India’s version of Dora the Explorer combats early marriage

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).

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Denmark’s forced marriage law under fire

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).

Shattering the silence surrounding forced marriage in the USA

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.

Rising food prices lead to forced marriages in poorer countries

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Photo courtesy of Plan UK

Those of us fortunate enough to be living our lives in the relative comfort and prosperity of the West may be forgiven for having a bit of a moan when petrol prices go up or a loaf of bread suddenly costs 5p more.  However, imagine what it must be like in those parts of the world where incomes are so low that transport and bread take up just about all your income.  Poor farmers in those countries have already been financially pole-axed by the steep rise in the cost of fuel in recent years as they rely so heavily on it for irrigation and moving equipment and produce around.  On top of this people in these poorer areas now face the spectre of sharply increasing food prices following this year’s drought in America’s breadbasket states and in the Ukraine.  Surging corn prices are already starting to impact on the cost of staple foods all around the world.

War-torn Yemen is just one country where the population is starting to really suffer the effects of all this.  Already the poorest country in the Middle – East, around half of its 20 million souls are now firmly in the grip of starvation.  They can neither find work nor afford food.  People haven’t had a proper meal in weeks and are trying to survive on scraps.  What is particularly heart-breaking is that parents are pulling children out of school to beg and are selling what few possessions they have just to get food for today.  Perhaps most distressing of all is the growing incidence of desperate mothers and fathers finding that they have no option other than to marry their young daughters off so that the dowries can feed their families for a few more weeks.

Thanks to our own good fortune, we in the West simply cannot comprehend the desperation of people having to resort to “selling “ their daughters in order to buy bread.  Most of the girls involved are no more than teenagers and, in the majority of cases, they are being sentenced to a lifetime of unhappiness.  However, amazingly, it is surprising how many of these child brides readily accept their fate knowing that it is either that or watching their parents and siblings waste away from starvation.

It is sad at a time when so much effort is going into ending the scourge of forced marriages that even Mother Nature cannot be relied upon to play her part.


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.

Secret child marriages persist…in plain sight

A UK investigation has revealed that some British Muslim clerics are willing to perform marriage ceremonies for brides as young as 12 years old, so long as the girls’ parents promise not to tell.  According to the Daily Mail, Imam Mohammed Kassamali of the Husaini Islamic Centre in Peterborough is alleged to have reassured a man who approached him posing as the father of a pre-teen bride:

I would love the girl to go to her husband’s houses (sic) as soon as  possible, the younger the better. Under sharia (Islamic law) there is  no problem. It is said she should see her first sign of puberty at the house of her husband. The problem is that we cannot explain such things (the marriage) if the girl went tomorrow (to the authorities). The other thing is the underage thing and if tomorrow the girl is,  let’s say coerced or forced into this, and she goes and reports it to the police then she will put all of us into the problems.

Retired Imam Abdul Haque – who agreed to officiate the girl’s marriage ceremony – allegedly had this to add:

Tell people it is an engagement but it will be a marriage. In Islam, once the girl reaches  puberty the father has the right, the parents have the right, but under the laws of this country if the girl complains and says her marriage has been arranged and she wasn’t of marriageable age, then the person who  performed the marriage will be jailed as well as the mother and father.

The Peterborough Telegraph reports that Imam Kassamali has stepped down pending the results of an internal investigation initiated by the mosque.  Although an increasing number of Muslims and progressive clerics emphatically condemn child marriage, the harmful cultural practice persists in some communities.

READ MORE: The British child brides: Muslim mosque leaders agree to marry girl of 12… so long as parents don’t tell anyone, Daily Mail (September 9, 2012).

Armenia: protecting girls by delaying marriage

Armenia may be the next sovereign state to join the growing ranks of countries that are amending their family laws to raise the minimum legal age of marriage to 18.  The proposed amendment, approved in July and set for debate in Armenia’s National Assembly this Fall, would bring Armenia into line with international human rights standards on child protection.

