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Arranged, Forced, and Child Marriages


The Global Persecution of Women

Human Rights


Article 1.

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.

Article 3.

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 5.

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 16.

(1) Men and women of full age without any limitation due to race, nationality, or religion have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entited to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage, and its dissolution.

(2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.


Article 5

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures:

(a) To modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.


“Early Marriage” from UNIFEM, Violence Against Women – Facts and Figures. Downloaded from, 16 Feb. 2007.

The practice of early marriage is prevalent throughout the world, especially in Africa and South Asia. This is a form of sexual violence, since young girls are often forced into the marriage and into sexual relations, which jeopardizes their health, raises their risk of exposure to HIV/AIDS and limits their chance of attending school.

Parents and families often justify child marriages to ensure a better future for their daughters. Parents and families marry off their younger daughters as a means to gain economic security and status for them as well as for their daughters. Insecurity, conflict and societal crises also support early marriage. In many African countries experiencing conflict, where there is a high possibility of young girls’ being kidnapped, marrying them off at an early age is viewed as a means to secure their protection [29].

According to a 2006 report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women on her mission to Afghanistan, an estimated 57 per cent of girls in Afghanistan are married before the age of 16. Economic reasons are said to play a significant role in such marriages. Due to the common practice of “bride money,” the girl child becomes an asset exchangeable for money or goods. Families see committing a young daughter (or sister) to a family that is able to pay a high price for the bride as a viable solution to their poverty and indebtedness. The custom of bride money may motivate families that face indebtedness and economic crisis to “cash in” the “asset” as young as 6 or 7, with the understanding that the actual marriage is delayed until the child reaches puberty. However, reports indicate that this is rarely observed, and that little girls may be sexually violated not only by the groom, but also by older men in the family, particularly if the groom is a child too [30].

(29) Early Marriage in a Human Rights Context – Background Information prepared by the Working Group on Girls for the May 10, 2002, Supporting Event of the UN Special Session on Children 8-10 May 2002.
(30) Yakin Erturk. Integration of the Human Rights of Women and the Gender Perspective: Violence Against Women. Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences. Addendum. Mission to Afghanistan (9 to 19 July 2005). E/CN.4/2006/61/Add.5. 15 February 2006. 7-8.

”Asia & The Middle East: The bride price,” Women in the Middle East, No. 45, Nov.-Dec. 2006.

In many societies, the term "child bride" calls to mind impetuous sweethearts, a ladder cautiously positioned beneath a bedroom window, a silent kiss in the moonlight and a young couple making an anxious getaway to a justice of the peace. But this is not a ready image the world over. In Afghanistan, a child bride is very often just that: a child, even a preteen, her innocence betrothed to someone older, even much, much older.

Rather than a willing union between a man and woman, marriage is frequently a transaction among families, and the younger the bride, the higher the price she may fetch. Girls are valuable workers in a land where survival is scratched from the grudging soil of a half-acre parcel. In her parents' home, a girl can till fields, tend livestock and cook meals. In her husband's home, she is more useful yet. She can have sex and bear children.

Afghanistan is not alone in this predilection toward early wedlock. Globally, the number of child brides is hard to tabulate; they live mostly in places where births, deaths and the human milestones in between go unrecorded. But there are estimates. About 1 in 7 girls in the developing world (excluding China) gets married before her 15th birthday, according to analyses done by the Population Council, an international research group.

In the huge Indian states of Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, the proportion is 36 percent; in Bangladesh, 37 percent; in northwest Nigeria, 48 percent; in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, 50 percent. Tens of millions of girls are having babies before their bodies are mature enough, increasing the likelihood of death from haemorrhaging, obstructed labour and other complications.

But the practice of early marriage stems as much from entrenched culture as from financial need. Bridal virginity is a matter of honour. Afghan men want to marry virgins, and parents prefer to yield their daughters before misbehaviour or abduction has brought the family shame and made any wedding impossible.

Unfortunately, there are no reliable data about the age of Afghans at marriage. Husbands are not ordinarily old enough to be their wives' fathers or grandfathers, but such February-September couples as those

pictured here are hardly rare either. In such marriages, the man is likely to view the age difference as a fair bargain, his years of experience in exchange for her years of fecundity. At the same time, the girl's wishes are customarily disregarded. Her marriage will end her opportunities for schooling and independent work.


Jane Armstrong, “Jailed for escaping 'the old man,'” Globe and Mail, Toronto, 16 Oct. 2006.

KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN — At 13, Shabano is as self-conscious and awkward as any teenaged girl. She laughs shyly when asked personal questions and nervously chips at the orange nail polish that can't hide her grimy nails.

But Shabano, like the other “women” prisoners in the Kandahar district jail, has adult-sized problems. Two months ago, she was jailed for running away from an arranged marriage with a 50-year-old man, a deal negotiated by her father before his death. Home for her now is a dark cell containing nothing but a filthy mattress folded up and stacked against the concrete wall.

Shabano has been locked up for breaking her father's deal, an exchange that horrified the girl who refers to her former fiancé simply as “the old man.”

“I don't want to spend my life with this old man,” she said, scrunching her nose in disgust. And then in a burst of anger, she launched into a diatribe against her country's ancient custom of arranging marriages for young girls.

“We don't have democracy in this country if someone wants a love marriage,” she said. “My father exchanged me for another girl.”When her father gave her to the 50-year-old man, he returned the gift by offering his own teenager to Shabano's father.

Shabano is one of the 16 adult female inmates at the Kandahar jail, which houses 750 prisoners, among them children and political prisoners. The women and their 18 children are housed in a separate compound. Their doorless rooms face an outdoor quadrant filled with dirt and weeds.

The children range in age from toddlers to a poised 10-year-old girl named Mash Kan, who arrived at the prison several months ago with her mother, who was accused of prostitution.

A common thread runs through most of the female inmates' stories: Most are behind bars for defying their husband or his family, to whom the wife is beholden after marriage.

Three of the imprisoned women killed their husbands. One, 16-year-old Azizah, strangled her husband's sister with a scarf three years ago.

“All the time she was beating me,” Azizah said, seated cross-legged on the floor of a cell, her two-year-old daughter on her lap. There is no regret or emotion on her round face. “She was a bad lady. My husband and his sister beat me all the time.”

While Azizah's crime of homicide is a serious one anywhere in the world, many of the other inmates' infractions can't be found in the criminal codes of most Western countries. Nor do these crimes of disobedience appear in Afghanistan's new constitution.

During the Taliban years, Afghanistan's prisons were notorious warehouses for men and women who disobeyed the regime's repressive rules, which included anything from a woman wearing the wrong colour of socks to laughing on the street.

