…a tragic consequence resulting from a harmful cultural practice. In forced marriage cases, the groom may be as unwilling as the bride to tie the knot…
Child bride forced to marry poisons groom, April 10, 2014, USA Today.
…a tragic consequence resulting from a harmful cultural practice. In forced marriage cases, the groom may be as unwilling as the bride to tie the knot…
Child bride forced to marry poisons groom, April 10, 2014, USA Today.
Don’t miss this upcoming CLE event at American University’s Washington College of Law in DC! Join GJI Co-founder Julia Alanen, Tahirih Justice Center Senior Policy Attorney Heather Heiman, Farrah Khan of the Barbara Schlifer Commemorative Clinic in Toronto, and WCL Domestic Violence Clinic Director Natalie Nanasi on April 1, 2014 for Forced Marriage in the United States and Canada: Opportunities and Challenges in Protecting Survivors. Registration is free but required.
This is an important priority for the World YWCA in its work to end Violence Against Women and to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights … Ensuring child, early and force marriage is a priority in the future global development agenda is one of the key targets of the World YWCA’s advocacy plan. –World YWCA
Marking the YWCA week without violence, 23 October, 2013, Solomon Star
DOCTORS have complained that defilement is being sweet coated as “early marriage” which is helping the vice to persist. According to Dr. Collins Tusingwire, the Acting Commissioner for Reproductive Health, the correct term of defilement which connotes criminality should be used for the practice instead of calling it marriage. And it should also be punished.
‘Early marriages’ responsible for 20% of maternal deaths, By Anne Mugisa and Violet Nabatanzi, New Vision, 16 October 2013.
According to TRF: “Today, for the first time in history, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva…adopted a resolution dedicated to the issue of child, early and forced marriage. The resolution, which was unanimously adopted with the support of more than 100 States is a new milestone in global efforts to combat this harmful practice.”
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird: “We want to be a key champion to ending [child and forced marriage practices]. We really want to put this issue on the table. It’s a topic people don’t want to discuss. It’s a difficult topic, but it’s finally come out of the shadows.”
John Baird to bring UN campaign against forced marriage home, By Debra Black, The Star (26 September 2013).
“The Catholic Archdiocese of Mombasa has urged…residents…to report families that force young girls into early marriages. Sister Juliet Odero, the diocese co-ordinator of the Young Girls Sensitisation Program Against Early Marriages, said parents are to blame for the increased cases of early marriages…”
“Karma Nirvana, a UK organization that works to prevent forced marriage and honor-based violence, [has] been helping young women avoid being sent abroad for marriage by advising them to hide a small metal object, like a spoon, in their underwear to set off airport metal detectors – and earn a last-minute reprieve from getting on their flights.”
Can a spoon end forced marriage? By Mary Elizabeth Williams, Salon (August 16, 2013)
13-year-old Pascalyne Ogbuli: “We do not wish to grow up and tell our young daughters that we were forced into early marriage and that same fate awaited them because there is a law that supports it … [W]e, the Nigerian children, demand a national apology from the Nigerian Senate … And if we die telling our leaders that our education and our future count more than an early marriage, so be it.”
Nigeria: Early Marriage – Day Children Took to the Streets, By Daud Olatunji, Abeokuta, AllAfrica, 9 August 2013
“I would rather die than get married,” says 11-year-old Nada of Yemen in a viral YouTube video about her escape from forced marriage. “I thought a lot about escaping my parent’s house during the night,” Nada explains in a subsequent radio interview, “so at six a.m. I ran away by myself and I was not afraid.” According to Inland News Today, Nada is now under the protection of Yemeni Women Union, a nonprofit that empowers women and promotes their rights.
The twice-reauthorized Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA), a seminal piece of federal legislation that dramatically improved the U.S. national response to domestic violence and sexual assault, expired in 2011. VAWA saves lives, deters violent crime and brings perpetrators to justice by funding assistance to state and local law enforcement and victim service organizations and creating a pathway to lawful immigration for undocumented survivors. These lifesaving laws and programs hang in the balance as members of Congress continue to quibble over several hotly contested proposed revisions to the Act. The Senate-passed Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2012, introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), would expand the number of nonimmigrant visas available to undocumented immigrant crime victims, increase the authority of Native American tribes to prosecute non-Indians who rape or batter somebody on a reservation, and prohibit discrimination against LGBT victims. READ ON to find out why House Republicans are balking over the Senate-proposed provisions, and why VAWA 2012 presents a perfect opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to broker a post-Election détente.
Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization: Congress Must Display Bipartisanship, Julia Alanen, PolicyMic (November 16, 2012).
Nobel Peace Prize laureate and anti-apartheid icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu emphatically condemns forced early marriage: “Coercing girls under 18 into marriage is as repugnant as apartheid and should be battled with the same vigour.”
Identification cards given to [LEP] voters were accompanied by a piece of paper listing the dates of upcoming major elections. The presidential election date appears correctly in [the English version] as ‘November 6, 2012’, but the Spanish equivalent reads ‘8 de Noviembre 2012’ – two days late. The embarrassing blunder has led to suggestions that Hispanics in particular could be misled and discouraged from voting … Moreover, the dispute in Maricopa County could fuel claims that certain groups are being disenfranchised across the country.
Maricopa County officials are calling the incident “an honest mistake” that will affect only a relatively small number of voters. But a recipient of the erroneous voter ID documents, Charlotte Walker of Sun City, told ABC15 News that she fears the mistake “could have a significant impact on the election outcome because they’d go to the polls on November 8th and they wouldn’t be open. They wouldn’t be able to cast their vote this year.” A spokesman for Promise Arizona, a group that works to boost civic participation among marginalized communities, warns that “To know that there’s information out there that’s wrong, it’s going to take a lot of work to make sure that people know the correct date.”
FOR SHAME, Maricopa County, qué vergúenza.
READ MORE: Election officials under fire after telling Spanish speakers the wrong date to go to the polls, By Hugo Gye, MailOnline (18 October 2012).
IPPF senior adviser on adolescents and young people Doortje Braeken says advocates working to eradicate early marriage have failed to address a critical issue: setting a minimum legal age for consent to sex. “Setting a globally agreed legal age of marriage,” asserts Braeken, “only deals with half the issue”:
[S]omething obvious is missing in all our sincere and potentially effective efforts towards ending child marriage … we have an unaddressed issue which is that of the age of consent: the age when you are legally allowed to have sex. As countries begin to amend the marriageable age, many amend the age of consent so the two align, if that is not already the case. Sex is regarded as something that can only start to happen when a marriage certificate is in place. This has two consequences: those who have sex before marriage are stigmatised, criminalised and rejected. And since sex before marriage is not supposed to happen, those who have sex before marriage often have no access to sexual health services because of laws, the attitudes of service providers, or because they are too afraid to go there. The question of age of consent has to be built into any recommendations aimed at banishing the abuses of early marriage … it should be right at the heart of any programme or policy which has anything to do with changing attitudes and actions which are damaging to young people’s sexual wellbeing, not to mention their economic, educational and social welfare. Which is what early or forced marriage is.
Addressing sex only in the context of marriage, argues Braeken, can have troubling consequences for women and girls; for example, whereas a married girl of 16 can access reproductive health advice and services, an unmarried 18-year-old woman is barred from doing so. But, failing to align laws governing the minimum age for consent to sex and marriage can have troubling consequences, too, according to GJI forced marriage initiative director, Julia Alanen:
Inconsistent [U.S.] state laws governing consent to adolescent sex and marriage can yield absurd and indefensible results, leaving girls vulnerable to exploitation. The vast majority of U.S. states permit a minor to marry, with parental consent, upon reaching age sixteen, and much younger in certain states, particularly in the event that a girl becomes pregnant. A few states permit minors as young as age twelve or thirteen to marry with the permission of a parent or guardian … The minimum legal ages for consent to sex and marriage do not necessarily align within a given state. For example, while a state’s sex-offense law may deem that a fifteen-year-old girl lacks, per se, the requisite maturity to lawfully consent to engage in sexual acts with a seventeen-year-old boy without triggering statutory rape charges (regardless of whether her parents consent), that very same state’s marriage law may simultaneously deem her sufficiently mature to lawfully consent to marry a fifty-year-old man (with her parents’ consent) and then proceed to [lawfully] consummate the marriage … While courts have cited preventing forced marriage as a valid basis for criminalizing certain adolescent sexual activity, they have yet to address preventing adolescent sexual activity as a valid basis for proscribing [early] marriage … Adolescent sex that is defined for compelling public policy reasons as nonconsensual per se, based on minors’ intrinsic lack of capacity to give free and informed consent, cannot reasonably be rendered consensual solely by virtue of a marriage ceremony.
