Forced Marriage

Reasons for forced marriage

Numerous reasons that vary according to the social, cultural, economic, political and legal context explain the existence of planned and potentially forced, marriage. They may be cumulative or they may overlap. The respondents identified a number of reasons that seem to be at the basis of these marriages.

1. Because marriage is a social act, a family matter

Some parents do not ask their children for their opinion when they consider it appropriate for them to get married. This is most often the case when young girls are concerned, but also sometimes with young men, because parents consider marriage a social act that is a matter for the nuclear or extended family and even the community, and they consider it their duty to have their children marry. As far as the parents are concerned, this role is fundamental and failure to perform it would be negligent or even a dereliction of duty on their part.

First, a marriage is usually arranged between two families or between the girl’s family and a young or older man. The young girl is informed of the plan at the beginning, along the way or only when the wedding is scheduled to be held either in the country of settlement or the country of origin. When the marriage is solemnized in the country of origin, often during an apparent holiday trip, the real reason for which is kept secret by the parents or social circle, young girls are faced with a fait accompli.

2. To protect young women

Parents use forced or arranged marriage to “place” their daughters because they are still considered to be subject to parental authority in some families and therefore regarded as minors. Accordingly, parents feel they have to protect them and act in their best interests by having them married, and preferably at a young age. In doing so they seek to ensure a solid future for their daughters by marrying them to men whom they consider to be best for them as knowledge of the suitor’s family or relatives gives them the feeling that their daughter will be protected. In fact, they entrust their daughter to a husband and in-laws whom they trust and with whom they have a ties of honour, which they see as a guarantee of security and proper treatment for the young wife among in-laws who will not treat her as an outsider.

3. To save family honour

Among immigrants, some families from conservative backgrounds follow the arranged marriage and forced marriage model. Fearful of seeing their children wed “strangers”, especially members of the majority culture or other minority groups considered to have different cultures or religions, parents pressure their children to marry within the family or community circle to prevent assimilation within the host society. A forced or arranged marriage thus becomes a matter of identity and is a bulwark for these families against assimilation and the loss of identity markers.

In fact, marriage is the institution in which family honour is most strongly invested, and it is through marriage that a person’s and family’s social standing is maintained. It is therefore an absolute imperative. Failing to perform that duty can jeopardize the very foundations of the family bond, and individuals who evade that duty risk being shunned.

4. The family is in exile

Marriage that is endogamous, in religious or cultural terms, is practised by families in exile as an extension of their country of origin. This model is based on the preservation of the bonds within a related group beyond geographic borders. Matrimonial alliances are what keep the dispersed family alive, and endogamous unions are based on networks of ongoing contacts with members who remained in the country of origin or who have settled in other immigrant societies. Transnational contacts are facilitated by modern means of communication that eliminate distances. Accordingly, arranged or forced marriages are used as a means to have family members or those in a membership group immigrate to Canada through sponsorship by the spouse who is already settled here. This results in transfers of persons from there to here and perpetuates transnational contacts.

5. To comply with a religious precept

Some Muslim families erroneously believe that marrying their children even without their consent is a religious precept. Because of a literal reading and rigid interpretation of the Koran and the Hadith, certain segments of the Muslim population consider arranged and forced marriage a religious duty, thereby betraying the very essence of the message. That belief arises out of their confusion of cultural practices with religious principles.

This confusion partly explains the fact that forced marriage is generally associated with Islam in Western public opinion, but the survey conducted in Canada show that it also exists in families belonging to other religions. Young girls and women from Hindu, Jewish and Christian Catholic, Protestant or Orthodox families whom our respondents met were also facing forced marriage.

6. To control women’s sexuality

Forced marriage is also a way of controlling women’s sexuality. Some parents see forced marriage as a way of protecting their daughters against the risk of romantic relationships, and most importantly against sexual relations outside marriage. Above all, they are seeking to avoid pregnancies considered to be illegitimate that could result from this type of relationship. As far as many families are concerned, their reputation depends on the proper sexual behaviour of their members, especially the females. The patriarchal standards that are still valued in these families are reproduced in the society in which they settle. One of those standards is the duty to preserve virginity, which arises out of the desire to control women’s bodies in order to preserve family honour, and thus patriarchal power. Vigilance on this point of honour is strict and a forced marriage, preferably an early one, is the best defence against any challenge to that honour.

BBC somali service: What is forced marriage?