That regime fell in 2001, but Afghanistan is still largely ruled by ancient customs which, among other things, govern the conduct and expectations of women and girls. The practice of trading young girls for marriage is more widespread among poor and uneducated families, where girls are used as a form of currency.

Azizah said she was married at age 12 to her older husband in a deal arranged by her father.

Recently, international human-rights groups have waded into this dicey legal territory, condemning the practice of jailing women for disobeying their husbands and families.

At the Kandahar prison, some of the women interviewed recently said they were jailed without a trial. None had a lawyer.

“Hundreds of women and girls are being held in prison across the country, the majority for violating social, behavioural and religious codes,” a 2003 Amnesty International report said. “Like men and children, they are being held for months in prisons across the country before having the legality of their detention determined.”

However, the success of the international human-rights community's efforts has been mixed. In 2002, the federal government released 20 women imprisoned for behavioural crimes, only to see one killed when she returned to her family. Another woman's family rejected her and she had nowhere to go.

In southern Afghanistan, the customs of Pashtunwali, which is the code of conduct practised for centuries by the Pashtun people of southern Afghanistan, take precedence over newly written statutes, according to a report written by the International Legal Foundation, a U.S.-based public defender organization involved in establishing a criminal justice system in Afghanistan.

Under Pashtunwali, married women are the pride, property and responsibility of their husbands. Anyone who provides asylum to a married woman who has fled her household is considered a kidnapper.

It was that Pashtun custom that landed 28-year-old Masomah in the Kandahar jail with Mash Kan, her little daughter.

Masomah, who is originally from Iran, said she gave shelter to a 16-year-old named Safah, who arrived at her Kandahar doorstep, begging. The teenager told her she'd been ordered to leave her household to earn money.

Masomah said she reported the young woman's arrival to police, but it turned out that Safah had fled her husband's family. Police accused Masomah and her husband of harbouring the teenager and also accused Masomah of being a prostitute.

The couple did not have a lawyer and Masomah, who is nine months pregnant, said the judge accepted the allegations in the police report. He sentenced Masomah and her husband to two years in prison. Safah was also given the same sentence and now the two women share a cell along with Mash Kan.

The little girl, who was in her fifth year of primary school at the time of her arrest, is now taking Grade 2 level classes in the prison. A teacher provided by a human-rights group teaches only lower level grades because most of the children are young.

Masomah bears no ill will to Safah, whose arrival at her house unleashed the family's legal nightmare. She believes her family is in prison because they are poor.

“My husband is a taxi driver,” she said. “My family is in Iran. We don't have anyone to support us. We don't have any connections.”

Meanwhile, Shabano is more hopeful that she can get a new hearing before a judge.

In the end, Shabano never married the 50-year-old man. Instead, after her father died, her mother arranged for her to marry a 20-year-old man. This is no love marriage, but in Afghanistan it might be as good as she can get. She plans to stay with him.

”Domestic violence intolerable, say battered women and girls,”, 21 February 2006.

KABUL, 13 Apr 2005 (IRIN) - The story of Zaynab, (a name adopted to conceal her identity) an 18-year-old mother of five who has taken refuge in a new women’s shelter in the capital Kabul, illustrates how routinely women continue to suffer rights violations in conservative, patriarchal Afghanistan.

She fled her home after refusing to put up with any more beatings from her husband, less than three weeks after giving birth to her youngest son.

“My father forcibly married me to an old man when I was 11 and my husband treated me like a slave over the last seven years,” she said, while sewing a blanket in the shelter, located in an upmarket suburb of the capital.

But Zaynab and the 20 other women she shares the facility with are the lucky few out of millions of destitute Afghan women. The small group have managed to find sanctuary from widespread physical violence, forced marriage, honour killings and other violations in ultra-conservative rural Afghanistan.

Zaynab’s leg was broken when her husband threw her out of a window. The torment ended when she managed to escape from the hospital where she was being treated, leaving her children behind. “This is the new pain I must bear, living without my family, but I had no other option. I knew he would never change.”

“I put on men’s clothes and a turban to hide my long hair and to look like a man, because it is extremely dangerous and difficult for women to travel by themselves,” she added, describing her escape.

Throughout the whole country, there are just four shelters, all in the capital, that are home to more than 100 women and girls. Supported by different agencies and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA), the confidential centres are designed to give protection, accommodation, food, training and healthcare to women who are escaping violence in the home or are seeking legal support due to family feuds.

“Often they are introduced to MoWA by the office of the attorney general or supreme court, while sometimes they come directly to our ministry,” Shakila Afzalyar, a legal officer at the ministry, told IRIN.

All the women IRIN interviewed at the shelter said they had broken no laws, but were fleeing from brutality or forced marriages. Afghanistan’s new constitution guarantees equality before the law for men and women, but the reality, the women point out, is very different.

A girl at the shelter, Paikai, just 12 years old, said she was compelled to marry the brother of her fiancé, who died before marrying her.

“They paid some money and gave a car to my father, but I did not like the man and escaped,” she said. She added that she had heard from a local radio station that there was a women’s affairs ministry in the capital, which heard the complaints of women, “that idea helped me make the final decision.”

“Women are used as a means for settling disputes between two families or tribes,” she said, adding that she did not want to return to her village, where they treated women “like animals”.

“I have nowhere to return to, I like it here, because there is a literacy course and at least I don’t see and hear those arrogant men,” she sighed.

The statistics are worrying, the ministry says. Afzalyar said that up to 20 women and girls were referred to MoWA’s legal department every day, mostly complaining of physical violations and forced marriages.

But space at the specialised shelters is limited. Many of the women who cannot find a place in the four secure hostels in Kabul end up in prison. More than 30 women are currently in jail in the capital, many simply because they have nowhere else to go, women’s rights activists say. “But I think even being in prison is safer than bearing the misery and punishments of violent men at home, at least in prison… one day you leave,” Zaynab said.

”Tradition Traps Widows,” Institute for war & prace reporting, 31 Jan. 2005.

Traditional values are making it difficult for women who have lost their husbands to marry who they wish.

By Shahabuddin Tarakhil (ARR No. 159, 31-Jan-05)

Sahra, 22, has come to the ministry of women's affairs from her native Wardak, seeking support. Her burka has been thrown up to reveal a tense, pale face, and dark, red-rimmed eyes.

"If they cannot help me, I will kill myself," she said.

Sahra is a widow, and wants to marry again. But her brother-in-law will not allow it.

"If I marry someone else, he will kill me," she said.

Afghanistan is full of young widows. The wars and violence that have plagued the country for the past 25 years have decimated the male population. According to Fauzia Amini, head of the legal branch of the ministry of women's affairs, "The large number of widows is due to the fighting that began when Russia invaded Afghanistan in 1979. This was followed by more fighting between Afghans themselves."

