A forced marriage is when informed consent does not exist with someone who is getting married or is married. It is still considered a forced marriage when someone has given their consent but only after they were subjected to bribery, emotional blackmail, threats or they had been coerced in any other way.
Is an arranged marriage different than a forced marriage?
Sometimes families may introduce a couple to each other so they can see if they want to develop a relationship together. The difference between an arranged marriage and a forced marriage is that with an arranged marriage, the final choice of whether to marry always remains with the couple involved without any recrimination or manipulation by family members or any other people.
When these families are arranging a marriage it is because they want to give their child the best chance of a successful and happy marriage.
One of the problems with an arranged marriage, especially with child brides, is where spouses go from being friendly and persuasive before the marriage to being violent and abusive afterward. Someone caught in such a marriage is often reluctant to leave the abusive relationship as they do not want their family to lose honor.
How can you help someone who is or has been trapped into a forced marriage?
You first consideration should always be that your actions will not result in adding risk for the person concerned.
There are signs you can look for in someone who may be at risk:
- Summer holidays are a risky time where a young person is being taken overseas. You may be aware of a contact who is about to be taken on such a holiday and is nervous and not looking forward to going.
- The person may become depressed, start self-harming, or start to abuse alcohol or drugs.
- You may notice that they are spending unexplained periods away from school or work, or they suddenly stop attending.
- You can never be with them without a family member insisting on being with them.
- You are suspicious that family violence or abuse is occurring.
- There is an established family trend of children marrying under the age of 18.
- Your contact may tell you that they are engaged but they are not showing any pleasure at this.
In most Western countries forced marriages are illegal, except for in the US. This makes it difficult for those trying to offer support in the US to those caught up in a forced marriage situation. Many people who have sought help after being trapped into a forced marriage found that they received little or no help from professionals they went to for help.
But there is support available in the US.
Unchained at Last, “is a New Jersey-based non-profit dedicated to helping women escape from arranged/forced marriages and rebuild their lives”. It can offer support from emergency accommodation and finances to free legal representation. You can email them from their website or phone them on 908-913-0804.
The AHA Foundation “is a non-profit founded by women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The AHA Foundation is the leading organization working to end honor violence that shames, hurts or kills thousands of women and girls in the US each year, and puts millions more at risk.” To speak anonymously to a trained non-judgemental crisis counselor text FREE to 741-741. Your texts are private and secure.
“You can also call the Department of State at 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll-line at 1-202-501-4444.”
The Tahirih Justice Center has centers in DC, Baltimore, and Houston to “protect courageous immigrant women and girls who refuse to be victims of violence” including forced marriages.
If you cannot come to one of their centers you can email them FMI@tahirih.org or phone them on 571-181-6161 from 9 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday. They offer help to women regardless of their citizenship or residency status.
The Arab-American Family Support Center is a “non-profit, non-sectarian organization. Established in 1994, AAFSC is the first and largest Arabic-speaking trauma-informed social service agency in New York City.” You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 718 – 643 – 8000 or 718 – 937 – 8000.
Some extra advice if you are trapped in a forced marriage situation
Your best chance of avoiding a forced marriage is to not leave the US if at all possible.
If you have no choice in your traveling overseas for a forced marriage, take some money with you in the local currency if possible, and also in American dollars. Take a mobile phone with you that has a mobile roaming facility. Take a copy of your passport and flight tickets and leave a copy of these and any other useful contact and travel information with a trusted contact while you are overseas.
Also, take with you a copy of the contact details of the American Embassy or consulate for the country you are going to. They will be able to offer you help if you are able to make contact with them.
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