But, not everybody in the Yezidi village of Rya Taza has embraced the proposed marriage law reform.  Rya Taza village head Ahmad Broyan told ArmeniaNow that there isn’t a single 20-year old girl left in the village, saying “There is a queue for girls, we want to wait until they grow up, but there aren’t any, not even spinsters.”  Villager Sona Aslo, a 33-year old mother of four who has just arranged her 14-year-old daughter Ilona’s marriage, agrees with Broyan:

My mother-in-law and I have decided to abide by our tradition, [Ilona] is too young but we gave her [to marriage] anyway.  I got married when I was 15, too, so what? We saw it’s a good family, and what could my daughter have said?

Ilona’s uncle Kyaram Davreshyan, 56, objects to his niece’s imminent nuptials, “What were they thinking when they agreed to this marriage? She is too young and will have a hard time. They should have waited at least for a couple of more years to let her mature a little bit.”  And the child bride’s 12-year-old sister Ela vows, “I won’t let them wed me so early. I am dreaming of becoming a dancer, I keep telling them that I won’t get married.”  ArmeniaNow reporter Gayane Mkrtchyan sees promise in Ela’s declaration, “signs of rebellion that might, one day, spark revolution in this society wed to archaic customs.”

READ MORE: Married to Tradition: Armenia’s Yezidi at odds over government amendment on matrimony, By Gayane Mkrtchyan, Armenia Now (September 7, 2012).

Coming soon, U.S. forced marriage hotline

The New York-based AHA Foundation is gearing up to launch the first-ever U.S. national Forced Marriage Hotline this Fall.  AHA communications director Amanda Parker told CBS:

Honor violence and forced marriage are often linked. There are a lot of different methods to force women into marriage, from violence, to emotional blackmail, to social isolation… We’ve known anecdotally that this is happening for a while, but it’s a problem that is largely unknown even among social service providers… The main thing is for [responders] to know, if a young girl comes to them and says, ‘My dad says he’s going to kill me because of how I dress,’ that they should take her seriously.

AHA Foundation’s national call center, modeled after the United Kingdom’s national forced marriage hotline, will be staffed by crisis specialists trained to connect callers
with a broad range of services, from law enforcement and legal assistance to emergency shelter and counseling.

READ MORE: Planned national hotline hopes to help American girls facing a forced marriage, By Julia Dahl, CBS (August 31, 2012).

Male-only divorce = forced marriage for many women

Forced marriage isn’t always about force, fraud, coercion, or incapacity in the inducement to marry.  Even when a marriage begins with a happy couple and mutually consensual nuptials, lack of access to divorce can force an unwilling wife to remain in a violent, abusive, or unhappy union.  That’s why GJI was pleased to learn that Palestinian religious authorities have announced sweeping divorce law reforms that will make it easier for a Muslim woman to end her marriage.  According to The Associated Press:

Under Palestinian law, women cannot unilaterally demand a divorce. That is still the privilege of men, who can divorce their wives without recourse to a court… Divorce for [Palestinian] Muslims is handled at Islamic family law courts where clerics serve as judges, since personal status issues are governed by Shariah law… For decades, Palestinian women seeking to divorce their husbands [have] risked years of miserable, expensive litigation or lengthy domestic battles as they begged their spouses for permission to leave.

If a wife is able to produce tangible evidence of mistreatment by her husband, she might succeed in securing a divorce, but many common forms of domestic violence, such as rape, sexual assault, threats and psychological abuse, can be virtually impossible to prove.  Attorney Fatima al-Muaqat, an expert on Palestinian divorce law, told AP that the divorce process for Muslim Palestinian women can take as long as 10 years in some cases.  AP predicts the Shariah law reforms will ease the disparate burden on women:

The changes mean women no longer have to prove ill treatment. The Islamic judges who decide divorce cases for Palestinian Muslims will have the power to decide, without evidence, that her marriage is harmful for them…and the divorce must be completed within three months… “In Islamic law, the relation between spouses should be based on tenderness, love and understanding,” said Sheik Yousef al-Dais, head of the Islamic courts in the Palestinian Authority, as he announced the changes Thursday. “If there’s hatred between them, should we force them to stay together?”

According to AP, a recent tragedy heightened scrutiny of the misogynistic family laws and prompted legal reform:

[A] man killed his wife by slashing her throat in a marketplace in the West Bank city of Bethlehem. The wife had battled judges to grant her a divorce. Her husband is now in prison. The incident provoked widespread outrage in a culture where violence against women mostly takes place in private and is considered an internal, family issue. The changes make a huge step forward in a society where many still believe that a woman should have no right to separate from her husband.