In the west, just as in countries where child marriage is still a mainstream practice, deeply held traditional social mores concerning premarital versus marital sex can pose very real access barriers for unwed adolescent girls in need of critical reproductive health information and services. Braeken underscores the importance of educating young people worldwide about sexuality and fundamental human rights:
[W]e must account for comprehensive sexuality education. Without education young people aren’t aware of their rights, and if they aren’t aware of their rights, they aren’t aware of how established custom, tradition and law may infringe those rights. Without education, they are unaware of the proper respect due to them as individuals.
Another oft-neglected aspect of the advocacy movement to eradicate early marriage is the importance of raising awareness among men and boys about the harmful consequences of child marriage and early pregnancy. “[I]f we want to promote an agenda of respect and rights which will bring an end to child marriage,” warns Braeken, “possibly the people we need to focus on just as much as young girls … are young boys.”
READ MORE: Day of the Girl: why we must debate the age of consent, By Doortje Braeken, The Guardian (October 11, 2012). J. Alanen, Shattering the Silence Surrounding Forced and Early Marriage in the United States, Children’s Legal Rights Journal, Vol. 32, No. 2 (Summer 2012).
On the inaugural International Day of the Girl Child, Azerbaijan’s government has announced its intention to crack down on parents and others who promote child marriage. 18 is the minimum legal age for marriage under Azerbaijani family law. ABC.AZ shared this official statement from Azerbaijan’s State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs:
We propose to toughen measures against individuals that contributed to early marriage and apply fines and other administrative measures in respect to them. In addition, according to Article 176 of the Family Code, parents are responsible for the fate of the child, and depending on the seriousness of the offense in respect of a child the crime may be punished by a fine or even imprisonment. However, this problem is a problem of the society, as local municipalities, the relevant structures of the executive authorities and NGOs should interfere in such cases of violation of children’s rights, as the girls aged 15-16 years, according to the legislation of Azerbaijan, are under-ages until they reach age of 18 years.
According to ABC.AZ, the crackdown follows an uptick in the number of forced early marriages in the country, leading in some cases to the suicides of young brides.
READ MORE: Azerbaijan prepares proposals to toughen measures against early marriage supporters, ABC.AZ (October 11, 2012).
Ending Child Marriage is the official theme of today’s first-ever International Day of the Girl Child, a day designated by United Nations Resolution 66/170 to recognize girls’ rights and the unique challenges girls face around the world. So, today we celebrate courageous girls and advocates everywhere who are challenging harmful marriage practices and promoting social change, often at significant personal risk.
In honor of this auspicious occasion, we’re inspired to share the story of a brave group of girls who are tackling child marriage in a country where, according to UNICEF data, 74% of girls are married before the legal age of 18. The Guardian reports that a group of Bangladeshi youth activists dubbed the “wedding busters” is campaigning against child marriage and intervening on behalf of would-be child brides:
The children are well versed in handling such scenarios; they don’t argue, but methodically list the evils of child marriage. “We can’t force them to listen to us,” said Antara Tabassum, 16, one of the leaders of the child protection group in Nilphamari’s Jaldhaka Upazila sub-district. “All we can do is show them that child marriage is a curse.” The intervention of such groups is a key reason why all 11 of Jaldhaka’s unions or local councils have been able to declare their respective localities “child marriage-free zones” – no mean feat in a country where almost one in three children is married off before turning 15.
The UN has emphatically condemned child marriage as a fundamental human rights violation that negatively impacts all aspects of a girl’s life:
Child marriage denies a girl of her childhood, disrupts her education, limits her opportunities, increases her risk to be a victim of violence and abuse, jeopardizes her health and therefore constitutes an obstacle to the achievement of nearly every Millennium Development Goal (MDG) and the development of healthy communities. Child marriage results in early and unwanted pregnancies, posing life-threatening risks for girls. In developing countries, 90 per cent of births to adolescents aged 15-19 are to married girls, and pregnancy-related complications are the leading cause of death for girls in this age group. Preventing child marriage will protect girls’ rights and help reduce their risks of violence, early pregnancy, HIV infection, and maternal death and disability, including obstetric fistula. When girls are able to stay in school and avoid being married early, they can build a foundation for a better life for themselves and their families and participate in the progress of their nations.
