A white dress, jolly guests, good food, music and dancing are the outer facade of the glorious wedding day countless people dream of their whole lives. But many fail to see that beneath all that may lay physical or emotional forces that compel young men and women into marriage. Beneath all these celebration measures there’s a sad angle that includes domestic violence and repression that could have more serious implications on the society.
By Noha Osman
Forced marriages among immigrants in Europe is a major issue that has failed to grasp enough attention in the region. There are no available statistics to measure the extent to which it flourishes; however, several entities, including NGO’s and the European Union, are attempting to put an end to it.
Veronique De Keyser, Vice President for Foreign Affairs, Human Rights, Development and International Trade of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, said at a hearing on Forced Marriages that it is necessary to raise awareness regarding this issue, as it is not a question of customs but rather of human rights.
Forced marriage is a clear violation of human rights; it goes against the very foundation of the European Union that promises freedom and justice to all citizens. Both Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 9 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, include the right not to marry. Forced marriage is a criminal offence punishable by law in countries such as Belgium, Germany, Austria, Cyprus, Malta, and Norway.
Not an EU priority
Veronique added that any actions taken against forced marriage would be a fresh beginning because the subject is simply not at the top of the European Parliament’s agenda. Although there have been legislations that aimed towards overcoming the problem, in 2005 and 2008, they did not get approved.
While some individual member states such as Sweden, Belgium, and Denmark have passed laws that make an effort to hinder the possibility of forced marriage, there has been no joint European stance against it.
“A European network against forced marriage would be a good tool,” said Jean-Pierre Boublal, Deputy Head of the Emir KIR Cabinet, Brussels Minister for Social Action and International Relations, at the “Europe and Forced Marriage” hearing.
Coming from overseas
“Forced marriage comes to our shores through immigration [mainly Morocco and Turkey],” said Veronique.
As non-Europeans immigrate to European Union states, they tend to bring their culture and traditions with them, often unaware that they may not be accepted or tolerated in their new homes.
With the rise of immigration trends, the fear of the dilemma of forced marriages also rises. Moreover, while member states of the EU believe in human rights, and have in fact signed and agreed on several conventions that prohibit forced marriages, they fail to properly implement them on a national level.
Reach from within
Katinka Ingves, Board Member of ROKS, National Organization for Women’s and Young Women’s shelters in Sweden, believes it is crucial to change attitudes when dealing with the beliefs, values, and practices that lead to forced marriages.
“Knowledge in itself cannot change habit,” she said.
This process however, is bound to take time as it touches on core values that are buried deep within the cultures from which forced marriage stems from.
Katinka also added that some women who are abused by their husbands in Sweden, have no choice but to stay with them because they must live in the country for 2 years to obtain a residence permit; their other option would be to return to their home countries, where they might face abuse from their families.
Conquering forced marriages
Whilst countries like Denmark have taken legal action towards the matter, such as raising the age limit to 24 for family unification of married partners, they fail to see that this is not a solution because married couples will simply turn to other countries with less strict laws.
Marc Tarabella, member of the European Parliament, and of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, believes that an important factor is determining whether the marriage was in fact forced. That is because it is up to the victims themselves to prove that they were forced into the marriage.
According to Katinka, every country should have its own preventive means to combat forced marriage on a local level, such as informing immigrants of their democratic rights, creating a dialogue flow between parents and children, working with the youth on issues such as gender equality, and even resorting to clergymen or imams to convey the message.