A marriage must be entered into with the free and informed consent of both people. Both people involved should feel that they have a choice. A forced marriage is one in which one or both people do not or cannot consent to the marriage and where pressure or abuse is used to force one or both people to marry against their will. Forced marriage also overlaps with child marriage because children are not considered capable of making an informed decision.
Forced marriages have occurred in a number of countries, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Ethiopia, India, Libya, Morocco, Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan. Parents, relatives and communities may use relentless pressure, emotional blackmail, threats, abduction, imprisonment and physical violence to force people to marry.
In some cases, people may be taken abroad without knowing that they are to be married. When they arrive in the foreign country, their passports and money may be taken by their family to try and stop them from returning home. Communication with the outside world may be limited.
Forced marriage is a human rights violation under international law. It is a form of violence against women and men, child abuse when it affects children and abuse of vulnerable people when it affects those with disabilities.
Forced marriage should not be confused with arranged marriage. In an arranged marriage, the families take the lead in choosing the marriage partner, but the people involved can choose whether they want to marry the chosen person or not.
If you or someone you know may be forced into marriage
If you are in Canada and you believe that you are being forced to travel overseas to marry, contact provincial social welfare authorities, local police, your student guidance counsellor or a community legal clinic. You can also contact local children’s help lines, women’s shelters or victim support centres. The South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO) offers resources to help those in need of advice on forced marriage.
If you are still forced to travel abroad, provide the following documentation to someone you trust in Canada:
- your contact information abroad
- a photocopy of your passport photo page
- your itinerary
You should also:
- keep some emergency cash with you (hidden)
- stay in frequent contact with your family and friends at home
- try to bring along a cellphone
- sign up with the Registration of Canadians Abroad service
- know how to contact the nearest Canadian government office abroad and carry the contact information with you
If you are abroad and you believe that you are being forced to marry, contact us for assistance.
For more information, visit the Annotated Bibliography on Comparative and International Law relating to Forced Marriage.
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