These widows are caught between Afghan culture and Islamic law. According to Afghan tradition, they can only marry close relatives of the deceased husband. But six years ago, during the Taleban's ultra-conservative reign, its leader Mullah Omar issued a decree allowing widows to marry whomever they wished.

Since the fall of the Taleban, a little over three years ago, the temporary freedom of choice accorded them has eroded, leaving a woman who has lost her husband very little choice about her future. If she is allowed to marry again, it will be to her brother-in-law or another close relative in her husband's family.

Soraya, 24, has been a widow for the past three years. She told IWPR, "My father-in- law wants me to marry his 13-year-old son, who is also disabled, but I don't want him." Soraya said her father has quarrelled with her father-in-law, and she is afraid it will escalate into violence.

Soraya may well be trapped. Once a woman is married, under Afghan tradition, she becomes a member of her husband's household, and hence is subject to the will of her husband's father.

As Haji Raza Khan, 60, whose own son has died, leaving a bereaved wife, put it this way, "If a widow leaves the father-in-law's home, it is as if she is running away." A widow should marry her brother-in-law, he added, otherwise she should stay in her father-in-law's home.

The government is attempting to help. Fauzia Amini told IWPR, "The custom of forcing a widow to marry her brother-in-law or another close relative of her dead husband is very bad; we are trying to break the hold these traditions have on the population."

The ministry is working with mullahs, or religious leaders, she said, to try and get more freedom of choice for women whose husbands have died.

Islam does not dictate that woman must marry within her husband's family, say religious scholars. Shaikh Zada, a mullah from Kabul province, said that those who refuse freedom of choice for widows are foolish, and do not know the dictates of their religion.

"Islam allows widows to marry relatives or non-relatives alike, provided that the person she marries, is Muslim," he told IWPR. When asked whether he agreed with the Taleban's ruling on this subject, he said, "This is the will of Allah and his Prophet, not of Mullah Omar."

But tradition dies hard in Afghanistan.

Hanifa, 27, cannot read or write. She has been a widow for the past 12 years. She told IWPR, "When Mullah Omar issued his decree, I married someone who was not a relative of my husband. Three years ago, when the Taleban were defeated, my brother-in-law took my four children away from me."

Now Hanifa has two children with her new husband. But, she said, "My former brother-in-law has sent me a letter, saying that now there are no Taleban, I will not let you live." She, too, has come to the ministry of women's affairs for help.

But the ministry can only do so much and many observers agree that traditions here are hard to break.

"This depressing phenomenon is due to the low level of knowledge in Afghanistan," said Ahmad Shad Mirdad, a department head in the Independent Human Rights Commission. "Until people learn more, these traditions will not diminish."


Christopher Allen, “Traditions weigh on China's women,” BBC News, 19 June 2006. By Christopher Allen

In China, one woman kills herself every four minutes.

The suicide rate is three times higher in rural areas than urban

According to World Health Organisation statistics, China is the only country in the world where more women commit suicide than men.

Every year, 1.5 million women attempt to take their own lives, and a further 150,000 succeed in doing so.

The problem is worse in rural areas, where the suicide rate is three times higher than in the cities.

Xu Rong, head of the Suicide Prevention Project at the Beijing Cultural Development Centre for Rural Women, says one of the reasons is the ready availability of poisons in agricultural areas.

"It's all too easy to get hold of pesticides," she says. "Some women commit suicide impulsively. A husband and wife may have a bitter fight. When it's over, the woman just grabs some poison and drinks it."

'Business deals'

Suicide attempts may often be impulsive, but they are the result of burdens that weigh heavily on the shoulders of rural women.

Marriage is a big issue where traditional attitudes still prevail.

Many marriages are arranged and operate like business deals in which the groom's parents "buy" the bride, and she becomes part of their family.

Xu Rong believes this leads to emotional problems for young wives who leave their own family and friends to enter an alien environment.

"They have their father-in-law to deal with, their mother-in-law, various uncles, sisters-in-law and so on. She's got to gain everyone's acceptance. When there are conflicts, she's the weakest."

Particularly in arranged marriages, where the husband may sense his wife is unwilling to be with him, resentment can build up, leading to arguments and violence.

Xu Rong estimates that 70-80% of suicides are the direct result of conflicts between husbands and wives.

No way out

Xie Lihua, editor of China's foremost women's magazine, agrees that traditional values are a problem.

"If a woman goes to live with her husband's family and they treat her well, or if she's found someone who loves and respects her, she'll be all right. If not, things will be very difficult for her.

"This is because there's a saying among men that goes: 'marrying a woman is like buying a horse: I can ride you and beat you whenever I like'."

For most women there is no easy way out of an unhappy marriage.

Divorce would mean leaving behind the financial security of the family, casting them into an uncertain future.

According to Xu Rong, some women attempt suicide as a way of asking for better treatment from their husbands.

Other studies agree that many of the women who attempt suicide each year are attempting to gain some dignity - to bring home to others their sense of anger and frustration.

The government realises the extent of the problem.

For many years, marriage laws have made arranged marriage and bride-buying illegal. However, traditional attitudes are hard to change.

Bleak prospects

Besides traditional attitudes, modern trends also seem set to place China's women under increasing pressure.

In rural areas where social security is weak, sons are preferred to daughters, as only sons will stay in the village to look after elderly parents. When daughters marry, they must move to their husband's family home.

Combine this with strict birth control policies, and the result is that many female foetuses are aborted.

For every one hundred baby girls born in China, 117 boys are born, according to the official figures.

By 2020, China could be short of around 40 million women, leaving many young men unable to find wives. Xie Lihua is worried about the consequences of this imbalance. "Women will face an even more terrible future in 20 years time. Abduction and trafficking of women will increase. So will prostitution, as well as sexual violence against women and rape. I think this problem really must be solved from the ground up"

A helping hand

Xu Rong's organisation attempts to prevent suicides by providing women with village-based support groups where they can discuss their feelings, and receive information on mental health.

Although these groups are limited to only a few villages they have been a success, and Xu Rong hopes to expand the project nationwide.

Other successes include a school outside Beijing where young rural women are taught the skills to build lives for themselves.

There are vocational courses on cooking, hairdressing and computing, as well as classes on marriage laws, suicide prevention and gender awareness.

It has an annual intake of around 600 young women.

Since opening in 1998, 4,000 trainees have passed through its doors, typically going on to work as restaurant cashiers or factory clerks.

City living

These projects are small, but other forces are also at work which are determining the future for China's women.

In the manufacturing hubs of the south-east coastal provinces, up to 70% of the millions of migrant workers are women, mostly in their teens and 20s.

