About Arranged/Forced Marriage

WHAT IS FORCED MARRIAGE?

In a forced marriage, one or both parties enters without full, free, informed consent. Further, even if both parties enter a marriage with full, free, informed consent, the union can later become a forced marriage if one or both parties is forced to stay in it.

IS “ARRANGED” DIFFERENT FROM “FORCED”?

The difference between an arranged marriage and a forced marriage is supposed to be the difference between consent and coercion. In an arranged marriage, both the bride and the groom consent to have their marriage arranged (with varying degrees of choice about when and whom to wed); in a forced marriage, one or both of them is coerced into the marriage and does not give full, free, informed consent.

However, there’s a fine line between consent and coercion. Even when a marriage is labeled “arranged” and the bride and groom get the option to say no, they might face intense pressure from their families and society not to do so, or they might be too young and inexperienced to make such a life-altering decision. They might be rushed to give an answer, before they can fully think through their options. They might be bribed or tricked. They might be grappling with implicit and/or explicit threats about the harms that will befall them and their families if they do not agree to a marriage. They might be subjected to actual violence: locked up, beaten or shunned until they say yes.

Unchained was the first organization in the US to recognize that “arranged” and forced” often are indistinguishable. Some organizations are careful to separate the two terms — and to label “arranged marriage” as benign and “forced marriage” as evil — so as not to alienate or offend the people and communities that have been practicing “arranged marriage” for centuries.

However, Unchained, which was founded and is led by arranged/forced marriage survivors, understands the dangerous message such a dichotomy might send to women and girls who are pressured, bribed or tricked into marriage but do not face explicit threats or endure actual violence. Such women and girls need to know what is happening to them is not “benign,” and they deserve and can get help.

HOW COMMON IS IT IN THE US?

Few studies have been done about arranged/forced marriage in the US, so exact statistics are unknown. A 2011 survey by the Tahirih Justice Center found 3,000 known or suspected cases in the previous two years alone of girls in the US as young as 15 who were forced to marry under threats of death, beatings or ostracism.

Based on that study, and based on the size of the various communities in the US that are known to practice arranged/forced marriage (various Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Sikh, Asian, African, Hmong and other communities), Unchained estimates that hundreds of hundreds of thousands of women and girls in the US are in arranged/forced marriages.

WHY DO WOMEN NEED HELP?

A woman or girl who tries to resist an arranged/forced marriage often risks ostracism and honor violence.

And a woman or girl who tries to get divorced after an arranged/forced marriage has happened usually faces serious obstacles. Typically she is stymied by religious laws and social customs that make divorce difficult, especially for women. Often she is shunned by her family and friends, who view divorce as shameful. If she was brought to the US as part of an arranged/forced marriage, she might be constrained, as well, by her own immigration status.

ARE MEN AFFECTED TOO?

Arranged/forced marriage affects boys and men too. However, women and girls are more likely than  men and boys to be coerced into marriage, and they face additional, significant challenges — in the form of religious laws and social customs — when trying to resist or leave it.

For example, a woman in the Orthodox Jewish community does not have the legal right to divorce her husband; only men have the right to grant a divorce under Orthodox Jewish law. Further, most communities that practice arranged/forced marriage view divorce as shameful, and they tend to place the burden largely on women to avoid that shame and keep a marriage intact, even when that means women must sacrifice their safety or happiness.

WHY IS UNCHAINED AT LAST NECESSARY?

Unchained is the only nonprofit in the US dedicated to helping women and girls resist or leave arranged/forced marriages. Unchained provides free legal and social services and emotional support, and Unchained raises awareness about arranged/forced marriage and advocates for relevant legislation to protect women and girls.