READ MORE: Palestinians chip away at male divorce monopoly, By DIAA HADID, Associated Press (August 31, 2012).

Canada confronts forced/early marriage

According to Lawyers Weekly, “family honor appears to have been a motivating factor in at least 13 homicides in Canada over the past decade.”  One girl’s tragic case has increased awareness of harmful marriage practices in Canada amidst mounting debate about whether forced-marriage laws should be civil or criminalThe Lawyers Weekly reports:

Shafilea Ahmed drank bleach after her parents drugged her and dragged her onto a plane to Pakistan where they planned to marry her to a much older man. The 17-year-old’s desperate ploy succeeded in getting her sent back home…where she spent eight weeks in hospital. Tragically, it didn’t save her life: Seven months later Shafilea was dead, suffocated by her parents, who forced a plastic bag down her throat in front of her siblings as a warning against them acquiring their sister’s “western” habits. This month, a court jailed the Pakistani-born couple for life for the apparent “honour” killing.

Like their English and Scottish counterparts, frontline women’s advocates in Canada fear that criminalizing forced marriage would only force the harmful practice underground, exacerbating the danger to victims.  South Asian Legal Clinic staff lawyer, Deepa Mattoo of Toronto, who has extensive experience with forced marriage victims, told Lawyers Weekly:

We feel there is a threat for the unjust targeting of communities. We know, dealing with the cases on the ground, that sometimes women know well what could be their fate and they still go ahead and do it, because they love their families, their own brothers, their father, and their sisters and they’re not going to come out to criminalize them. You will basically shut down a lot of women from seeking help because they know, once they try to go to the [police] and get their, say father, arrested, that relationship is going to go away.

Mattoo advocates that Canada rely on civil laws to protect victims, and dedicate resources to educate and consult affected communities.  “A lot of our communities don’t even understand — the area is so gray…what they are doing is actually a step further than arranged marriages,” Mattoo told LW, “So they are themselves not clear about when they are crossing the line.”

DOJ spokeswoman Carole Saindon told LW that Canada is committed to honoring international conventions condemning forced and early marriage, and “honor-based” violence.  Lawyers Weekly says Justice Minister Rob Nicholson’s press secretary, Julie Di Mambro, declined to comment on whether Ottawa will move to criminalize forced marriage.

READ MORE: Forced marriage: Is it a crime?, Cristin Schmitz, The Lawyers Weekly (August 31, 2012 issue).

Promoting democracy by advancing language access

Kudos to California’s State Assembly for taking an important step to respect, protect, and fulfill the language-access rights of 6 million voting-age, limited- and non-English speaking (LEP/NEP) Californians.  Asian Journal reports:

In a vote hailed as a historic step forward for millions of California voters whose ability to speak and read English is limited, the state Assembly today passed SB 1233, which would require the state to translate ballot initiative petitions being circulated for signature-gathering into widely-spoken languages. The bill, which passed by 47 to 23, now returns to the Senate for concurrence on amendments.

The bill, authored by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) and sponsored by The Greenlining Institute, would apply rules similar to those in the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 (which prohibits discrimination in voting) to California ballot initiative petitions.  SB 1233 would require California to translate sample ballots and voter information pamphlets into the following 9 high-needs languages:

  • Chinese
  • Hindi
  • Japanese
  • Khmer
  • Korean
  • Spanish
  • Tagalog
  • Thai
  • Vietnamese

“Democracy should be for everyone,” Greenlining Our Democracy program director Michelle Romero told Asian Journal, “California speaks 200 languages, but our initiative petitions speak only one.  We can bring millions of voters fully into our democratic process, and it will only cost about a penny per person.”

READ MORE: Assembly Passes Historic Language Access Bill, Asian Journal (August 21, 2012).

