What is a forced marriage?
A forced marriage occurs when an individual is forced, coerced, threatened, or tricked to marry without her informed consent.
How is this different from an arranged marriage?
In many cultures, it is customary for families to arrange meetings between their children in the hopes of fostering a voluntary relationship that will lead to a marriage. In such situations, while the initial meetings are arranged by the families and a marriage is encouraged, the ultimate decision regarding whether to marry remains with the couple and the choice to marry is strictly voluntary. In contrast, in a forced marriage, an individual is threatened and/or coerced by her family to enter into the marriage against her will and may suffer honor violence if she resists or refuses the marriage.
Does this happen in the United States?
Yes. Although this is generally treated as a private family matter that remains hidden from public view, there are numerous reports of girls being taken out of school in the United States in their early teenage years and returned to their parents’ home countries to be forcibly married. For example, in 2007, the New York Daily News reported that a number of girls were being forced to return to Pakistan to marry men chosen by their families. One woman recalled being tricked and drugged before being put on a plane to Pakistan and, once there, being forced at gunpoint to acquiesce to a marriage to a man chosen by her father.
The Tahirih Justice Center released survey results in September of 2011 that found as many as 3,000 known or suspected cases of forced marriage within immigrant communities in the United States in the two years preceding the survey. We believe the actual number of forced marriage cases in the United States to be much higher, as the survey was directed towards service providers and other professionals. Many more existing cases are likely hidden from the view of officials.
The United Kingdom has set up a hotline specifically to handle cases of forced marriage. In 2010, there were 1,735 cases of forced marriage reported to the hotline. Of those victims, 131 were British citizens who were rescued after having been taken to Pakistan for marriage against their will.
The AHA Foundation depends on the generosity of individual donors to do our life-saving work. Thanks to your support, we’ve made great strides in fighting forced marriage in the United States. Our achievements include:
- The AHA Foundation has educated numerous professionals on the issue of forced marriage. We hold an annual conference on honor violence and forced marriage at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, including the first ever conference in the United States covering these issues. Each year, the conference features a distinguished panel of speakers and is widely attended by professionals likely to encounter victims of these crimes.
- The AHA Foundation Training Curriculum on Honor Violence and Forced Marriage for Law Enforcement and Child Protective Professionals is a comprehensive training manual which provides law enforcement and service providers with “best practices” for identifying these cases and ensuring the safety of victims. Numerous professionals from across the country have taken part in both our live and web-based seminars.
- The AHA Foundation has commissioned a study with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to determine the incidence of forced marriage in New York City. The John Jay research team has developed innovative methods to ascertain the prevalence of this crime and the findings are both illuminating and disturbing. Armed with the results of this study, we will be in a much stronger position to persuade government leaders to direct attention and resources to these issues.
- The AHA Foundation helps girls who come directly to us seeking assistance in fleeing situations of forced marriage. We have had great success in referring each of them to appropriate services and helping them achieve safety.