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. Unfortunately, forced marriage can happen to individuals of any culture, class, religion, and area of the world, including in Canada and to Canadians travelling or living abroad. It can happen to both men and women of all ages.
Forced marriages are very different than arranged marriages, which have longstanding traditions in many cultures and countries. In arranged marriages, the families of both spouses take a leading role in the arrangement, but both individuals have the final say about whether to enter into the marriage.
Forced marriage is recognized as an abuse of human rights in many United Nations treaties and other international documents.
Child marriage is also recognized as an abuse of human rights in many international treaties. Child marriage, sometimes referred to as early marriage, is usually considered to be forced marriage since minors are deemed incapable of giving consent due to lack of understanding.
In cases of forced marriage, 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.
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, you can contact provincial social welfare authorities, local police, your student guidance counsellor or a community legal clinic for assistance. You can contact local children’s help lines, women’s shelters or victim support centres. You can also contact us for information about steps you can take to protect yourself and possible resources available in the province or territory where you live.
If you are forced to travel abroad, you may wish to provide the following information to someone you trust in Canada:
- your contact information abroad
- a photocopy of your passport photo page and birth certificate
- a recent photograph of yourself
- your itinerary (anticipated travel details, flight information, return date)
You may also consider doing the following:
- 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. The consular services and assistance available will vary according to your particular circumstances and wishes, including factors such as the country where you are located. Everyone’s situation is different, and we can talk with you to determine what kind of help we can provide to you and what consular services are available. This may include facilitating your return to Canada. We will not contact your family without your consent.
Government of Canada resources and links
- Forced Marriage (Department of Justice)
- Family Violence Initiative - Abuse is Wrong in Any Language (Department of Justice)
- Annotated Bibliography on Comparative and International Law relating to Forced Marriage - August 2007 (Department of Justice)
Non-governmental resources within Canada
- Forced Marriage Project at Agincourt Community Services
- Shield of Athena
- SALCO Report - "Who, If, When to Marry: the Incidence of Forced Marriage in Ontario” – September 2013
- forcedmarriages.ca – South Asian Legal Aid Clinic of Ontario
International resources and links
- Girls not Brides
- Global Justice Initiative
- Stop Violence against Women - The Advocates for Human Rights