Wednesday 18 February 2015

Forced marriage legislation

You’ve heard of forced marriage. It’s probably something you associate with particular religious or cultural groups, a problem in other countries. Although it is comparatively rare in the UK, it does happen and is a serious enough issue that the Government operates a Forced Marriage Unit to help victims. The presence of forced marriage legislation also acts as a deterrent.

Forced marriage is defined as a marriage that takes place without the consent of one or both partners and involves physical or psychological coercion. Because minors cannot give informed consent child marriage is considered forced marriage.

In the developing world forced marriage is very common. 1 in 3 girls are married before 18, 1 in 9 before 15, and in some countries rates of child marriage are as high as 75%1. To tackle the problem will take more than laws and legal processes.

<Forced Marriage Legislation In Developing Countries

Legal protections aren’t enough to eliminate forced marriage alone. In many countries there are existing laws that ban child and forced marriage. Sierra Leone is one such country. It introduced forced marriage legislation in 2004, yet close to 50% of women are married before 18 and rates are believed to be rising2.

The problem is that not only is early and forced marriage an acceptable practice in many communities within the country, large sections of the population aren’t even aware of the laws. Because forced marriage legislation is not rigidly enforced the practice continues unabated.

In many other nations there is no forced marriage legislation in place and often girls and children have very few rights enshrined in law.

What Can Be Done To Support Forced Marriage Legislation?

Laws are an important part in the fight to end forced marriage, but they need to be complemented with other forms of action. These include:

·     Promoting Girls’ Education. The link between lack of education and forced marriage is strong. The longer a girl stays in school the less likely she is to marry before the age of 18. Girls must be given educational opportunities and support to stay in education.
·     Engage With Community Leaders. Religious and community leaders hold strong sway in groups that practice early and forced marriage. If their stance can be changed then they will encourage their communities to change.
·     Educating Communities. Girls lack support from people in their families and communities to say no to forced marriage. This is often because the wider community isn’t aware of the damage forced marriage can cause. Outreach programmes can change attitudes and end the practice quickly.
·     Promoting Children’s Rights. The rights of children, and the importance of allowing them to participate in decisions that affect them, is also vital to tackling forced marriage.

Protecting girls from forced marriage will have a profound effect on their lives and that of their families and communities. If girls are seen as having important roles in society beyond childbearing and domestic work they can benefit from better education and better jobs. This begins a positive cycle that can lift whole communities out of poverty.

Give child marriage the finger by joining Plan UK’s Ring campaign to end forced marriage.

1.     A Girl’s Right To Say No To Marriage, Plan International,
2.     Ibid.

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