Forced Marriages Essay

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Forced marriage is defined as a marital union where at least one of the intended spouses refuses to participate but is intimidated into marrying. The issue drew the attention of women’s advocates, law enforcement, and policymakers internationally when Britain attempted to criminalize it in 2005. While the bill was abandoned, it inspired debates and concerns. Opponents of forced marriage have been careful to distinguish it from arranged marriage, which is customary in many Asian, Middle Eastern, African, and South American cultures. Historically, forced marriage was practiced in the West among aristocrats, royalty, and religious sects. “Shotgun weddings” occurred in the United States until the mid-20th century and were a way of forcing recalcitrant men to accept responsibility for women they had impregnated. Between 1890 and 1950, U.S. prosecutors often charged men with rape to persuade them to marry their sexual partners.

Although men can certainly be forced into marriages, the overwhelming majority of victims worldwide are girls and women. However, homosexual men or men who wish to marry outside their religion, caste, class, or ethnicity may be compelled to wed women selected by their families. There are no comprehensive statistics on how many females are forced into marriages each year, let alone an estimation of victimized men. The UK Forced Marriage Unit reports that out of approximately 300 victims it assists annually, 15% are men. Boys and young men may also be forced into marriage due to religious, political, and cultural dicta. For example, many adolescent boys are married off in Iran to avoid military service.

Arranged, child, early, and forced marriages and violence against women are closely linked. Fathers and brothers often exchange their young daughters and sisters for bride-price to increase family fortunes, swap them to confirm desirable matches for men in the family, offer them to repay debts and negotiate peace with feuding parties, or surrender them in lieu of monetary penalties for social miscreancy. In countries such as Kyrgyzstan and Ethiopia, young women are routinely abducted by men who want to marry them and are held captive until they consent. After a night spent with a man, a woman may have no other option but to marry him since her reputation is sullied. Many of the abductions are planned in conjunction with the girls’ parents. The average age range of women forced into marriage globally is 13 to 30 years. Nonetheless, marriages of girls as young as 8 and 9 are frequently arranged with men in their 40s and 50s.

In traditional societies, girls are socialized to be obedient to their parents and are made cognizant early on that their families’ respectability and happiness rest on their conduct. Thus, they may see no alternative but to submit to their families’ wishes regarding marriage. Parents threatening to commit suicide may also subdue uncooperative daughters. For females who are considered parental or paternal property, forced marriage may be the norm, as most could not realistically resist the emotional and physical coercion and survive. The few who defy face the risk of life-threatening violence, alienation from family and community, ruined reputation, and the prospect of lifelong penury. Women are starved, imprisoned, beaten, maimed, and murdered by their own relatives to extract their acquiescence and to restore family status if they renounce their marriages. Between 1996 and 2005, 45 Turkish immigrant women in Germany were killed to save their families’ “honor” because they had rejected their husbands after forced marriages. The toll women pay for forced marriages includes low education, lack of earning opportunities, early pregnancy, exposure to HIV, rape trauma, and risk of suicide.

Forced marriages are present in immigrant communities that have migrated to the West from traditional societies. Second-generation young women in particular may be deceived into returning to their parents’ home-countries and are married off under duress. At times, parents subject their daughters to physical and psychological abuse and withhold travel documents to ensure compliance. The dynamics of immigrant forced marriages are somewhat distinct.

Many immigrant communities in the West believe that their cultures will be engulfed by the dominant host society unless actively maintained. Endogamy is consequently viewed as a means of extending traditional cultures. Furthermore, parents unused to dating and hyper vigilant of their daughters’ virginity may become alarmed at the personal and sexual autonomy girls reared in the West seek. Many experience it as disintegration of family cohesion and erosion of paternal authority that would eventually lead to social anomie. Since marriage in traditional societies is considered an alliance between families, the focus on individuals in Western-style romantic marriages is deemed selfish and inconsiderate. Arranged marriages thus are thought to not only preserve the traditional form of family alliance but also save children from their own foolishness.

By several United Nations charters, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Declaration on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, forced marriage is a violation of human and women’s rights. In accordance, Syria, Belgium, and Norway have already passed laws, while the United Kingdom, Holland, Germany, and Austria are reflecting on pertinent legislation. A few British provinces are deliberating ways to sanction clerics who solemnize forced weddings. Still, these laws are powerless to protect offshore marriages of immigrant children.

A few Middle Eastern and African countries have approached the issue innovatively. The highest religious leader in Saudi Arabia has issued a fatwa against forced marriage, declaring it un-Islamic. In Sierra Leone, prosecutors are pursuing forced marriage as a crime against humanity, relating it to the 1991–2002 civil war when large numbers of women were abducted, forced to marry, and forced to bear children by the rebel forces. Other nations, such as Cameroon and Iran, have responded to the problem by increasing the minimum age of marriage for girls.


  1. An-Nai’im, A. (2000). Forced marriage. Retrieved on May 27, 2017, from
  2. LaFraniere, S. (2005, November 27). Forced to marry before puberty, African girls pay lasting price. New York Times. Retrieved on May 27, 2017, from

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