Although many will return to the countryside to marry, the experience of being away from home can be life-changing.

The move to the city is not without risk. Many young women have been sexually abused by their bosses, and working conditions are often abysmal.

But there are advantages.

Here, relationships are formed away from the prying eyes of parents and matchmakers, and young women experience a wider world far removed from the farms where they grew up.

Perhaps most importantly, young women away from home - whether in the factories or at the training school in Beijing - are gaining in confidence.

They are discovering their own individual worth and their own potential.

As one trainee says: "Before I came here my mum told me it was better to marry well than study well.

"But after coming here I didn't think my aim should be to get myself a good husband. I'd do better fighting for a career of my own."


Azam Kamguian, "Girls' Nightmare in Muslim Families: Forced Marriages in Europe," Committee to Defend Women's Rights in the Middle East, downloaed from, 8 Oct. 2006.

Every year, many thousands of young girls, living in Muslim-inhabited communities in European countries face forced marriages. In Muslim immigrant families, often from the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, teenage girls are struggling against the pressure of tribal culture and Islamic customs imposed on them by their parents; and forced marriage is often their fate.

A women group against sexual mutilation of women, formed in 1980s in France, estimates that more than 30,000 young girls have been involved in forced marriage since 1990. In Britain, South Asian women groups have records of numerous cases of young girls who have been forced to marry by their parents.

This nightmare started in 1990s, when young girls from Muslim immigrant families in Europe reached their early teenage years and were considered mature and marriageable by their parents. Teenage girls from Turkish immigrant families are especially under intense pressure. According to statistics provided by women groups in France and Britain, in 1990s, 43% of girls from Turkish families, and 36% of girls from South Asian families in Britain, have been involved in forced marriages.

Forced marriage is a taboo, untouchable, and is performed secretly. The secret is revealed when the girl suddenly behaves strangely, gets isolated and is not doing well at school. She often breaks the silence and talks about her painful ordeal with a friend or some teacher at school. In this way, she unveils the bitter reality that is awaiting her. Once the forced marriage becomes known outside the family, the real fight starts. Zahia Hasan, chair of a women association; "Women's Voice" in France, and a victim of forced marriages says: " it is a painful experience, it was a nightmare for me for many years. I was deeply ashamed, I lied about my life and hid my misery"

Girls, who reveal the terrible secret outside family, often clash with their parents and leave home. They even feel ashamed and guilty of revealing the secret and having betrayed their families and relatives. Many young girls under a heavy family and community pressure undergo forced marriage because they don't want to lose their families and relatives. Forced marriage is their inevitable fate, because there is no government or social support network to protect their rights. Forced marriages are practiced in France, Britain, Scandinavian countries and among Turkish community in Germany.

Early marriage is another aspect of forced marriages. Girls, 15 or younger, undergo forced marriages, are considered as part - times wives, continue to live with their parents and go to school, living with their dark and heavy secret.

In most cases, these marriages end to divorce; according to statistics; two out of three. Rape, teenage pregnancy, disrupted education; nervous breakdown, neurological disorders and suicide are all fruits of forced marriages for young girls. But, their families insist that their act is decent and good for the girls. They defend it by referring to Islam and Islamic Law; according to which, a girl cannot marry without the consent of her father, and in the absence of her father, that of her paternal grandfather. These families, not only haven't been affected by the modern culture in Europe, but also are out of tune with the current situation in their countries of origin, where social and cultural norms and values have moved forward. By marrying their young girls in this way, Muslim parents try to block the integration of their daughters into the European life style. As a result, parents deprive their own children of enjoying the civil rights and individual freedom entitled to them. They harm their children physically, emotionally and psychologically.

Under French law, a forced marriage can be annulled if there has been lack of consent. But if the marriage ceremony is a customary one, the French courts cannot act. However, magistrates can intervene before a marriage takes place if an underage girl, who has broken with her family, is in physical danger.

Under the guise of respecting 'others' traditions and Islamic values, the legal system and authorities tend to overlook forced marriages. They say: "there are customs and religion, which are different from those, practiced here. It is not for us to judge these traditions and religion, unless the young girls are in physical danger and there should be proof for that."

Consider a young girl under legal age, undergoing the ordeal of a forced marriage, clashing with her family, without a legal help or a supporting social network, who must provide proof against her own parents in the court, in order to get rid of this nightmare. Isn't it inhumane and shameful? What is respectable in this misery imposed on these innocent young girls? What is respectable in destroying and wasting lives, hopes and dreams of these girls? And of course, both 'Western' and Eastern 'intellectuals', shamelessly, tell us that "to talk of forced marriages is an Euro - centric way of looking at things."

Young girls in Muslim inhabited communities in Europe are victims of tribal and Islamic values and traditions, as well as a racist treatment by government authorities, intellectuals and mainstream media. These girls are born and have grown up in European countries, and should be entitled to all rights and freedom like other European citizens. Forced marriages must be prohibited by law as rape; and mental and emotional damages to teenage girls.

Girls from Muslim families are not the belongings of their families; they should be treated as equal citizens. The governments and the legal system must protect them from the harm caused by their parents. Society is duty bound to help the victims of forced marriages to recover from the emotional, mental and physical damages they suffer.


”France Raises Age of Marriage for Women to 18,” Feminist Daily News Wire March 24, 2006.

French women will now need to be 18 years or older to consent to marry, three years older than previously required by law. The French parliament passed the law as a method of preventing forced marriages, reports Ireland Online, and the French standard is now aligned with other states that belong to the European Union.

Ireland Online also reports that the new law marks the first change to the legal age for marriage age since 1804, when Napoleon enacted his Napoleonic Code. For 200 years, women’s age of consent has been 15, while men’s has been 18. In addition to the marriage age, the law addresses marital rape and abuse. According to BBC, the French parliament is also passing laws to combat child pornography, female genital mutilation, and sex tourism.

Jon Henley, “France to scrap law that lets girls be married off at 15,” Guardian, 30 Mar. 2005.

The French parliament's upper house yesterday backed a proposal to raise the minimum age at which women may marry from 15 to 18, belatedly amending a century-old law that experts say encourages the misery of arranged marriages. "As it stands, French law on this point is archaic in the extreme," said Joelle Garriaud-Maylam, who submitted the bill. "It is discriminatory, but above all it represents a real danger for young girls who see marriages imposed on them that they are unable to challenge."

According to article 144 of France's civil or Napoleonic code, "The man who is not yet attained the age of 18, and the woman who is not yet 15, may not enter into wedlock." Like roughly half of the code's 2,281 articles, it has not changed since it came into force in March 1804.

