Forced Marriage

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“Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.”

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16

Forced Marriage Globally

Forced Marriage in the U.S.


A forced marriage is a marriage conducted without the valid consent of both parties, where physical or emotional coercion is a factor.

Forced marriage is defined as a martial union where at least one intended spouse refuses to participate but is intimidated to capitulate.

Arranged marriages are an alliance or contract between two families who take the lead role in selecting a partner for their adult children, and permit them to consent to or reject the parents’ choice.  Modernity has, at times, introduced flexibilities into the custom, but immigration has also frozen it.  Although care is taken to distinguish forced marriages from arranged ones, coercive control and threats by parents blur the distinction.

Minor girls and young adult women are overwhelmingly victims of forced marriages.  Sons who resist an arranged marriage, have a partner the parents disapprove of, or are gay, may be coerced or tricked into a forced marriage.


Forced marriage is gender-based violence that can include ensuing abuses such as coerced sexual initiation, marital rape, statutory rape, suppression of sexual orientation or gender identity, interrupted education, domestic violence by husbands and in-laws, transnational abandonment, reproductive coercion resulting in early and/or multiple pregnancies, and femicide.

Resistance to forced marriage can result in honor killings; abetted or ‘honor’ suicide;[1] physical abuse by parents, including abandonment; death threats to the son or daughter’s chosen straight or gay partner; and/or threats to rape the chosen partner’s female family members.

Tactics to entrap, force, or gain ‘consent’ of minor or adult children include threats or acts of physical harm, imprisonment at home, threats to marry off a younger sister, exile from the parental home, abandonment in the parents’ home country, cutting off financial support, inducing guilt by claiming a parent will commit suicide or die, using lies to confound real intentions, and sometimes even drugging a child to get her on an airplane.

Shamita Das Dasgupta notes “Arranged-, child-, early-, and forced marriages as well as violence against women are closely linked.  Fathers and brothers often exchange their young daughters and sisters for bride-price to increase family fortunes; swap them to confirm desirable matches for men in the family; offer them to repay debts and negotiate peace with feuding parties; and surrender them in lieu of monetary penalties for social miscreancy.  In [some] countries…young women are routinely abducted by men who want to marry them and held captive until they consent.” (This practice is sometimes referred to as marriage-by-capture, conducted with the approval of a girl’s family.)

There are several rationales parents use about “arranging” what is essentially a forced marriage; and they pivot around cultural or religious tradition.  Historically, early marriage was to protect girls from incest perpetrated by male relatives in the extended family home (which in itself speaks volumes about how men behaved – that they could not even be trusted to observe the incest taboo). These are outdated notions that do not belong in the 21st century in any culture or religion.  Traditions of arranging marriages come from creating alliances between families that may be to safeguard property rights, inheritance, wealth; to ensure desirable lineage; etc.

One common factor in arranged and forced marriage is the importance of controlling women’s sexuality and sexual agency; and although this may now be done in different ways – e.g., Asian parents won’t allow their daughters to date, but don’t care that their sons do – they still feel entitled to patrol the borders of what is acceptable in love and desire.  In general, mothers and fathers are both resolved in enforcing their daughter’s marriage; but there can be complicated dynamics below the surface that we cannot assume to understand.  E.g., a mother warned her daughter about her father’s plans because she was opposed to them and encouraged her to resist, but she later capitulated because her husband promised he would give up his mistress of many years for the mother’s cooperation (which of course he did not do).  In another situation, a father did not accompany the family to Jordan to attend his daughter’s marriage, which could be interpreted as resistance or indifference.

In the U.S., immigrant and refugee families from countries[3] in Africa; Asia particularly Central, South, South East an d West Asia; and Central and Eastern Europe engage in the practice of forced marriage; and as anecdotal data suggests, mostly in early forced marriage of minor daughters.  In addition, some Mormon communities force daughters into monogamous or polygamous marriages.  Finally, kidnapped girls may be forced to marry their captors.

Related Resources

Post-2015 Advocacy Toolkit, 2015

Developed by Girls Not Brides to support members’ post-2015 advocacy, this toolkit provides information on the post-2015 process and offers tools and templates to develop and implement an advocacy strategy calling for a target on child, early and forced marriage in the Sustainable Development Goals. It also offers a sample messaging framework on child marriage and the post-2015 agenda, as well as tips on how to effectively engage with media.