Forced marriage

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Criticism about the Azeri forced marriage tradition from early 20th-century satirical periodical Molla Nasraddin.

Forced marriage is a marriage in which one or both of the parties is married without his or her consent or against his or her will. A forced marriage differs from an arranged marriage, in which both parties consent to the assistance of their parents or a third party (such as a matchmaker) in identifying a spouse, although the difference between the two may be indistinct. Forced marriage is still practiced in parts of South Asia, East Asia and Africa and among immigrants to the West from these regions. Some scholars object to use of the term "forced marriage" because it invokes the consensual legitimating language of marriage (such as husband/wife) for an experience that is precisely the opposite.[1] A variety of alternatives exist, including forced conjugal association, and conjugal slavery.[2][3]

The United Nations views forced marriage as a form of human rights abuse, since it violates the principle of the freedom and autonomy of individuals. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that a woman's right to choose a spouse and enter freely into marriage is central to her life and dignity, and equality as a human being.[4] The Roman Catholic Church deems forced marriage grounds for granting an annulment — for a marriage to be valid both parties must give their consent freely. Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery also prohibits marriage without right to refuse of herself out of her parents', family's and other persons' will[5] and requires the minimum age for marriage to prevent this.[6]

In response to the problem of forced marriages among immigrants in the UK, the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 was passed, which enables the victims of forced marriage to apply for court orders for their protection.

In 1969, the Special Court for Sierra Leone's (SCSL) Appeals Chamber found the abduction and confinement of women for "forced marriage" in war to be a new crime against humanity (AFRC decision).[7][8] The SCSL Trial Chamber in the Charles Taylor decision found that the term 'forced marriage' should be avoided and rather described the practice in war as 'conjugal slavery' (2012).[9]

In 2013 the first United Nations Human Rights Council resolution against child, early, and forced marriages was adopted; the resolution recognizes child, early, and forced marriage as involving violations of human rights which “prevents individuals from living their lives free from all forms of violence and that has adverse consequences on the enjoyment of human rights, such as the right to education, [and] the right to the highest attainable standard of health including sexual and reproductive health," and also states that “the elimination of child, early and forced marriage should be considered in the discussion of the post-2015 development agenda.”[10][11][12]

Historically, forced marriage was used to require a captive (slave or prisoner of war) to integrate with the host community, and accept his or her fate. One example is the English blacksmith John R. Jewitt, who spent 3 years as a captive of the Nootka people on the Pacific Northwest Coast in 1802-1805. He was ordered to marry, because the council of chiefs thought that a wife and family would reconcile him to staying with his captors for life. Jewitt was given a choice between forced marriage for himself and capital punishment for both him and his "father" (a fellow captive). "Reduced to this sad extremity, with death on the one side, and matrimony on the other, I thought proper to choose what appeared to me the least of the two evils" (p154).[13]


Early and forced marriages can contribute to putting people, specifically girls, into a cycle of poverty and powerlessness. Most are likely to experience things such as violence, abuse and forced sexual relations. This means women who marry younger in age are more likely to be dominated by their husband. They also experience poor sexual and reproductive health. Young married girls are more likely to contract HIV and their health could be in jeopardy. Most people that are forced into a marriage lack education and become illiterate. Young ones tend to drop out of school shortly before they get married.[14]


Shafilea Ahmed (14 July 1986 – 11 September 2003) was a 17-year-old British Pakistani girl who was murdered by her parents, in an honor killing. The trigger for the killing, as established by the authorities, was her refusal of an arranged marriage

Forced marriages are often related to violence, both in regard to violence perpetrated inside the marriage (domestic violence), and in regard to violence inflicted in order to force an unwilling participant to accept the marriage, or to punish a refusal (in extreme cases women and girls who do no accept the marriage are subjected to honor killings).[15][16][17]

Relation to dowry and bride price[edit]

The traditional customs of dowry and bride price contribute to the practice of forced marriage.[18][19][20] A dowry is the property or money that a wife (or wife's family) brings to her husband upon marriage.[21] A bride price is an amount of money or property or wealth paid by the groom (or his family) to the parents of the bride upon marriage. Dowry in mainly practiced in South Asia while bride price in Sub-Saharan Africa (see lobolo) and some regions in Southeast Asia (e.g. Cambodia, Thailand).

