Forced marriage

Forced marriage is a term used to describe a marriage in which one or more of the parties is married without his/her consent or against his/her will. A forced marriage differs from an arranged marriage, in which both parties consent to the assistance of their parents or a third party (such as a matchmaker) in identifying a spouse. The practice of forced marriage was very common amongst the upper classes in Europe until the 1900s, and is still practiced in South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Forced marriages now in Western Europe and North America are generally committed within these migrant communities. Most of the involuntary spouses are women, although men may be forced into such marriages as well.

Forced marriages are generally arranged because of family pride, the wishes of the parents, or social obligation. For example, according to Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood, many forced marriages in Britain within the British Pakistani community are aimed at providing British citizenship to a member of the family presently in Pakistan to whom the instigator of the forced marriage feels a sense of duty.

Western society and the United Nations view forced marriage as a form of human rights abuse, since it violates the principle of the freedom and autonomy of individuals. The Roman Catholic Church deems forced marriage grounds for granting an annulment - for a marriage to be valid both parties must give their consent freely. Many Christian denominations consider forcing a person to marry someone a sin.

However, other cultures view forced marriage as the only valid form of marriage as they may not recognize Western notions of love and romance.

In response to the problem of forced marriages in the UK, the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 was passed, which enables the victims of forced marriage to apply for court orders for their protection.

Historically, forced marriage was used to require a captive (slave or prisoner of war) to integrate with the host community, and accept his or her fate. One example is the English blacksmith John R. Jewitt, who spent years as a captive of the Nootka people on the Pacific Northwest Coast in 1802-1805. He was ordered to marry, because the council of chiefs thought that a wife and family would reconcile him to staying with his captors for life. Jewitt was given a choice between forced marriage for himself and capital punishment for both him and his "father". "Reduced to this sad extremity, with death on the one side, and matrimony on the other, I thought proper to choose what appeared to me the least of the two evils" (p154)

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