Royal custody dispute ends in tragedy

Earlier this year we brought you the high-profile story of a French Jewish mother, 35-year-old Candice Cohen-Ahnine, embroiled in a bitter custody battle with her estranged Saudi Prince partner over their daughter, Aya.  An arrest warrant issued for Prince Sattam al-Saud based on allegations that he kidnapped Aya, now age 10, and held her in the Royal Kingdom in violation of a French family court order awarding custody to the girl’s mother.  The Prince told The Telegraph, ”France hasn’t got the right to take her back.  She is a Saudi citizen and a  princess.  They cannot oblige a princess to leave this country.”  Just seven months later, MailOnline reports that Cohen-Ahnine plunged to her death from a fourth-floor Paris apartment on Thursday, shortly after confiding in relatives that she felt threatened:

Suicide has been ruled out, prompting fears that  the tragedy may be connected to her dispute with Sattam al-Saud, a member of the hugely wealthy Saudi royal family… Today it emerged that Ms Cohen-Ahnine, a Frenchwoman whose original Jewish faith always caused tensions with the Muslim Saudis even after she converted, had complained of threats shortly before she  died. Police were reportedly investigating the theory that the woman fell while trying to get out of her flat ‘as if she was  escaping something dangerous’.

READ MORE: Mother who won child custody battle against Saudi prince plunges to her death from luxury Paris apartment just days after telling relatives she felt ‘threatened’, Mail Online (August 2012).

Forced marriage harms boys, too

Few agencies or new stories acknowledge the harmful impact that forced marriage has on boys and men.  An article in today’s Daily Mail highlights the story of 16-year-old Prakash Prajapat of Jodhpur, western India.  Just days before his wedding, young Prakash learned that his parents had arranged his marriage to a 13-year-old girl from a neighboring town – a girl he’d never met before.  After Prakash’s parents refused his desperate pleas to call off the nuptials, the child groom turned to an NGO – the Sarathi Trust for child marriages – for help.

Sarathi representative Kriti Bharti attempted to convince Prakash’s father to call off the wedding, but his intervention only promoted the family to move the ceremony to a secret location.  Prakash succeeded in texting Bharti his new location, and Bharti immediately notified authorities.  A police team arrived and put a stop to the illegal ceremony just moments before Prakash and his child bride were forced to take their vows.  India’s Prohibition of Child Marriage Act of 2006 establishes a minimum legal age for marriage of 18 for girls and 21 for boys.  “I can only hope Prakash continues to message me if they try again,” Bharti told The Daily Mail, “I keep in touch with him every day to be sure he’s  okay.”

The U.S. State Department’s forced marriage guidance estimates that as many as 15% of forced marriage victims are male.  GJI director Julia Alanen cautions, “Although gender norms frequently render women and girls particularly vulnerable to harmful marriage practices, it is critical that remedies and resources developed to combat forced and early marriage address all victim demographics.”

READ MORE: Teenage boy saves himself from forced marriage by texting Indian authorities to report his family, Daily Mail (August 15, 2012).

Supremes to review Hague abduction ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to review a U.S. Army Sergeant’s challenge to a ruling under the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction holding that his 5-year-old daughter should live with her mom in Scotland.

READ MORE: Supreme Court to hear int’l child custody dispute, The Baltimore Sun (August 13, 2012).

Kidnapped boy asks UK Prime Minister for help

An abducted 13-year-old British schoolboy has appealed directly to UK Prime Minister David Cameron to reunite him with his mother, The Guardian reports:

Adam Jones was separated from his British mother while visiting his dead father’s relatives in the Qatari capital Doha in October 2009. Since then the 13-year-old says he has been kept under virtual house arrest despite attempts by his mother, Rebecca Jones, to free him. Adam also claims he has been punched and kicked by family relatives. He says he is not allowed out alone, has no internet access and is unable to call his mother.

According to The Guardian, Prime Minister Cameron has written to his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, and the Arab state’s emir demanding the swift resolution of Adam’s case.  Cameron also pledged his continued support in a letter addressed directly to Adam:

I was very sorry to read that you are still separated from your mum. This must be very hard for you, but I want you to know that you are still in my thoughts. I will keep trying as hard as I can to help you, and I hope your family situation will change for the better very soon.

In a follow-up letter to Cameron, Adam expressed mounting despair:

It is nearly one year since I wrote to you asking for your help. I was so happy when you wrote back and told me you would do your best to help me get home. Did you forget about me? I want to go home now and I’m very sad and lonely.