In most western European countries, the minimum age for marriage is the same for both sexes, generally the age of majority. But many countries, including Britain, allow exceptions. Tunisia, Senegal and Morocco have modified their civil codes in recent years.

Civil rights lawyers in France have argued that its civil code breached the UN convention on the rights of the child, adopted in 1989 and ratified by Paris in 1990. Article two of that convention demands that signatories "take all appropriate measures to protect children from any form of discrimination".

A government advisory body, the high council on integration, estimated in 2003 that as many as 70,000 adolescents, almost all first or second-generation immigrants, were living in arranged marriages.

The justice ministry says its figures indicate some 1,200 minors were married in France in 2004, but admits that many more are taken abroad each year to wed someone they may never have met.

The amendment, approved by an overwhelming cross-party majority, is also backed by the justice minister, Dominique Perben, who said allowing girls to marry at 15 was "manifestly a false freedom".

Along with other changes to the antiquated Napoleonic code - including the belated recognition of the notion of marital rape - it should come into force before parliament's summer recess.

Great Britain

Camilla Cavendish, “With this ring I thee enslave,” Times Online, 31 Aug. 2006.

When so many women are being forced into marriage, why are there not more howls of protest?

WHERE HAVE ALL the feminists gone? Equality campaigners seem terribly busy wrangling over flexible working and who puts the rubbish out.

Few have much to say about women who have been transplanted into this country from cultures that regard them not as individuals but as possessions. Few have commented on 12-year-old Molly Campbell, abducted on Friday from the Hebrides and smuggled to Pakistan. Her mother’s decision to shelter in one of the most remote parts of the British Isles proved to be no protection against a father who was determined to assert his power, and possibly to force her into marriage. No doubt this little girl is torn by conflicting loyalties. Yet her abduction raises fundamental issues of equality that cannot be swept under the carpet to protect “cultural sensitivities”.

There is a new front in the fight for women’s freedom. It is in Bradford and in East London, where 90 per cent of the forced marriage cases handled by the Foreign Office originate. A team of diplomats at the British Embassy in Islamabad rescued 105 women last year. Yet the numbers in trouble are far higher. The charity Reunite, which helps victims of child abduction, dealt with 307 new cases involving 454 children last year, up by a fifth from the year before. Pakistani cases are increasing the most. A Foreign Office report on Bradford and Tower Hamlets points to the increasing numbers of young Pakistanis and Bangladeshis reaching marriageable age in this country. The mean age of the UK population is 40; the Pakistani community’s is 26 and the Bangladeshi community’s is 24.

Few are prepared to fight on this new front. There is the MP Ann Cryer and the actress Meera Syal; there are those who run refuges and helplines, such as the Southall Black Sisters and the Karma Nirvana Asian Women’s Project; and a few, lone, courageous individuals who have taken matters into their own hands. In the past year I have come across three teachers who have helped teenage pupils to escape from actual or threatened violence at home. Each seems to have been the only person the girls could confide in. Each has found the girl a refuge and tried to help her to start a new life.

But it is not easy. Even if you escape, you still have to hide. You still face the wrench of losing your family. None of these three can get council housing because they are deemed to have made themselves “intentionally homeless” by running away. Two live in fear of veangeful brothers who want revenge. Yet the social services want to “reconcile” them with their families, reinforcing the sense of guilt and shame they have at leaving. The suicide rate among young Asian women is more than three times the national average. Why is this not a mainstream campaigning issue?

The Government dropped plans to make forced marriage illegal in June, after the Muslim Council of Britain cautioned that it could be “another way to stigmatise our communities”, although it is not a practice supported by Islam or any other world religion. In July a Metropolitan Police commander reported that the decision not to make forced marriage a criminal offence had been taken by some community groups to mean that “it must be all right”.

Forcing defenceless women into marriage is not all right. It is rape, for a start. But nor is it the only problem faced by women who live closeted by male relatives and vulnerable to abuse. Government “outreach” does not extend to women who are illiterate and cannot read leaflets printed in Urdu. Some women cannot go to English language classes because their husbands, fathers, brothers will not give permission. I know of one Sure Start centre that has coaxed deprived Bangladeshi women to attend by presenting itself as a health centre. Their menfolk were reluctant to let them near a door marked “education”, but could be persuaded to let them seek health advice for their precious sons. But this kind of smart work is under the radar. Meanwhile, we deprive these women of the right to vote by introducing postal voting, so that their husbands can tick the box for them.

Such women are not easy recruits for the feminist lobby. Many of those in the first generation do not aspire to Western-style careers and notions of freedom. I found that out when I worked in Bangladesh, where uneducated women were often happy to be segregated, and my feminist ideals were met with polite incomprehension. Some more educated women also have conflicting emotions and resist being patronised. There is an enormous gulf here that does indeed call for sensitivity. The statistic that only two in ten Bangladeshi and Pakistani women in Britain are in paid work, for example, has to be handled carefully. For some, that is a choice. But that cannot be an excuse for depriving women of opportunities.

The irony is that some of our most talented aid workers are in Bangladesh and Pakistan, patiently working to provide women with education and opportunity. Some of their skills are needed here: a Tower Hamlets estate may look nothing like a Mirpuri village, but it can be just as isolating.

The few charities that are giving refuge to such women need help. They need access to council housing, they need more advocates to befriend and support girls who have left home for the first time. The MCB has condemned forced marriage. It has also opposed criminalising the practice. Why doesn’t it use its influence and financial muscle to support the charities working in the neighbourhoods where we know the problems exist? That would send a very powerful signal, and one that could not be dismissed as cultural imperialism.

The cultural questions are complex. But the feminist cause is clear. Every woman should have the right to move freely. No woman should suffer violence. Every woman should be able to say “no”. This is every bit as important as Edwardian emancipation, a cause for which some — remember? — gave their very lives.

"U.K: Forced marriage law 'not needed,'" Women in the Middle East, Vol. 44, July to August 2006.

The Home Office has decided a specific law to ban forced marriages in the UK is not needed. Ministers had asked groups and individuals if there should be a law criminalising the act of forcing someone into marriage.

Most thought the disadvantages of a new law would outweigh the advantages, and possibly drive the practice of forced marriages underground. The Home Office will put forward three recommendations to stop the practice.

These included better training for those who work in this field and "engaging more with communities". It also called for an increase in the work done with statutory agencies in sharing best practice and implementing guidelines.

The third recommendation was to ensure that existing legislation was fully implemented, including making better use of civil remedies and the family courts. Home Office minister Baroness Scotland said: "Forced marriage is an abuse of human rights and a form of domestic violence which cannot be justified on religious or cultural grounds. In the future, we will continue to provide information and assistance both to potential victims and to concerned professionals.