That’s why the UN is calling upon all governments in partnership with civil society actors and the international community to take urgent action to end the harmful practice of child marriage by:
To learn more about child marriage in the USA, check out this just-published piece by the Director of GJI’s Forced Marriage Initiative, titled Shattering the Silence Surrounding Forced and Early Marriage in the United States.
In the wake of the Syrian uprising that began in Spring 2011, an estimated 150,000 people have fled Syria for Jordan. Syrian women and girls living in refugee camps and temporary housing are especially vulnerable to harmful marriage practices and other forms of gender-based violence and exploitation. In an article posted this morning by RH Reality Check, freelance journalist Ruth Michaelson reports:
Visitors to Amman speak of a recent phenomenon: get into any taxi, chat with the driver, and he will tell you that “cheap wives” are to be found in the refugee camps near the Syrian border. “Cheap” refers to the dowry given to the brides’ families, as well as to the women’s expectations.
Real or imagined, local notions about Syrian women could exacerbate their vulnerability to harmful marriage practices. “There are all kinds of social conceptions of Syrian women as the most obedient, the most caring of their husbands out of all Middle Eastern women,” activist Khadija told Michaelson, “There are all kinds of jokes now within Jordanian society that the women should watch out, as with all these Syrian women in the country, the men will always choose a Syrian woman over a Jordanian woman.” Michaelson warns:
[C]ultural norms dictate that most Syrian women will have lower expectations for their standard of living, having come from an even poorer country … Add to this that Syrian women are normally paler, a valuable asset in a region in which skin-bleaching products replace tanning products. There is a growing sense that female Syrian refugees, while socially elevated, are now increasingly perceived as vulnerable, due to the conditions under which many refugees are living.
GJI forced marriage initiative director Julia Alanen says that “Social unrest, war, civil conflict, natural disasters, famine and poverty in many parts of the world precipitate forced and early marriage. Displaced families who have lost everything sometimes sell their daughters into marriage in an effort to feed and shelter both the bride and the rest of the family.” Plan UK confirms that exigent circumstances in recent years have increased the rates of forced and early marriage:
Food insecurity in Kenya has led to the phenomena of ‘famine brides’, drought and conflict in Afghanistan have forced farmers to arrange and receive money for the early marriage of their daughters, and girls in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka have been pressed into marriages with ‘tsunami widowers’, in many instances doing so to receive state subsidies for marrying and starting a family. Early marriage increased in Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami as families in refugee camps saw it as the only protection for their daughters from rape and in Sri Lanka, where rates of early marriage are normally relatively low, girls have been married to protect them from recruitment into militia.
“All too often,” observes Alanen, “the very women and girls whose plights fuel contemporary struggles for human rights and social justice pay the highest price for reform.”
READ MORE: The Road to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions: Syrian Refugees and “Marriages of Convenience”, by Ruth Michaelson, Freelance Journalist (Middle East), RH Reality Check (October 9, 2012).
Meet Meena, the star of India’s popular animated series. Meena is helping UNICEF promote children’s rights by educating kids about harmful practices such as early marriage. Check out this episode of the cartoon, titled “Say no to dowry”:
READ MORE: Video: Meena, India’s Dora the Explorer, Helps UNICEF Promote ‘Child Rights’, Asia Society (October 5, 2012).
Denmark is one of a growing number of countries that have passed laws criminalizing forced marriage. But, in spite of a 2008 amendment designed to strengthen Denmark’s forced marriage legislation by increasing the punishment from two to four years of prison, nobody has ever been convicted under the Danish law. According to PhD student Sabba Mirza, quoted in The Copenhagen Post:
All the organisations that are working in the field say that there is an increase in the number of [forced] marriages. So when there are no cases for the courts then it could indicate that the rules aren’t good enough.
Advocates have identified two key problems thwarting authorities’ efforts to intervene in forced marriage cases, shortcomings that could explain why the law isn’t having its intended effect. First, Denmark’s forced marriage law applies only to marriages that are formally recognized by the Danish government, whereas many forced marriages are conducted privately and never officially registered.
