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 individuals 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 at any age, including minors.
Forced marriage is recognized as an abuse of human rights in many United Nations treaties and other international documents.
In cases of forced marriage, parents, relatives and communities may use emotional coercion, threats, abduction, forcible confinement, extortion and physical violence to force the person to enter into an unwanted marriage. 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.
Child marriage is also recognized as an abuse of human rights in many international treaties. Child marriage is the marriage of a minor child who, by virtue of his/her age, does not have the capacity to provide consent to a marriage. Without the capacity to consent, any child marriage is also automatically deemed a forced marriage.
Forced marriages are very different than arranged marriages, which have longstanding traditions in some cultures and countries. In arranged marriages, parents or other family members may recommend marriage candidates to the individual, who ultimately has the right to choose whether or not to marry. Individuals may also request the assistance of their parents or other relatives in finding a suitable spouse.
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 counselor 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 Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada 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)
- Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic
- Curriculum for Canadian High Schools on Forced Marriage, Youth Agency, and the Culture of Law (Ontario Justice Education Network)
International resources and links
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