At present, anyone found guilty of forcing someone into marriage can be prosecuted for kidnap, false imprisonment or rape. About 300 forced marriages are reported to the authorities every year - often involving people from Britain's South Asian community. In most cases young women are pressured into marrying, but at least 15% involve coercion of men.

The Southall Black Sisters, a group which campaigns against domestic violence, says it believes that young people will not report their parents for fear of criminalising them. Pragna Patel, chair of the group, told Radio 4 that existing laws were sufficient.

"We don't see the need for criminalisation of forced marriage, which is yet another way of stereotyping and criminalising entire communities at a time when there is heightened racism in this country."

The government has made it clear that it is not attacking the idea of arranged marriages - a popular practice in South Asian communities - when both bride and groom give their consent. Ministers have said that they recognise the problem is not exclusively South Asian. BBC News, Islamabad

”Forced marriages targeted, BBC News, 14 May 2003.

The raising of the age at which a person can apply for a spouse from outside the European Union to be allowed to live in Britain has been criticised by groups representing UK Muslims.

The change, introduced by Home Secretary David Blunkett last month, means British 16- and 17-year-olds will now have to wait until they are 18 before they can invite their husband or wife to live in the UK.

The minimum age a spouse from outside the EU has to be before they can take up residence in Britain remains 16.

The move is being seen as a response to widespread concern about schoolgirls being forced into marriages with men from their parents' home countries, who go their own way once they have been granted residency in the UK.

"This provision will stop young girls being pressured into marriage when they are 16 or 17 years old, " said a Home Office spokesman.

"At 18 they are more able to resist parental pressure and are likely to be much more confident of their own decisions about whether they want to get married to someone living abroad whom they might never have met."

But the age increase has angered many Muslims in Britain's Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities, who see it as an attack on the tradition of arranged marriages.

The secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, Iqbal Sacranie, said the measure was ill-conceived

"There has to be consistency as far as legislation is concerned," he said.


"This is creating two sets of rules, depending on where the person you've married who wants to live in Britain comes from.

"If there is clear evidence that there are young people under the age of 18 who appear to be involved in forced marriages, then one has to look at how best this can be prevented.

"The government may be trying to address the problem but this is going to end up penalising many people in genuine marriages."

Mr Sacranie also criticised the government for what he said was a lack of consultation over the changes.

But the Home Office spokesman said consultation had taken place.

"These changes were included in a White Paper published in February last year, entitled Securing Borders, Safe Havens, and we had a lot of responses to it from various groups," he said.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Reader, She Married Him – Alas,” Oh, to be in England, Spring 1995, Vol. 5, No. 2.

A 16-year-old Muslim girl was referred to me because she had started to wet the bed at night. She was accompanied by her father, an unskilled factory worker of Pakistani origin, and was beautifully dressed in satins and chiffon, her ankles and wrists covered with gold bangles and bracelets. Her father was reluctant to let me speak to her on her own but at my insistence eventually permitted me to do so.

I realized at once that she was both highly intelligent and deeply unhappy, Because of my experience in such cases, it took little time to discover the source of her unhappiness.

Her father had decided that she was to marry in a couple of months' time a man—a cousin—of whom she knew nothing. She, on the other hand, wished to continue her education, to study English literature at university and eventually to become a journalist. Although she controlled herself well—in the circumstances, heroically—there was absolutely no mistaking the passionate intensity of her wishes or of her despair. Her father, though, knew nothing of them: she had never dared tell him, because he was likely then to lock her in the house and forbid her ever to leave, except under close escort. As far as he was concerned, education, career, or choice of husbands was not for girls.

She saw her future life stretch endlessly before her, married to a man she did not love, performing thankless domestic drudgery not only for him but for her in-laws, who, according to custom, would live with them, while always dreaming of the wider world of which she had caught so brief and tantalizing a glimpse at school.

I interviewed her father, also on his own. I asked him what he thought was wrong with his daughter.

"Nothing," he replied. "She is happy, normal girl. Only she is wetting the bed."

There was nothing I could do, other than to prescribe medication. Had I tried to interfere, I could easily have precipitated an extreme reaction on his part. The girl's fears of being locked up were by no means exaggerated or absurd. I have known many instances of girls such as she who were imprisoned in their homes, sometimes for years, by their relatives; there is even a special unit of the local police dedicated to rescuing them, once information has been laid that they are being held at home against their will.

Not that fleeing the parental home is necessarily an answer for a girl in such a situation, for a number of reasons. First, her own feelings towards her parents are likely to be highly ambivalent: family bonds are extremely strong and not easily broken. The daughters love and respect their parents, whom they normally honor and obey, even though the parents inflict upon them a future which will cause nothing but the most prolonged and unutterable misery. The parents are not neglectful and incompetent, like those from the white underclass: according to their lights, they are highly solicitous for what they consider the good of their daughters.

Moreover, the "community" will condemn the girl who runs away and regard her, quite literally, as a prostitute. Since these girls are not fully integrated into the rest of British society and have hitherto led very sheltered lives, they have nowhere to go and nobody to turn to.

In the parents' scale of values, the respect of the community comes higher than the individual happiness of their offspring and indeed is a precondition of it. The need for this respect does encourage a certain standard of conduct, but it depends upon the offspring carrying out without demur the obligations laid upon them by the parents. Thus, once a marriage has been arranged, it is indissoluble—at least by the woman. I have known many young women who have been mercilessly and brutally treated by their husbands, but whose own parents recommended that they put up with the ill-treatment rather than bring public shame upon the whole family by separating from him.

A young patient of mine tried to hang herself. She had had an arranged marriage, but on the wedding night her husband had come to the doubtless mistaken conclusion that she was not a virgin and had administered a severe beating, of which the rest of his family naturally approved. Thereafter he locked her up, beat her regularly, and burned her with a cigarette lighter. She managed to run away, though her husband had said in advance that if ever he caught her doing so, or after having done so, he would kill her, to pay her back for the loss of face she would have caused him in the community. She returned to her mother, who, horrified by her behavior, said she should return to her husband at once (even if he were going to kill her), in order to preserve the good name of the family. Her other daughters would be unmarriageable if it became known in the community that this was the kind of conduct to which the family was prone. If my patient did not return to her husband, she—her mother—would commit suicide. Torn between the threatened suicide of her mother and the prospect of murder by her husband, she took to the rope.

In my quarter of the city, there are private detective agencies that specialize in locating immigrant girls who have run away from their husbands or parents. Once they are found, they are likely to be kidnapped by relatives or vigilantes—an experience which several of my patients have lived through. It is surprising how little reaction bundling someone off the street and driving away with him or her in a car causes nowadays—people do not wish to involve themselves in problems not their own. And the police are generally less than vigorous in their investigation of such cases, for fear of being criticized as racist.


