Stand Together Network Domestic Violence

Our Campaign Against Forced Marriage

Forced Marriage: "Forced Marriage: A Serious Breach of Human Rights"

What is forced marriage

Forced marriage is when someone gets pushed into marrying someone else without wanting to, often because they are pressured or tricked into it. It’s important to remember that this is different from an arranged marriage, where the people getting married agree to it. Forced marriage isn’t just a problem in one place; it happens to people all over the world, no matter their culture. In this article, we’re going to look at why forced marriage happens, what it really means, and what people are doing to stop it.

Understanding Forced Marriage

Forced marriage is when someone, often a child or young person, is forced to marry someone else without wanting to. They might be threatened, lied to, or pressured until they say yes. This is really wrong because it takes away their freedom to choose what they want for their own lives, including who they marry. This kind of marriage can hurt them in many ways: it can make them feel scared and alone, harm their health, lead to violence, and cut them off from friends and family.

Forced marriage and honour-based violence is part of the spectrum of violence against women and girls (VAWG). No one has the right to control you or to deny you freedom. It is your right to choose who you marry. Forced marriage is against the UK Law, it is a criminal offence.

Factors Leading to Forced Marriage

Different reasons can lead to forced marriages, such as:

  • Cultural or Traditional Norms: In some societies, the emphasis on family honour, reputation, or social status can drive the occurrence of forced marriages.
  • Misinterpretation of Religious Beliefs: Misconstrued interpretations of religious texts may be used to justify forced marriages, though this does not represent the beliefs of most religious communities.
  • Gender Inequality: Widespread differences between the sexes make women and girls particularly vulnerable, as they may be viewed as commodities or a means to uphold family honour.
  • Economic Pressures: Economic hardships or dowry demands can push families to perceive marriage as a solution to financial difficulties.

Consequences of Forced Marriage

Forced marriage inflicts severe consequences on those ensnared, including:

  • Loss of Autonomy: Victims are deprived of their right to choose their life partners, robbing them of the ability to make decisions about their own lives.
  • Emotional and Psychological Trauma: Forced marriage often leads to profound emotional and psychological distress, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Health Risks: Victims face an increased risk of early and unwanted pregnancies, resulting in physical and mental health threats.
  • Violence and Abuse: Forced marriage frequently results in physical, sexual, and emotional abuse within the marital relationship.
  • Social Isolation: Individuals in forced marriages often find themselves isolated from their support networks, making it difficult to seek help.

Examples of forced marriage

Forced marriage, as opposed to consensual marriage, occurs when at least one party is married without their consent or against their will. Here are some examples to illustrate the concept:

  • Underage Marriage: A common form of forced marriage is when young girls, sometimes as young as 12 or 13, are married off to older men by their families without their consent. This is often due to cultural or economic reasons.
  • Cultural or Religious Pressure: In some cultures or religious communities, individuals may be pressured to marry someone chosen by their family to preserve cultural or religious traditions. The individuals may feel they cannot refuse without facing ostracism or punishment.
  • Immigrant Communities: There have been cases where individuals in immigrant communities living in Western countries are forced into marriage. Families might do this to strengthen family ties or to bring other family members to the country through spousal immigration.
  • Exchange Marriage: This is a practice where two families agree to exchange brides for their sons, sometimes to settle debts or disputes, without necessarily considering the desires of the brides.
  • To Resolve a Crime: In some places, a woman or girl may be forced to marry her rapist to preserve her family’s honor, a practice that is deeply rooted in certain social norms but is a clear violation of individual rights.
  • To Control Behavior or Sexuality: Some forced marriages are aimed at controlling a person’s behavior, especially in matters of sexual orientation. For instance, a gay person might be forced into a heterosexual marriage to conform to societal or familial expectations.
  • Marriage for Citizenship: Individuals may be forced into marriage so that one of the spouses can gain citizenship or legal residency in a particular country.
  • For Economic Gain: Families may force a member to marry for economic reasons, such as to merge property, settle debts, or gain financially through dowry.

Forced marriage is recognized as a human rights abuse because it violates the principle of the free and full consent of both parties as a basis for marriage. Organizations around the world work to combat this practice and support victims in regaining their autonomy.

Notable cases of forced marriage

Here are some notable cases and instances that have brought the issue of forced marriage to the forefront of media and advocacy campaigns around the world:

  • Nujood Ali from Yemen: At the age of ten, Nujood Ali was forced into marriage with a man in his thirties. She gained international recognition when she courageously sought a divorce in a Yemeni court in 2008, a case that attracted worldwide attention and highlighted the issue of child and forced marriages.
  • Samiya David from Uganda: A landmark case in Uganda involved Samiya David who was forced into marriage at the age of 15. She managed to escape and took her case to the Ugandan courts, which eventually annulled the marriage. This case set an important legal precedent in Uganda.
  • Sherry Johnson from the United States: In Florida, Sherry Johnson was forced to marry her rapist when she was just 11 years old after becoming pregnant. She later worked to change the law in Florida, leading to a bill that prohibits marriage for individuals under the age of 17.
  • Amina Filali from Morocco: Amina was a 16-year-old girl who was forced to marry her rapist. After enduring further abuse in the marriage, she consumed rat poison and died, which sparked protests and calls for legal reform in Morocco.
  • Zahra Al-Azzo from Syria: She was forced into marriage at age 12 and subjected to severe abuse. Her case was documented by Human Rights Watch and helped to draw attention to the plight of child brides in Syria.
  • Sahar Gul from Afghanistan: At the age of 13, Sahar Gul was forced into marriage and was subjected to extreme violence by her husband and his family. Her ordeal became a symbol of the abuse many young girls face in Afghanistan.
  • Cases in the United Kingdom: The UK’s Forced Marriage Unit deals with hundreds of cases annually, many involving young British South Asian women who are coerced into marriages abroad. These cases sometimes make headlines, shedding light on the issue within the UK.
  • Rubie Marie from the UK: Rubie Marie was taken to Bangladesh under the guise of a holiday and was forced into marriage at the age of 15. She became an advocate against forced marriages after escaping the situation.

These cases are just a few examples among many that do not come to light due to the hidden nature of forced marriages. The victims in these stories have often shown remarkable bravery in the face of difficult circumstances, and their cases have helped to increase awareness and drive legal changes in various countries.

Prevention and Addressing Forced Marriage

Preventing and Addressing Forced Marriage. Efforts to prevent and address forced marriage encompass a multi-faceted approach, including:

  • Legislation: Many countries, such as the United Kingdom, have enacted laws to criminalize forced marriage and protect potential victims.
  • Education and Awareness: Raising awareness about forced marriage and educating communities about human rights, consent, and gender equality is essential in preventing it.
  • Support Services: Providing safe spaces and support services, including counseling, legal aid, and shelters, is vital in helping survivors escape and recover.
  • Community Engagement: Collaborating with communities, religious leaders, and local organizations to change social norms and attitudes towards forced marriage.
  • International Efforts: Organizations and governments work together on a global scale to combat forced marriage, aiming to eliminate it as part of international goals, such as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 5.3