A second major flaw in the Danish law is that it focuses on preventing non-consensual marriages induced by physical force, whereas most forced marriages are the result of acute psychological coercion. “[T]he law should be widened so that it also includes psychological pressure,” says Mirza, “which in many cases can be far more oppressive than real violence.” Peter Skaarup of the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti) agrees: “I think the situation would definitely change if we broadened the criteria for how we define ‘force’,” Skaarup told Politiken, “It may help create a mentality change in the parallel societies where this happens and we know through studies that social control is often forced through social and psychological pressure and not just violence.”
Frontline responders in other countries that, like Denmark, have criminalized forced marriage complain that criminal consequences have actually deterred victims from reporting their parents and loved ones to police. A spokesperson for Hemat Gryffe Women’s Aid, a Glasgow safe house for forced marriage victims, told The Scotsman:
We supported 14 women last year, most of whom are quite young, aged 16 to 21. They suddenly find papers saying they’re going to another country, or the wedding starts getting discussed among the family. However, you cannot criminalise the family because then the women will not come forward. They won’t want their parents or aunts or uncles put in jail. The purpose of the bill must be to impose civil order, to prevent the marriage going ahead.
And, a recent study by Dr Aisha Gill at Roehampton University concluded, “For many victims it is crucial that seeking help does not prevent future reconciliation with their families, especially their parents. In this regard, criminalisation may actively discourage many victims and potential victims from speaking out about the abuse/coercion they are facing.” Lord Lester, who introduced the UK’s civil Forced Marriage bill into Parliament, has consistently advocated for a strictly civil approach. The BBC Ethics Guide quotes him as saying that the criminal process “has not proved to be an effective way of tackling a major social problem.” However, Prime Minister David Cameron and some Members of Parliament continue to push for criminalization, arguing that criminalization would take the burden off of the victim and place it on the state.
Even victims are divided on the civil-versus-criminal debate. Forced-marriage survivor Jasvinder Sanghera, who supports criminalization, told The Observer that victims will only report violations if they are made to understand that they bear no blame. “Victims are saying we need the full protection of the law,” says Sanghera, “We’re trying to create a cultural responsibility here. It’s our duty to bring this above ground … This is an offence that is not to be tolerated, an offence that can – and does – end in violence, rape and murder.” Conversely, forced-marriage survivor, Sameem Ali, adamantly opposes criminalization, saying “No young person wants to turn their parents in and get them into trouble.”
GJI forced marriage initiative director Julia Alanen cautions that “Criminalizing forced marriage could inspire contempt and distrust among the very victims, families, and communities whose cooperation is most critical to ending this harmful practice. The United States and other countries that are only just beginning to develop a legislative response to forced marriage will do well to consider lessons learned in Denmark and other sovereign states with well-established forced-marriage protection regimes.”
READ MORE: PM criticized for views on tackling forced marriage, The Copenhagen Post (October 4, 2012); Forced marriages continue despite tightened legislation, (August 2, 2012).
Curious to learn more about modern-day forced/early marriage customs in the USA? Check out the just-published article authored by GJI Forced Marriage Initiative director, Julia Alanen, titled Shattering the Silence Surrounding Forced and Early Marriage in the United States. According to Alanen:
It is a well-established human rights principle that every individual has a fundamental right to choose whether, when, and whom to marry. Forced marriage is an intrinsic human rights violation, regardless of whether the victim consequently suffers any physical or psychological harm … An effective U.S. strategy to eradicate harmful marriage practices will include culturally competent, victim-centered legislation; mandatory training and practice guidelines for the full range of responders; holistic legal and social services; and a robust community-led development component. Together, the mounting voices of fierce advocates and courageous survivors are shattering the insidious silence surrounding forced and early marriage in the United States.
READ ON to find out how and why thousands of American women and girls from Los Angeles to The Big Apple are forced or coerced into unwanted marriages that often lead to domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, reproductive health problems, ‘honor crimes,’ and even suicide. Learn how a dearth of U.S. laws and resources coupled with a profound lack of awareness about this emerging issue leave victims vulnerable. And, discover what U.S. advocates and NGOs are doing to protect forced-marriage victims, empower survivors, and eradicate this harmful practice.
Special thanks to former GJI legal intern Hannah Cartwright for her outstanding legal research support, and to Dr. Patricia Maloof for her invaluable insight into the social and cultural aspects of forced and early marriage.