British Home Office, “India,” Country of Origin Information Report, 2006.

6.406 According to a World Bank document, “Terror as a Bargaining Instrument: A Case study of Dowry violence in rural India, 2002: “In India marriage is almost never a matter of choice for women, but is driven almost entirely by social norms and parental preferences.” [55] (p1)

6.407 The report commissioned by the Office of the United Nations Resident Co-ordinator in India in 2001 entitled “Women in India How Free? How Equal?” notes that:

“Legally the minimum age for marriage in India is 18 for women and 21 for men, but this law is honoured more in the breach. Close to 60% of women in rural India were married before the age of 18, when they were still adolescents – and this is in a sample of women in the age group of 20-24 years, not the ‘older generation’ where this may have been the norm. The fact that the legal provisions for compulsory registration of births and marriages are seldom enforced, allows the prohibition against child marriage to be flouted with impunity.” ...

6.414 As reported in a BBC news item dated 11 May 2005, it was claimed that a woman was attacked for trying to stop child marriages in Madhya Pradesh. Authorities launched an inquiry. The practice of child marriages is illegal but some rural children are still forcibly married. Akha Teej is an auspicious Hindu day traditionally used in some rural areas as the date for child marriages. The Chief Minister Babualal Gaur, said of the practice, ‘It is not possible to stop it. Have we been able to end alcoholism or untouchability? If Gandhi could not succeed in this, how can Babulal Gaur?’ Child marriages in India are illegal for girls under 18 and boys under 21 and authorities in many areas have taken steps to prevent marriages on Akha Teej. There has been a large public awareness campaign in Rajasthan. Indian television reported the number of child marriages to be down this year [2005] following tough police measures. (Parents, owners of the premises and the priest conducting the ceremony can all be arrested). [32im]

6.415 “Child marriage was the norm among certain scheduled castes and tribal communities in the Krishnagiri district of Tamil Nadu. Brides were typically between the ages of 8 and 12 years of age, while the groom was generally much older. According to the 1999 national Family Health Survey, 64.3 percent of women in Andhra Pradesh, 46.3 percent in Karnataka, 24.9 percent in Tamil Nadu, and 17 percent in Kerala were married before the age of 18.” As reported in the 2005 USSD report.

Catherine Philp, “Child bride wins divorce at 14 and goes back to school,” The Times, 25 June 2005.

AN INDIAN child, married off against her will at the age of 12, has won a battle to have her two-year marriage annulled so that she can return to school.

Chenigall Suseela, from a tiny village in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, is one of the few child brides to have fought and won a battle against the ancient practice of underage marriage in the state.

Village elders, the keepers of village law, granted her wish only after she went to police, threatened to commit suicide and finally enlisted the help of a child-protection organisation that usually rescues child labourers to return them to school.

Suseela, who was born into an impoverished low-caste Untouchable family, was married two years ago to a 15-year-old boy in a neighbouring village in Rangareddy district. The match had been made years earlier by their parents.

She left her family and moved in with his, but six months ago she went to the police to seek help against her husband, whom she accused of abusing her. However, elders on both sides opposed her demand for separation, saying that local Hindu customs forbade it.

Marriage is illegal under the ages of 18 for girls and 21 for boys, but the practice is still common in rural parts of India, particularly in the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. Few marriages in India are formally registered and religious ceremonies are regarded as socially if not legally binding, even when the spouses are under age. Unable to get a legal separation, Suseela’s only recourse was to seek the elders’ help.

When they refused, she returned to her village anyway and threatened to commit suicide if they forced her to go back to her husband’s home. She demanded the right to return to education and sought the help of the MV Foundation for child labourers.

Her parents eventually admitted that they were wrong to have married her off without her consent. Last week the elders of the two villages met the young couple and their families and pronounced them divorced. A document was signed by both parties and witnessed by foundation activists and a police officer, annulling the marriage and requiring the groom to return the valuables, including gold and cash, that were given as dowry at their marriage.

More than 200,000 minors are believed to be married off in rural India every year, many of them in mass ceremonies on two astrologically auspicious days. Brides can even be toddlers and are usually returned to their families after the ceremony, but those approaching or having reached puberty are usually sent straight to the grooms’ homes.

Police rarely stop the marriages, and efforts to raise awareness or intervene in ceremonies are usually left to social activists, often at great personal risk to themselves.

In 1992 an activist in Rajasthan was gang-raped when she tried to stop a child marriage. Earlier this year another had her hands cut off with a sword by the irate father of two young girls who was trying to marry them off.

”Reluctant Bride ... Epitomize[s] Woman's Lot In India,” Associated Press, 15 May 2003.

NOIDA, India (AP)--The music played, drinks were served and the priest prepared for the wedding, as 2,000 guests waited on the sprawling lawn for the beautiful young bride to walk in for the ceremony.

That was when Nisha Sharma, dressed in the shimmering red dress of a Hindu bride, was calling the police, demanding they arrest her husband-to-be.

… for most Indian women, life is one long curse, starting at birth.

In the northern city of Noida, just outside the Indian capital of New Delhi, 21-year-old Sharma refused to marry after the groom's family allegedly demanded a huge dowry and humiliated her father.

On Monday, police arrested the bridegroom, Munish Dalal, 25, and charged him under India's dowry prohibition law, which has been amended several times to make it tougher but is still little enforced.

In calling off her marriage, Sharma defied a centuries-old tradition in a nation of more than 1 billion people, where many parents prefer sons and rarely give their daughters equal treatment.

"With my voice, I hope many girls will stand with me," Sharma said in an interview Wednesday, still wearing intricate henna designs on her hands and feet, the mark of a Hindu bride. "I am proud of myself because I have done something really great for others."

And something so rare that the 21-year-old software engineering student has become an overnight celebrity, made more so by her classic beauty and self-confidence.

"This young girl has brought about a revolution. She is a heroine," said Vandana Sharma of the Women's Empowerment Committee, a volunteer group.

"She really is a kind of role model for a lot of young women today," said Dr. Ranjana Kumari, director of the Center for Social Research in New Delhi. "She has shown her rejection of a custom that would chain her for all her life." …

… all [Nisha] regrets from her unhappy wedding experience is the humiliation suffered by her father. An amateur video taken by one guest shows the groom's family and friends pushing businessman Dev Dutt Sharma and calling him names.

"My father was pushed and slapped and they spit in his face," said Sharma. She only knew Dalal, a computer teacher, for two months. His widowed mother had responded to a matrimonial ad placed by Sharma's parents, a modern means of finding a spouse for the age-old tradition of arranged marriage.

