A valid marriage requires the consent (clear agreement or willingness) of both people to marry one another. Both people getting married have the choice if, when and whom they marry.
A forced marriage is a marriage where one or both individuals do not consent to the marriage. Abuse, both physical and emotional, might be used to force one or both people to marry. A forced marriage may also involve someone who cannot legally give consent, such as a person who is too young to be married or who is not able to understand what marriage means because of an intellectual disability.
Forced marriage can happen to individuals of any age, gender, sexual orientation, culture, religion, level of education, economic status, and in any area of the world, including in Canada. It can also happen to Canadians travelling or living abroad.
Forced marriage is not the same as arranged marriage, which has a longstanding tradition in some communities. In an arranged marriage, parents or other family members may recommend a marriage partner to the individual, who ultimately chooses whether or not to marry. In an arranged marriage, the people getting married want to marry one another, and give their consent to the marriage.
In cases of forced marriage, parents, relatives and community members might use emotional pressure, threats or violence to force someone to marry. The person may also be forced to have sex, or forced to get pregnant. In some cases, people are taken abroad against their will to be married. Sometimes a person might be told they are going on a trip to visit relatives, not knowing that a marriage has been planned for them while abroad. When they arrive in the foreign country, their passports and money are sometimes taken from them and they may be constantly watched to stop them from returning to Canada. They might be prevented from communicating with others to ask for help.
Forced marriage is recognized by the United Nations as a violation of human rights. Within Canada, it is a crime to force anyone, whether a child or an adult, to marry. It is also a crime to take someone under the age of 18 out of Canada to force him or her to marry in another country.
Underage Marriage: Nobody under the age of 16 is allowed to get married in Canada. It is also a crime to take anyone who is under 16 out of Canada for the purpose of a marriage in another country, even if the person wants to get married.
If you or someone you know might be forced into marriage
If you are in Canada and you think you will be taken to another country for a forced marriage, try to avoid travelling abroad if at all possible. It could be much more difficult to leave a forced marriage situation in another country.
Contact a person you trust to help you. You can tell a police officer or a social worker that you think you are going to be forced into marriage. You can contact a women’s shelter, youth shelter, school counsellor, provincial or territorial child welfare agency, help line, legal clinic, anti-violence agency, or victim support centre (see resource links below for more information about possible places to go for help). You can also contact Global Affairs Canada’s consular services for information about steps you can take to protect yourself and possible resources available in the province or territory where you live.
If you can’t avoid travelling abroad, try to provide the following information to someone you trust in Canada, preferably before you leave:
- your contact information abroad, including the address where you will be staying and the names of those with whom you will be staying, as well as their relationship to you
- a photocopy of your passport photo page and birth certificate
- a recent photograph of yourself
- your itinerary, there and back (anticipated travel details, flight information, return date) and names of people travelling with you
You may also consider taking the following safety measures:
- Know how to contact the nearest Canadian embassy, high commission or consulate abroad and carry the contact information with you (hidden).
- Sign up with Registration of Canadians Abroad , a free service for Canadians travelling or living abroad.
- Hide important documents and communications devices so that they cannot be taken away from you.
- Try to bring along a cellphone or other mobile device, and a backup device that can be used internationally. Keep it hidden with the sound turned off.
- Set up a way to communicate privately with someone in case you need help, such as using code words or a separate email account.
- Keep copies and/or take photos of your passport, visa, entry stamp, birth certificate and travel documents (hidden).
- Bring 2 extra passport-sized photographs (hidden).
- Keep some emergency cash in Canadian currency and the local currency of your destination country with you (hidden).
- Bring a map and a list of emergency contacts for your destination (hidden).
- Stay in frequent contact with people you trust. Let them know of your concerns and that they should seek help if they have not heard from you within a specified period of time.
If you are at the airport about to be taken abroad against your will, try to report your situation to someone, if you can do so without putting yourself in danger. For example, try to tell the security agents during security screening or airline officials before boarding the plane.
If you are a Canadian in another country and you believe that you will be forced to marry, or if you have already been forced to marry, contact us for assistance. The consular services and assistance available will vary according to your particular circumstances and wishes, and will depend on the country where you are located. Everyone’s situation is different. Talk with us to determine what kind of help we can provide to you and what consular services are available. This may include helping you return to Canada.
If you have already been forced to marry, you may wish to seek legal advice about options available to you.
If you are a Canadian citizen or a permanent resident who has been forced to marry a foreign national, and you are also forced to sponsor your spouse to immigrate to Canada, you may withdraw the application at any time. Information related to sponsorship and permanent residence applications is available on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) website. To receive immigration-related information or provide information about an immigration application that involves forced marriage, you may contact IRCC through a Canadian visa office if you are overseas, or call IRCC's Call Centre and select option "6" to reach the dedicated line for victims of abuse and forced marriage if you are in Canada. If you are fearful of your safety, ask the visa officer or the IRCC officer to keep information about the forced marriage confidential.
Government of Canada resources and links
- Forced Marriage (Department of Justice)
- Family Violence Initiative - Abuse is Wrong in Any Language (Department of Justice)
- Financial Assistance for Canadians Victimized Abroad (Department of Justice)
- Family Violence (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada)
- Marriage fraud (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada)
- Child, Early and Forced Marriage (Global Affairs Canada)
Non-governmental resources in Canada
- South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario
- End Forced Marriage Project (MOSAIC and Ending Violence Association of BC)
- Indo-Canadian Women's Association
- I Do! Project
- Safe Centre of Peel
- Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic
- Shield of Athena
- Curriculum for Canadian High Schools on Forced Marriage, Youth Agency, and the Culture of Law (Ontario Justice Education Network)
Directories of services
- Victim Services Directory (Department of Justice)
- Stop Family Violence directory of services in Canada (Public Health Agency of Canada)
- Victim Justice Network
- Canadian Network of Women's Shelters and Transition Houses
- 211 services in Canada
- Canadian Child Welfare Research Portal - Provincial and Territorial Assistance
- HotPeachPages International Directory of Domestic Violence Agencies
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