Sharia law[edit]

All Sunni schools of thought agree that forced marriage is only allowed under sharia law, if the wali is a wali mujbir. In most schools of Islamic law, only the father or the paternal grandfather of the bride can be wali mujbir.[22]

Islamic schools differ over whether or not a forced marriage is valid if the potential bride has attained puberty. The Hanafi (largest school) school of thought holds that it is an invalid marriage; while the other schools, Maliki, Hanbali, Shafi'ee, do not agree, and maintain that the marriage is valid. Furthermore, there is some disagreement over whether or not the marriage of a girl who has not yet attained puberty is valid. The majority of scholars believe that it is valid; and quote the following ahadeeth as proof:

Sahih Bukhari Volume 7, Book 62, Number 65 Narrated 'Aisha: that the Prophet married her when she was six years old and he consummated his marriage when she was nine years old. Hisham said: I have been informed that 'Aisha remained with the Prophet for nine years (i.e. till his death).

Sahih Bukhari 7.18 Narrated 'Ursa: The Prophet asked Abu Bakr for 'Aisha's hand in marriage. Abu Bakr said "But I am your brother." The Prophet said, "You are my brother in Allah's religion and His Book, but she (Aisha) is lawful for me to marry."

However; evidence from other Islamic sources seems to suggest that this is not something allowed for all Muslims; rather specifically for the Prophet Muhammad. The evidence for this is as follows:

Abu Hurayrah reported that the Prophet said: "A non-virgin woman may not be married without her command, and a virgin may not be married without her permission; and it is permission enough for her to remain silent (because of her natural shyness)." [Al-Bukhari:6455, Muslim & Others]

It is reported in a hadith that A'ishah related that she once asked the Prophet : "In the case of a young girl whose parents marry her off, should her permission be sought or not?" He replied: "Yes, she must give her permission." She then said: "But a virgin would be shy, O Messenger of Allaah!" He replied: "Her silence is [considered as] her permission." [Al-Bukhari, Muslim, & Others]

It appears that the permission of an under-age bride is indeed necessary for her marriage to be considered valid. Despite the fact that this opinion is held only by a minority of classical scholars, the above narrations seem to clearly make the approval of the bride a condition for a valid marriage contract.

The contract of an Islamic marriage is concluded between the guardian (wali) of the bride and bridegroom, not between bridegroom and bride. The wali of the bride is normally a male relative of the bride, preferable her father. If the bride is a virgin, which is supposed for the first marriage, and if also the wali is her father or her paternal grandfather, the wali can force the bride into the marriage even against her proclaimed will. The guardian (wali) of the bride can only be a free Muslim.[22]

According to the Hanafi school of sharia Law every wali, who is a blood relative, can force an underage virgin in marriage without her consent. But such a forced marriage by a wali other than her father or the paternal grandfather can be demanded to be declared void (faskh) by the qadi, when the she "comes of age".

As forced Marriages are allowed under certain circumstances by orthodox Shari'a, "Campaigners and support groups say forced arranged marriage of young British Muslim girls is becoming a bigger problem every day!".[23]

Shotgun wedding[edit]

A shotgun wedding is a form of forced marriage occasioned by an unplanned pregnancy. Some religions and cultures consider it a moral imperative to marry in such a situation, based on reasoning that premarital sex or out-of-wedlock births are sinful, not sanctioned by law, or otherwise stigmatized.[24] The phrase is an American colloquialism, though it is also used in other parts of the world.

