Forced Marriage

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Tired of their voices being left out of the dialogue about violence in their lives, eight South Asian young women came together to speak out in Heartbeats: The IZZAT Project. This video, by the Pomegranate Tree Group and Tahirih Justice Center, shares their stories.

Forced Marriage Globally

  • In 2016, U.K.’s Forced Marriage Unit gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage in 1,428 cases.
  • 26% of cases involved victims below 18, and 34% involved victims aged 18-25.
  • 80% of cases involved women victims, while 20% of cases involved male victims.
    U.K. Forced Marriage Unit Statistics 2016 (2017)

Forced Early Marriage in the U.S.


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

Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16

Forced marriages are marriages conducted without the valid consent of both parties, where physical or emotional coercion is a factor. In 2017, the International Labor Organization designated forced marriage as a form of modern slavery.

Child marriages are marriages in which one or both partners are under the age of 18, and they often hinder survivors’ access to health, education, and opportunity. Many child marriages are forced marriages arranged by parents or family members without considering the consent of the child.

Arranged marriages are an alliance or contract between two families who take the lead role in selecting a partner for their adult children, who ostensibly can meaningfully consent to, or reject their parents’ choices. Historically, these alliances between families served to safeguard and control property rights, inheritance and wealth transfers, lineage, etc.

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.


Every state allows minors to get married in some situations. They almost always need a parent’s consent, and sometimes, a judge’s approval. 
Frontline: Child Marriage by the Numbers (2017). Data from Tahirih Justice Center: Understanding State Statutes on Minimum Marriage Age and Expectations (2017)

Forced marriage is gender-based violence perpetrated by parents or other family members that can lead to increased vulnerability to abuses  including 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.

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.

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 her male relatives in the extended family home.  Culture, duty, religion and honor are the typical justifications offered by parents, whereas these are in fact a proxy for controlling their daughters’ sexuality and sexual agency. In our view, forced marriage cannot be justified in the name of culture or religion.

In general, mothers and fathers may both seem resolved in enforcing their daughter’s marriage, but there can be complicated dynamics below the surface.  For example, a mother warned her daughter about her father’s plans because she was opposed to them and encouraged her daughter 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.

If You or Someone You Know is at Risk of Forced Marriage Contact

Tahirih Justice Center Forced Marriage Initiative

Unchained At Last

Related Resources

Forced Marriage

Exploratory Research into the Intersection of Forced Marriage, Intimate Partner Violence, and Sexual Violence, 2017

By Dank M, Love H, Esthappan S, & Zweig J
This exploratory study aimed to broaden the literature on forced marriage and examine it in the United States context. The study focused on the nature and scope of forced marriage in the context of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, as well as the adequacy of service provider and criminal and civil justice system stakeholder responses to forced marriage.

Honoring Our Heartbeats: The IZZAT Project

Honoring Our Heartbeats: The IZZAT Project

Heartbeats: The IZZAT Project is a comic book and expressive arts project using illustration, writing and theatre to explore and share community stories about resilience in the face of violence and to challenge how “izzat” or “honour” has been used to rationalize violence against women. Heartbeats was created by a group of young South Asian women from Pomegranate Tree Group, a community-based organization committed to healing justice, with support from Tahirih Justice Center.

Child Marriage

Other Resources

Girls Not Brides: Post-2015 Advocacy Toolkit (2015)

International Labour Office: Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labor and Forced Marriage (2017)

U.K.’s Forced Marriage Unit, established in 2005, assists potential victims and survivors, conducts outreach and training, and has guided and developed policies leading to civil and criminal remedies — most notably, the Forced Marriage Protection Order — so victims can choose how they wish to proceed.