Five Questions About Forced Marriage You Were Afraid to Ask

1. Why can’t people just say “no” to a marriage? Why is it forced?

While we like to think of marriages as mutual by consent, this is not always the case. Victims of forced marriage often face different degrees of force, coercion or deception. Forced marriage may involve emotional pressure from family or community members such as relatives telling the victim that a family’s social status or reputation are at stake if they do not marry, or that a younger sister will be forced into the marriage instead if they don’t submit. It’s not unusual for mothers to threaten that they will commit suicide if the girl does not “consent” to the marriage. In more severe situations, a victim may be subjected to physical abuse until they “agree” to the marriage.

In a situation of honor violence, where a family believes a girl has brought shame on the family, marriage can be seen as a way to control a woman or girl’s sexuality or restore a woman’s honor. In the case of LGBTQ individuals, forcing a person into a heterosexual marriage can be a way to control their sexuality and keep the honor of the family intact.


2. Why don’t people just leave forced marriages?

Asking a survivor why they stayed in a forced marriage is the same as asking a victim of domestic violence why she remained in a marriage with an abusive partner: It may take time for a victim to realize they are in a forced marriage or familial and societal pressures may be so intense that the victim doesn’t feel like they can simply end the marriage. In many instances, if a survivor makes the brave decision to leave their marriage, they are then also ostracized from family, community and friends who are oftentimes their main source of social and financial support.


3. What is the difference between forced marriage and child marriage?

Both forced and child marriage deprive women and girls of their basic human rights. Forced marriage describes a marriage that occurs without the free or informed consent of both partners and involves either emotional pressure, coercion or physical abuse.  Child marriage is a type of forced marriage because minors are deemed incapable of giving informed consent, and are at greater risk of coercion.


4. Is forced marriage really that bad? It’s not something I would want for myself or my family, but who am I to force my way of life on other cultures?

Like other types of violence against women and girls, forced marriage is a form of power and control that is used more often than not against women and girls. As with other forms of sexual violence, forced marriage is used to control a woman or girl’s sexuality. Forced marriage reflects social and cultural norms within a family or community that perpetuate gender discrimination and the idea the women and girls are commodities to be traded for cash, goods or status.

In a forced marriage, the marriage itself is often just the beginning of the victim’s suffering. Often, within a forced marriage, you’ll also see many other forms of abuse: repeated violence and physical abuse, sexual abuse and rape, abuse of the children within the marriage, social isolation, or forced withdrawal from school and/or work. Forced marriage, simply stated, is sexual slavery.

Violence is violence, and abuse is abuse. Our tolerance towards cultural practices must cease anytime there is an indication of violence, coercion, or oppression – all of which are seen within forced marriages. The individual in question must have the power to choose their own future without fear.


5. Does forced and child marriage really happen in the US?

Yes they do.  Over a two-year period, the Tahirih Justice Center recorded as many as 3,000 known or suspected cases of forced marriage reported to service providers in the United States.  The true number is likely much higher for several reasons, including the fact that only service providers were surveyed and fear of potential repercussions prevents many individuals from reporting.  While cases of women and girls being flown off to another country to be married receive more media attention, since they often entail involved or larger-profile solutions in returning them to the US, forced marriage happens even on US soil.

In terms of child marriage, almost all states allow minors to be married with parental and/or judicial consent. Legislation is currently pending in New Jersey to ban marriage of minors entirely. Lend your voice to this fight, and ensure protection for those most at risk.


Read Gabriella’s story about escaping a forced marriage and building a new life for herself and her five children

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