It is based on a hyperbolic scenario in which the pregnant female's father resorts to coercion (such as threatening with a shotgun) to ensure that the male partner who caused the pregnancy goes through with it, sometimes even following the man to the altar to prevent his escape. The use of violent coercion to marry is no longer legal in the United States, although many anecdotal stories and folk songs record instances of such intimidation in the 18th and 19th centuries. Purposes of the wedding include recourse from the male for the act of impregnation and to ensure that the child is raised by both parents as well as to ensure that the woman has material means of support. In some cases, a major objective was the restoring of social honor to the mother.

Shotgun weddings have become less common as the stigma associated with out-of-wedlock births has gradually faded and the number of such births has increased; the increasing availability of birth control and abortion, as well as material support to unwed mothers such as welfare has reduced the perceived need for such measures.

By country[edit]

Khmer Rouge period in Cambodia[edit]

The Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia systematically forced people into marriages, in order to increase the population and continue the revolution.[25]

These marriage ceremonies consisted of no fewer than three couples and could be as large as 160 couples. Generally, the village chief or a senior leader of the community would approach both parties and inform them that they were to be married and at the time and place the marriage would occur. Often, the marriage ceremony would be the first time the future spouses would meet. Parents and other family members were not allowed to participate in selecting the spouse or to attend the marriage ceremony. The Khmer Rouge maintained that parental authority was unnecessary because it “w[as] to be everyone’s ‘mother and father.’”[26]

Pakistan and Afghanistan[edit]

Compensation marriage, known variously as vanni, swara and sang chatti, is the traditional practice of forced marriage of women and young girls in order to resolve tribal feuds in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although illegal in Pakistan, it is still widely practiced in Pakistan's Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.

South Africa[edit]

In South Africa, ukuthwala is the practice of abducting young girls and forcing them into marriage, often with the consent of their parents.[27] The practice occurs mainly in rural parts of South Africa, in particular the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.[28] The girls who are involved in this practice are frequently under-aged, including some as young as eight.[29] The practice received negative publicity, with media reporting in 2009 that more than 20 Eastern Cape girls are forced to drop out of school every month because of ukuthwala.[30]

United Kingdom[edit]

Gita Sahgal, the writer and journalist, film director, and human rights activist was the producer in 2002 of "Tying the Knot". The film was commissioned by the U.K.'s Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Community Liaison Unit, which was set up to handle the problem of British victims of forced marriage who have been, or may be, taken abroad to marry against their will. The educational video on marriage and freedom of choice was produced for use in schools, youth groups, and other organisations working with young people, examines marriage across various cultures, and was designed to promote discussion on the issues it raises.[31]

Forced marriages can be made because of family pride, the wishes of the parents, or social obligation. For example, according to Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, many forced marriages in Britain within the British Pakistani community are aimed at providing British citizenship to a member of the family currently in Pakistan to whom the instigator of the forced marriage feels a sense of duty.[32]

In June 2012 the British Government, under Prime Minister David Cameron, declared that forced marriage would become an illegal offence in the United Kingdom.[33] In November 2013 it was reported that a case was brought before the High Court in Birmingham by local authority officials, involving a then 14-year-old girl who was taken to Pakistan, forced to marry a man ten years her senior and two weeks later forced to consummate the marriage with threats, resulting in pregnancy; the court case ended with Mr Justice Holman saying he was powerless to make a "declaration of non-recognition" of the forced marriage, since he was prevented by law from granting a declaration that her marriage was "at its inception, void". Mr Justice Holman said that the girl, now 17, would have to initiate proceedings herself to have the marriage nullified.[34][35]


Karma Nirvana, a charity set up by Jasvinder Sanghera who was disowned by her Sikh family aged 16 when she refused to marry a man in India, takes about 600 calls a month.[36]

United States[edit]

