What is Forced Marriage?

coupleinchainsForced marriage is a practice in which a marriage takes place without the free consent of the individuals getting married, where pressure or abuse is used to ‘force’ one or both people to marry against their will.

Forced marriages are a form of violence.

This violence may take emotional, mental or physical forms where, an individual may be ‘forced’ by: using threats, beating them, isolating them, using restrictions on them, inducing guilt, and, many such forms of coercion.

A forced marriage can happen to anyone; of any gender, of any age.

In some cases, individuals may be taken abroad to be forced to marry.

Giving free consent means that you have the choice to say yes or no and you have agreed to go through with marriage. Having a choice means you’re being “asked” rather than “told.” If you are being forced into a marriage, your opinion of whether you are ready to marry, wish to marry and who you want to marry will not be considered. If you are forced into marriage you will not get a choice to turn down a proposal. Your consent will not be sought or considered.
Criminal Code amendments proclaimed in force on July 17, 2015 make it an offence to celebrate, aid or participate in a forced marriage ceremony or a ceremony where one of the partners is under 16. It is also an offence to remove a child from Canada with the intent of celebrating or participating in a forced marriage. The Code amendments also give a judge the power to issue a peace bond to prevent someone from conducting or participating in a forced marriage. Breaching a peace bond is a criminal offence.
  • The person begins to miss appointments, school, work or social events
  • The person may seem more anxious, depressed or scared
  • The person no longer meets with you alone
  • The person has injuries that he/she cannot explain
  • The person’s eating habits change
  • The person expresses that he/she wants to hurt themselves
Forced marriage has been practiced in most patriarchal societies at one time or another. It was practiced across Europe during the medieval period and continued to be practiced there well into the latter part of the nineteenth century, especially by those in the higher classes. In North America, “shotgun” weddings were perpetrated into the twentieth century and forced marriage by religious leaders in polygamous sects is ongoing in both Canada and the US. Ancestral backgrounds of victims range from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America. Understanding forced marriage as a form of violence against women allows us to understand that it is not a core tradition of any particular culture or religion but rather a symptom of patriarchal control.
The primary difference between arranged marriage and forced marriage is the right to choose. Arranged marriage allows you to have a voice and a choice, but forced marriage does not.

Arranged Marriage:

  • Marriage is freely discussed, with input from the individual who wants to marry.
  • The individuals freely and fully consent to marry. While the families are involved, the final decision is made by the individual.

Forced marriage:

  • Marriage is discussed by the parents or other family members, and marriage partners are assigned. The individual/individuals have no say in the matter.
  • There is no freedom of choice for the individual/individuals involved. Violence, manipulations and/or coercion are applied to make the individual/individuals agree to marry.
Forced marriage occurs within families within all major religions,as well as in families that are not religious. All of the major religions condemn forced marriage. However, individuals and some families use religious arguments to impose marriage on vulnerable individuals.
Forced marriage is overwhelmingly a form of power and control used against women and girls. The South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO) found an average of 70 cases each year with 92% of the victims/survivors being women. Like partner abuse, rape and other forms of sexual assault, forced marriage is used to control women, their sexuality, and often, their offspring. If forced marriage is not positioned as a form of violence against women, women’s treatment and status throughout society will not be examined, leaving the roots of this form of violence – women’s inequality – untouched. Positioning forced marriage as a form of violence against women allows us to critique the position of both women and men within society, and the damage done by gender stereotypes and the devaluation of women. Forced marriage also happens to boys and men, however, in significantly fewer numbers but its impacts on boys and men still require supportive interventions