Forced marriage occurs when one or both parties are married without their consent or against their will. This often involves force, coercion, threatening, or tricking one or both of the parties into marrying the other without his or her informed consent. Forced marriage is a form of slavery that often includes forced labor, sexual enslavement, and domestic servitude.
Forced marriage is internationally recognized as a human rights violation and as slavery. Most forced marriages involve child brides and/or human trafficking. They often occur during and after armed conflict, in areas where cultural rules dictate marriage of widows, or children as protection money, or as means to solve disputes.
A forced marriage is different from an arranged marriage, although arranged marriages often create forced marriages. In an arranged marriage, all parties agree and express informed consent. An arranged marriage becomes a forced marriage when one of those paired refuses and is forced against their will, either after being punished or threatened to be killed.
Women and girls are forced to marry through the use of physical threats, including violence and sexual violence, or emotional and psychological threats. Women or girls are often forced to marry through familial deception, cultural tradition, and emotional blackmail and threats of abuse or death. If they refuse to marry and go against their family’s wishes, they are told they will bring shame on their family and be killed, which is when honor violence occurs.
Forced marriage often accompanies other forms of slavery. Children who are sex-trafficked are often sold into forced marriages. Women who are forcibly married may later also be trafficked for labor or sex by and for the financial gain of her spouse. A woman or girl may be lured or promised into believing that she is being given a job overseas. Instead, she is sold without her knowledge through a human trafficking network that includes forced labor or forced prostitution.
Forced marriage, and especially child brides, occurs because of poverty and war– parents can provide for their family if they sell their daughter/s to be married. They also can gain protection and financial resources if they sell their daughters. Widows can also be forcibly married, depending on the culture.
Some countries allow children under 18-years-old to legally marry. Many countries grant children between the ages of 16-17-years-old to marry with parental consent. Some countries require judicial approval for an adult to marry a girl under the age of 15-years-old.
More than 700 MILLION women alive today were married before they were 18. Of them, more than one third—or roughly 250 MILLION—were married as children– before they were 15.
Every year over 14 MILLION GIRLS are forced to marry as child brides.
Forced marriages occur primarily throughout Africa, the Arab Gulf states, India, and the Middle East; roughly half of all girls in South Asia are forced to marry. Poorer regions have higher percentages of child and forced marriage.
Ten Countries with Most Child Marriages: Bangladesh, Chad, Niger, India, Ethiopia, Guinea, Central African Republic, Nepal, Mali, and Burkina Faso.
The majority of child brides, roughly 34 percent, live in South Asia, East Asia, and the Pacific. Slightly less, 33 percent, live in India, accounting for one third of the world’s child bride population.
Bangladesh has the highest rate of child marriage in the world. For child brides under 18, Niger tops the list.
Data Source: Center for Disease Control (CDC)
Girls who marry before age 18 are subjected to unsafe sex, life-threatening pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and increased violence. Girls between age 15-19 are 2-6 times more likely to contract HIV than boys their same age, in Sub-Sahara Africa.
Every forced marriage is an arranged marriage but not every arranged marriage is a forced marriage.
Forced marriage has been prevalent in Europe for centuries, dating all the way back to King Edward I’s reign. Women and young girls were often abducted during wartime and forced into marriage; their marriage was usually “consummated” by rape. In 1487, England enacted several laws in order to eliminate these forced marriages, which were often referred to as “stealing an heiress.”
In 1688, Lord Halifax, in Advice to a Daughter, said, “It is one of the Disadvantages belonging to your Sex, that young Women are seldom permitted to make their own Choice.” While this quote comes from literature, it represents the culture Halifax was living in. Women had little choice when it came to whom they would marry. Furthermore, in 1712, the betrothed Lady Mary Pierrepont called her wedding preparations “daily preparations for my journey to Hell.” It seems that in many cases, even the marriages that are historically considered “arranged” were actually forced, especially on women. (Read more about the differences between arranged and forced marriages.)
Forced marriage in Europe is far from a thing of the past. The European Union Agency for Fundamental Human Rights compiled a document called Addressing forced marriage in the EU, which provides an overview of forced marriage in five European countries. According to the study:
The study makes it clear that forced marriage is a very real issue in Europe. It suggested ways to criminalize forced marriage in hopes of eliminating it completely from Europe. The suggestions include raising awareness, training professionals (e.g. teachers, social workers, counselors, doctors, etc) to recognize signs of forced marriage, implementing prevention programs in schools, and providing anonymous support for victims.
In October 2016, Sweden’s Scania and Blekinge Court of Appeal tried its first case of forced marriage. The father who forced his daughter into marriage, among other crimes, was sentenced to four years in prison. This is the first time in Sweden that someone has been convicted under recent (July 2014) forced marriage laws. These laws provide stricter definitions of forced marriage and harsher punishments for implementing one. Furthermore, Sweden changed the minimum age to marry to 18, with no exceptions. This will protect children by preventing child marriages.
The Halo Project has been set up specifically to support victims suffering abuse in the name of honour and those experiencing forced marriage. An estimated 8000 young women a year are forced into marriage, unreported figures are much higher. The Halo Project supports and advises victims so that they are protected and do not experience an indefensible abuse of human rights which can result in abduction, serial rape and murder in the extreme. The credentials of the team have been specifically sought to ensure confidentiality, respect and integrity and these are the key values underpinning all programme activities. Across Tees Valley and the North East, we already have an emerging case load, this will help build upon good practice ahead of the legal obligations which are expected as part of the criminalisation of forced marriage bill expected next year. The Halo project will not only provide emotional and practical support to victims who have been through or may go through a forced marriage but will also look to educate the community regarding forced marriage issues, work closely with Cleveland Police CHOICE helpline staff and create and maintain links with relevant agencies and organisations which provide emergency and non-emergency services to victims.
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