positive change.
Forced marriage may be practised among some immigrant communities in Canada. Until recently, forced marriage has not received very much attention in Canada. That lack of attention has protected the practice from legal intervention. In 2015, Parliament enacted 2 new criminal offences to address the issue. Forcing a person to marry against their will is now a criminal offence under the Criminal Code, as is assisting or aiding a child marriage, where one of the participants is under age 16. There has also been the long-standing offence of solemnizing an illegal marriage, which was also modified by the 2015 legislation.
In addition to these criminal offences, the Civil Marriage Act stipulates: Marriage requires the free and enlightened consent of two persons to be the spouse of each other, as well as setting 16 as the minimum age for marriage.
Estimates are that hundreds of Pakistani girls in New York have been flown out of the New York City area to Pakistan to undergo forced marriages; those who resist are threatened and coerced. The AHA Foundation has commissioned a study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to research the incidence of forced marriage in New York City. The results of the study were equivocal. However, AHA has successfully referred numerous individuals seeking help in fleeing or avoiding a forced marriage with qualified service providers and law enforcement. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime Conference, there are "limited laws/policies directly addressing forced marriage", although more general non-specific laws may be used. The organization Unchained at Last, the only organization of its kind in the United States, assists women in forced or arranged marriages with free legal services and other resources. It was founded by Fraidy Reiss.
The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) has been suspected of trafficking underage women across state lines, as well as across the US–Canada and US–Mexico borders, for the purpose of sometimes involuntary plural marriage and sexual abuse. The FLDS is suspected by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police of having trafficked more than 30 under-age girls from Canada to the United States between the late 1990s and 2006 to be entered into polygamous marriages. RCMP spokesman Dan Moskaluk said of the FLDS's activities: "In essence, it's human trafficking in connection with illicit sexual activity." According to the Vancouver Sun, it's unclear whether or not Canada's anti-human trafficking statute can be effectively applied against the FLDS's pre-2005 activities, because the statute may not be able to be applied retroactively. An earlier three-year-long investigation by local authorities in British Columbia into allegations of sexual abuse, human trafficking, and forced marriages by the FLDS resulted in no charges, but did result in legislative change.
- South Asia before the age of 18: 48%
- Bangladesh before the age of 15: 27.3%
- Africa before the age of 18: 42%
- Niger before age of 15: 26%
- Kyrgyzstan before age of 18: 21.2%
- Kazakhstan before the age of 18: 14.4%
- Arranged marriage
- Knobstick wedding
- Birth control sabotage
- Child marriage
- Forced pregnancy
- Shotgun wedding
- Bride kidnapping and Groom kidnapping
- Exchange of women
- Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 (UK legislation)
- Human trafficking
- Servile marriage
- Marriage of convenience
- United Nations 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery
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- Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, Article 1, (c)
- Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, Article 2
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- Anderson, 2.
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