Forced Marriage

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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.
  • Out of the 1,139 cases in which a victim was at risk of being taken, or had already been taken to another country in connection with a forced marriage, the highest volume country was Pakistan (43%) followed by Bangladesh (8%) and India (6%).
    U.K. Forced Marriage Unit Statistics 2016 (2017)

Forced 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


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

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.  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 can blur the distinction.

In 2017, the International Labor Organization designated forced marriage as a form of modern slavery.

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 perpetrated by parents that can lead to increased vulnerability to and/or abuses by other family members 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.

Resistance to forced marriage can result in honor killings; abetted or ‘honor’ suicide; 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.

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 (which in itself speaks volumes about how men behaved – they could not even be trusted to observe the incest taboo).  Culture, duty, and honor are the typical justifications for forced marriage offered by parents, whereas these are in fact a proxy for controlling their daughters’ sexuality and sexual agency.  Young women’s bodies are not owned by patriarchs, nor do outdated notions of honor belong in the 21st century in any culture or religion.

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.*”

Shamita Das Dasgupta: “Forced Marriages” in Encyclopedia of Interpersonal Violence (2008)

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.

In the U.S., immigrant and refugee families from countries in Africa; Asia particularly Central, South, South East and 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; and based on recent data and survivors’ stories, girls as young as ten have been forced into child marriage by their parents.

* Sometimes referred to as marriage-by-capture, conducted at times, with the approval of a girl’s family.

Related Resources

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.

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.

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

Tahirih Justice Center Forced Marriage Initiative

Sauti Yetu: Center for African Women and Families
Bronx: 718-665-2486
Staten Island: 718-665-2483 x301

Unchained At Last

Other Resources

Frontline: Child Marriage in America By the Numbers (2017)

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

Tahirih Justice Center’s Forced Marriage Initiative offers support for victims and training and technical assistance for advocates

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.