Cameron’s handwritten response to Adam: “I promise I have not forgotten about you – and will keep trying to make some progress.”  Even Her Majesty, The Queen, has reportedly raised Adam’s case during a meeting with Sheikh al-Thani.  Thani states only that he’ll try “to find an amicable solution that preserves the rights of all parties involved.”

READ MORE: Boy abducted in Qatar sends ‘get me home’ plea to David Cameron, The Guardian (August 11, 2012).

POTUS tackles gender-based violence

“Globally, an estimated one in every three women has been beaten, coerced into
sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime,” says Valerie B. Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Barack Obama and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls.  Yesterday, President Obama issued an Executive Order on Preventing and Responding to Violence Against Women and Girls Globally:

The Executive Order requires enhanced coordination of [U.S.] efforts through the creation of an interagency working group, co-chaired by Secretary of State Clinton and USAID Administrator Shah, designed to leverage our country’s tremendous expertise and capacity to prevent and respond to gender-based violence globally as well as establish a coordinated, government-wide approach to address this terrible reality.

The Executive Order directs U.S. Federal agencies to implement a new four-pronged strategy designed to:

(1) increase coordination of gender-based violence prevention and response efforts among United States Government agencies and with other stakeholders;

(2) enhance integration of gender-based violence prevention and response efforts into existing United States Government work;

(3) improve collection, analysis, and use of data and research to enhance gender-based violence prevention,  and response efforts; and

(4) enhance and expand United States Government programming that addresses gender-based violence.

On the domestic front, Jarrett criticized Congress’ failure to timely reauthorize VAWA: “the Violence Against Women Act, something that should be above politics, is mired in just that on the Hill. The Senate passed a strong bipartisan bill three months ago. The House should take up the Senate bill so we can get this important bill to the President’s desk. Women should not have to wait a day longer.”  Ending violence against women and girls is a high priority on both the foreign and domestic policy agendas of the Obama Administration.  “Together,” says Jarrett, “we can help protect more women and girls…from senseless violence, and give them the opportunity to advance and thrive, living without fear.”

READ MORE: Progress Toward a World Without Violence Against Women and Girls, The White House Blog (August 10, 2012).

Study raises concerns about Hague treaty’s performance

The results of a Cardiff University study on the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction raises concerns about the treaty’s overall performance, BBC reports.  Cardiff University Professor Nigel Lowe expressed particular concern over delayed adjudications of cases brought under the treaty, saying “The finding that they are taking longer to be dealt with for me is a worrying one and one that I wish to see addressed.”  Article I of the treaty states as its objective securing the “prompt return of children,” and Article XI directs that cases be adjudicated within six weeks after a court proceeding is initiated.  But, in practice, some countries’ courts take months or even years to dispose of a case.  First Secretary of the Hague Conference on Private International Law, Professor Louise Ellen Teitz, points out that the Conference relies upon the Convention’s 87 member states to carry out their treaty obligations: “I think one has to acknowledge that the convention is not perfect and it isn’t implemented perfectly everywhere,” Teitz told the BBC, “There are more cases and fewer resources.”

READ MORE: Warnings over abduction treaty, By Jon Douglas, BBC (July 22, 2012).

Creative tools could curb child marriage

IRIN reports on two creative tools used in Bangladesh’s campaign to curb the widespread and harmful practice of early marriage – online birth registration and cash incentives.  In 2006, 90% of the population lacked birth documentation; today, approximately 114 million of Bangladesh’s 150 million inhabitants have birth certificates:

The Bangladeshi government is attempting to register birth data online to combat high levels of child marriage. On 8 June in Bangladesh’s western Khustia District, local media reported that 15-year-old Iva Parvin was to be married off by parents hiding her age, but local officials challenged the marriage and demanded proof that she had reached the legal marrying age of 18. When her parents could not provide documentation, the marriage was not approved.

According to IRIN, another tool in Bangladesh’s unusual anti-early-marriage arsenal is cold, hard cash:

Since 1982 the Female Secondary School Assistance Programme has used cash incentives paid to families to keep girls in secondary school and out of marriage. Guardians receive a stipend of up to $9 per month, depending on which grade the girl is in at school, on condition that she attends at least 75 percent of her classes, and remains unmarried until she completes her exams. Tuition, books and public exam fees are also covered.