Estimates are that hundreds of Pakistani girls in New York have been flown out of the New York City area to Pakistan to undergo forced marriages; those who resist are threatened and coerced.[37] The AHA Foundation has commissioned a study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to research the incidence of forced marriage in New York City[38] and has successfully referred numerous individuals seeking help in fleeing or avoiding a forced marriage with qualified service providers and law enforcement.[39]


The UK Forced marriage consultation, published in 2011, found forcing someone to marry to be a distinct criminal offence in Austria, Belgium, Turkey, Denmark and Germany.[40]


Percent of girls who were forced to marry before a certain age:[41]

  • South Asia before the age of 18: 48%
  • Bangladesh before the age of 15: 27.3%
  • Africa before the age of 18: 42%
  • Niger before age of 15: 26%
  • Kyrgyzstan before age of 18: 21.2%
  • Kazakhstan before the age of 18: 14.4%

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ BBC (Ed.). (n.d.). Introduction: Forced Marriage. Retrieved December 16, 2012, from
  5. ^ Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, Article 1, (c)
  6. ^ Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, Article 2
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Stuart, Hunter (16 October 2013). "Country With The Most Child Brides Won't Agree To End Forced Child Marriage". Huffington Post. 
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ A Narrative of the Adventures and Sufferings of John R. Jewitt, only survivor of the crew of the ship Boston, during a captivity of nearly three years among the savages of Nootka Sound: with an account of the manners, mode of living, and religious opinions of the full text here
  14. ^ Early and Forced Marriage- Facts, Figures and What You Can Do. (n.d.). Retrieved December 7, 2012, from Plan website: early-and-forced-marriage/
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^ a b The Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition, Vol. VIII, p. 27, Leiden 1995.
  23. ^ Mirror: "Forced marriage: Ayesha was repeatedly beaten, raped and then twice almost murdered by her own family"
  24. ^ Hebrews 13:4 - Holy Bible, NIRV revision, passage discusses the sancity of marriage and the commendation of adultery and, implicitly, wedlock.
  25. ^ Natalae Anderson, Documentation Center of Cambodia, Memorandum: Charging Forced Marriage as a Crime Against Humanity, 1 (September 22, 2010).
  26. ^ Anderson, 2.
  27. ^
  28. ^ Sarah Condit (2011-10-28). "Child Marriage: Ukuthwala in South Africa". Retrieved 2013-01-11. 
  29. ^ "When 'culture' clashes with gender rights". Mail & Guardian. 2011-12-02. Retrieved 2013-01-11. 
  30. ^ Lea Mwambene and Julia Sloth-Nielsen. "Benign Accommodation? Ukuthwala, 'forced marriage' and the South African Children's Act". 
  31. ^ "Baroness Amos launches Tying the Knot, an educational video on marriage and freedom of choice," M2 Presswire, 11 March 2002, accessed 16 February, 2010
  32. ^ British Council Handout - The forced-arranged marriage abuse
  33. ^ Travis, Alan (8 June 2012). "Forced marriage to become criminal offence, David Cameron confirms". London: The Guardian. 
  34. ^ Saul, Heather (5 November 2013). "Girl aged 14 became pregnant after she was forced to marry man, 24". London: The Independent. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  35. ^ "Muslim Girl, 14, In Forced Marriage: Judge 'Powerless' To Help". The Huffington Post (UK). 5 November 2013. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  36. ^ Girls escape forced marriage by hiding spoons in their clothes to set off airport metal detectors
  37. ^ Katz, Nancie. (November 24, 2007). "Parents force daughters to fly home to Pakistan for arranged marriages." The New York Daily News.
  38. ^ [1] "The AHA Foundation 2012 Annual Report," accessed 22 March 2013
  39. ^ [2] The AHA Foundation, accessed 22 March 2013
  40. ^ "FORCED MARRIAGE – A CONSULTATION". Home Office. Retrieved 16 September 2012. 
  41. ^ Harden, S. (2012, August 8). Arranged/ Forced Marriage Statistics. Retrieved December 10, 2012, from Statistic Brain website: [3]

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