Committed to combatting Forced Marriage?

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.


World YWCA tackles forced/early marriage

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


Defilement sugar-coated as Early Marriage

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.

UN Passes Resolution on Forced/Early Marriage

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.”


Canada Tackles Forced Marriage

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).


Church condems forced marriage

“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…”



“Can a common kitchen utensil prevent a forced marriage?”

“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)


Kids Combat Child Marriage

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


11yo Girl Would Rather Die Than Marry

11yo Girl Would Rather Die Than Marry

“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.

Brave Girls Rebel Against Child Marriage


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In many places around the world, child marriage is not only accepted, it is expected. In these cultures, it is routine for a young girl to be married off to a much older man against her will. Such an arrangement often results in lack of education, early childbirth, domestic violence, ill health, poverty, and a lifetime of dependence.

Why does the practice persist? A young bride is considered more likely to be virginal. Young girls are viewed as an additional worker for the family, as a means to expand the family, and to provide the social benefits of marriage. The families of the girl brides also gain social status, plus the economic benefit of having one less mouth to feed. A marriage may be arranged as a form of debt repayment or other type of business transaction.

UNICEF reports that 60 million children are forced into marriage, 50 percent of whom are in South Asia. In Rajasthan, India, 15 percent of girls are married before their 10th birthday.

Even in countries where child marriage is against the law, the practice manages to thrive. Children face harsh punishment if they dare to disobey their elders. The threat of child marriage is enough to prompt some girls to run away and take their chances on their own. Others see no escape other than suicide.

A growing number of brave girls are bucking the system and trying to change things for themselves and for others.

  • In 2008, 10-year-old Nujood Ali walked into a court in Yemen to ask for a divorce from a man three times her age. She told of abuse at the hands of her husband and his family. Her experiences helped spur Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries to become more vigilant about enforcing child marriage laws. Following her lead, other child brides have also managed to have divorces granted.
  • In Bangladesh, 13-year-old Rehana Begum was about to be married off, but called on the “wedding busters,” a group of children working to end the practice of child marriage. The group appealed to Rehana’s mother, helped her understand the consequences to her daughter, and was successful in putting a halt to the marriage plans. Because of the wedding busters, local governments are beginning to create “child-marriage-free zones.” Enforcement remains a problem, but the grass-roots organization is making a difference. In the Nilphamari area, some marriage registrars have begun demanding proof of age for marriage.
  • In the United States, the Girl Up campaign has organized 150,000 teens in support of girls around the world in an effort to highlight the problem of child marriage.
  • The first International Day of the Girl took place in October 2012, with a top priority of eliminating child marriages around the world.

Each girl who finds the strength to fight child marriage becomes a role model to others. With each new story of bravery and success, another girl is helped, but it is not a battle that should be left entirely to the girls.

Local and national governments must acknowledge child marriage as the serious, life-threatening issue that it is. We must stop allowing “culture” or “religion” to sway our common sense. Forced child marriage is a tragedy of monumental proportions.

People everywhere must stand up in defense of the children.

This blog post was contributed by guest blogger Jason Tucker of Organic Development.  GJI welcomes guest blogs on topics salient to our work and mission.

Congress quibbles while victims of violence suffer

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).

Archbishop Tutu condemns forced early marriage

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.”

READ MORE: Archbishop Tutu hits out at child marriage, By Susan Njanji (AFP).

Child Marriage: Britain’s Hidden Shame



Image courtesy of Plan UK

Recently the United Nations Population Fund announced that by 2020 there will be more than 50 million wives under the age of fifteen. If the global trends in child marriage continue as projected that figure would then double in just ten years. Sadly, it’s all too easy to see this as simply a problem in the developing world, when the truth is very different.

There is no doubt that the prevalence of early and child marriages is highest in the developing world, with rates estimated at 60 per cent or more in some African nations. But it may shock you to know that in Britain nearly 10 per cent of marriages occur before a girl reaches eighteen. With a recent exposé by two Sunday Times journalists revealing that a British Imam was prepared to marry a girl of twelve to an older man, the reality of child marriage in Britain is starting to hit home. However, such incidents need to be seen as more than one-off sensationalism.

The British Government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) is tasked with assisting the victims of child marriage in the UK. In 2011 alone the FMU handled close to 1500 cases of forced marriage, and a recent study by Farhat Bokhari revealed that 30 per cent of the FMU’s annual case load involves minors. If that statistic isn’t strong enough for you then consider this: the youngest victim was just five years old.

Bokhari’s study also indicated that the practice of child marriage in Britain was not simply one of Asian communities, as so often portrayed in the media. There were cases in the Jewish and Roma communities, as well as a substantial percentage of cases where the victim’s ethnicity was not disclosed. Like many crimes against the vulnerable it is feared that cases of child marriage are vastly under-reported.

On top of the illegal marriages that occur in Britain there is also a disturbing trend in the trafficking of children from the UK to foreign countries for the express purposes of child marriage. Many victims are taken abroad under the illusion of a holiday only to find themselves married off against their will.

The study ‘Breaking Vows‘ reports that girls forced into early marriage are more likely to suffer physical and sexual abuse, isolation and psychological trauma and also suffer from a lack of education. These consequences hold true if the victim is from Bangladesh or Barnsley.

Child marriage is a modern form of slavery that has harrowing consequences for individual victims and future generations. Only by seeing it as a problem of and for all societies can this practice be eradicated.

This blog post was contributed by guest blogger Jason Tucker of Organic Development.  GJI welcomes guest blogs on topics salient to our work and mission.

AZ election officials stymie LEP voters

Phoenix (AZ) officials are under fire, MailOnline reports, after telling Spanish-speaking LEP voters – and only Spanish-speaking LEP voters – the wrong date for the upcoming Presidential Election:

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.”

Voto Latino is using social media platforms to correct the County’s misinformation and get out the LEP vote.

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).

Social mores re sex, marriage exacerbate girls’ vulnerability

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).

Azerbaijan cracks down on child marriage


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).

Wedding busters call for child-marriage-free zones

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:

  • Enacting and enforcing appropriate legislation to increase the minimum age of marriage for girls to 18 and raising public awareness about child marriage as a violation of girls’ human rights;
  • Improving access to good quality primary and secondary education, ensuring that gender gaps in schooling are eliminated;
  • Mobilizing girls, boys, parents, leaders, and champions to change harmful social norms, promote girls’ rights and create opportunities for them;
  • Supporting girls who are already married by providing them with options for schooling, sexual and reproductive health services, livelihoods skills, opportunity, and recourse from violence in the home; and
  • Addressing the root causes underlying child marriage, including gender discrimination, low value of girls, poverty, or religious and cultural justifications.

Check out these activities and events organized by UNFPA, UNICEF, and UN Women to mark the first International Day of the Girl.

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.

Social unrest spurs forced marriage

Syrians seek refuge in neighboring Jordan

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).

This October 11th marks an historic day for girls worldwide


Can you imagine being forced to marry somebody three of four times your own age when you’re as young as 5 years old?  This fate awaits a staggering number of girls worldwide.  In the developing world, one in every seven girls will be married before she turns 15.  Early marriage destroys girls’ youth, ends their education and undermines their independence.  Plan UK has released a short series of inspiring films worth a watch:

You can support these vulnerable young girls by signing Plan UK’s petition calling for vital government action to end forced and early marriage.  Then, join me, Plan UK and GJI this Thursday, October 11, 2012 in celebrating the first-ever UN-designated International Day of the Girl!

This blog post was contributed by guest blogger Jason Tucker of Organic Development.  GJI welcomes guest blogs on topics salient to our work and mission.