READ MORE: BANGLADESH: Online birth data to prevent child marriage, IRIN (July 3, 2012).

Italians bust international kidnapping ring

According to The Guardian, Italian authorities have busted a group believed to have orchestrated several cross-border child abductions:

Four people have been arrested by Italian police in connection with an alleged kidnapping ring that organised the seizure of children caught up in international custody battles. According to a multiple arrest warrant issued by a judge in Milan, the kidnappers – working under the cover of a French charity – had carried out at least three abductions. The price was said to have varied between €10,000 and €50,000.

The charity, Conseil européen des enfants du divorce (CEED), was founded by Frenchman Olivier Karrer, who says that he hasn’t seen his own son since his wife abducted the child to her native Germany.  The arrest warrant alleges that CEED supplied cash, false documents, safe communications and, in one case, even a getaway boat to parents involved in cross-border child-custody disputes.

READ MORE: Italy arrests four over custody battle ‘kidnapping ring’, The Guardian (July 19, 2012).

Switzerland to criminalize forced marriage

According to SwissInfo.ch, one more country is preparing to join the ranks of sovereign states that have passed domestic laws addressing a harmful marriage custom:

Switzerland will soon have legislation specifically banning forced marriages, a social issue involving violence and isolation which raises tough questions about [immigrant] integration… In Europe until a few decades ago, young people could be forced to marry for economic, cultural or political reasons. Today in Western countries, such compulsory unions are forbidden by law, but this does not mean the phenomenon has disappeared.

The United Kingdom was the first of 47 member states to adopt a forced-marriage law after the Council of Europe approved a resolution against forced marriages in 2005.  Unlike the UK’s civil law, the Swiss bill – set for Parliamentary debate this October – would criminalize forced marriage and carry a penalty of up to five years imprisonment.  The bill’s drafters believe that criminalizing the practice will empower forced-marriage victims to come forward and seek assistance.  Others are concerned that the threat of criminal and immigration consequences coupled with complex family and cultural dynamics could drive the practice underground:

For victims of forced marriage, the yearning for freedom often clashes with a sense of loyalty and family belonging, fear of physical or financial reprisals, or the real risk – for non-citizens – of being sent back to their country of origin, when their residence permit is attached to that of their spouse.

According to Anu Sivaganesan, a representative of a Swiss advice center that fields between 4 and 9 calls every week from forced-marriage victims, they’re only seeing the tip of this iceberg.  “The ones who come to us are the ones who have decided to rebel against decisions of their own families.  But how many more are there in the shadows?”  The center’s callers, primarily first- and second-generation immigrants, range in age from 13 to 25.  In Switzerland, forced marriage is not exclusive to any one particular faith-based group.  Sivaganesan told SwissInfo:

Among victims who come to our organisation, you will find Christians and Jews, Kurdish or Turkish Alevi Muslims, Tamil Hindus and Albanian or Kosovar Muslims… The problem of forced marriages needs to be seen for what it is: a violation of human rights, and not [an excuse for] some new strategy to drive foreigners from Switzerland.

A Swiss forced-marriage study suggests that system actors have considerable difficulty differentiating between forced and arranged marriages, or distinguishing forced marriage cases from cases of domestic violence and human trafficking.  GJI co-founder and director, Julia Alanen, told The Baltimore Sun:

Forced marriage cases implicate conflicting rights, for example, a group’s right to preserve its cultural traditions and practices versus the right of every individual to be free from domestic violence, rape and trafficking and the right to choose freely whether to marry, when to marry and who to marry. Anti-forced-marriage instruments typically draw a bright line between respecting a cultural group’s right to perpetuate the practice of arranged (mutually consensual) marriages and [the proscribed] forced (nonconsensual) marriages; in reality, that line is easily blurred.

In response to those who oppose state intervention into what they view as a private family affair, the SwissInfo article’s author invokes the words of anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss: “Marriage is not, has never been and cannot be a private matter.”

READ MORE: Forced marriage “needs to be depoliticised”, by Stefania Summermatter, SwissInfo.ch (July 17, 2012).