Minutes before the ceremony was to begin, the family of the groom reportedly asked her father for 1.2 million rupees ($1=47.135) in cash, apart from the many expensive gifts offered to the groom's family under the marriage arrangement - including a new car, two refrigerators, two television sets and two cooking ranges.

"They had asked for everything in two sets. One for the groom. One for the brother. My father somehow did it. But when he said he could not give cash, they started humiliating him," said Sharma, in her modest, middle-class home, where boxes of appliances and hundreds of uneaten boxes of wedding sweets were stacked up high.

"My experience should be a lesson for all women. It should also be a lesson for all men," said Sharma, who has made headlines throughout India , while several political parties try to woo her into their ranks.

If Sharma had not had her fiance arrested, she may have met a different fate. In India , thousands of brides are killed each year - most often burned alive in supposedly accidental kitchen fires - when their families refuse or are late on dowry payments.

There were nearly 7,000 dowry deaths nationwide in 2001, the most recent statistics, according to Kumari. Many more dowry murders are believed to go unreported, and police in New Delhi say deaths and violence over dowry demands have risen dramatically in the last year.

Kumari of New Delhi's Center for Social Research blames it on a growing culture of greed as India's markets offer more foreign goods that the younger generation wants but cannot afford.

"These boys are grabbing everything they can get," she said. "Greed is the culture and more girls are becoming the victims."

Even after his heartbreak, the bride's father is experiencing a somewhat happy ending - many offers for his daughter's hand. "I am trying to choose from among them," he said.

And what does the outspoken Nisha Sharma want?

"Whatever my father and uncles choose for me."

IND37926.E, “India: the Police Reaction/Protection Afforded a Muslim Woman who Refuses Her Family’s Plan for an Arranged Marriage and Whose Family is Using Violence in order to Gain Her Compliance,” 9 November 2001.

Legally, a woman’s consent is essential in order for a marriage, arranged or not, to be valid. However, in such a situation, legalities may not have much force at the community level. The police protection accorded a woman who is seeking to avoid an arranged marriage would vary greatly depending on many factors, including the status of the woman’s family and the status of the intended spouse. As well, whether the woman is from a rural area or a city may also determine police reaction; in a rural setting it may be much more difficult for a woman to avoid an arranged marriage. Although much would be dependent on the woman’s level of education and her economic dependence on her family, a woman would have slim chances of defying her family’s wishes.

More than police protection, which would offer only a short-term solution, a woman in such a situation would need legal protection. Furthermore, the police would most likely side with the family, meaning that police protection would be negligible or non-existent. Ultimately, rather than the state legal system or state law enforcement agencies, community norms and sanctions would likely hold greater authority. In India, family pressure for conformity in such matters like marriage is “overwhelming” and very difficult to challenge. Lack of education, economic and financial; vulnerability, social and community pressures, systematic gender discrimination and general lack of access to the justice system, all ensure that women have little choice in marriage partners.


"Pakistan," DOS Report 2005.

While prohibited by law, the practice of buying and selling brides continued in rural areas. Women are legally free to marry without family consent, but women who did so were often ostracized or were the victims of honor crimes.

Nadeem Saeed, ”Defying child marriage custom,” BBC News, 24 Nov. 2005.

She was married to a man from a rival clan at the age of 10 to settle a family dispute.

"All I remember is that my mother cried a lot," says Amna, now nearly 20 years old.

Amna is one of three sisters fighting for their freedom from a tribal tradition in Pakistan in which they have no say.

The three - along with two cousins - were married under 'vani' - a tribal tradition whereby disputes are settled through 'marrying' girls from the offending family to men from the supposedly aggrieved clan.

The marriages were ordered by a village council (jirga).

The custom was outlawed by the national government in January - but it still flourishes in many parts of the country.

Police officials say that families resorting to vani for settling their disputes often keep such deals secret - making it difficult for law enforcers to intervene.

She may have understood little at the age of 10, but in time Amna came to realise the enormity of what had happened to her.

Her 'husband' had asked that Amna be sent to live with him when she had finished her degree.

But along with her younger sisters - Abida and Sajida - Amna has chosen to resist.

Amna comes from the village of Sultanwala - a typical settlement in the backwaters of the highly conservative district of Mianwali.

She has enrolled for a Master's degree in English - a rarity in that part of the world for a woman. As rare as resisting the custom of vani.

When the three sisters decided to resist the custom of vani, a group of men allegedly sent by their husbands stormed the village.

The resulting gun battle left two of their cousins seriously injured.

The sisters asked the local authorities for protection.

"But to this day, we have none. The men who attacked my cousins are still roaming free," says Amna.


Amna's troubles began when her uncle was alleged to have to murdered someone from a neighbouring clan.

The aggrieved party asked for the five girls in marriage in order to forgive and forget the murder.

Her father, Amna says, was powerless at the time to stop the deal.

But he chose a novel defence - he decided to educate his girls so they could fight the tradition themselves.

"It was primarily his support that encouraged us to raise our voice," she says.

"Sajida is my father's favourite and the most outspoken among us.

"But all of us had vowed that even if our father buckled under pressure, we would rather commit suicide than to go with our husbands."

One can sense her resentment when she talks about the village maulvi (cleric) who performed the child marriage ceremony.

"He should have known that Islam does not permit such practices," she says.

And she is convinced that her only ally in this dangerous situation is education.

Her village has two schools but they are used, in her words, "to keep cattle".

That was why her father, Jehan Khan Niazi, an accounts officer with a local government department, took her girls to the neighbouring district of Khushab for their schooling.

"I had no option at the time I agreed to give my daughters in vani," Mr Niazi told the BBC.

"The village council gave me only five minutes to decide and that too under the shadow of a gun," he says.

"Even the maulvi told me that the only way to save our lives was to accept the decision of the jirga. Maybe I was a coward, what else can I say?"

Meanwhile, Amna says her family are in peril.

"But I would rather die than to succumb to this mindless and cruel custom."

Declan Walsh, “Rough justice of the elders,” Guardian, 13 May 2005.

Chewing on a biscuit and gurgling with laughter, two-year-old Rabia plays with her brothers outside their mud-walled farmhouse. The barefoot toddler flashes a smile as her first words tumble out. But that innocence will be shortlived if local elders have their way, because Rabia is already promised in marriage - to a man 38 years her senior.

A village court determined her fate after her uncle, Muhammad Akmal, was accused of sleeping with another man's wife. After an hour-long deliberation, the elders found him guilty and fined him 230,000 rupees ($4,000). They also ordered him to marry his niece to the wronged man, 40-year-old Altaf Hussain, once she passed her 14th birthday.

Rabia's mother, Maqsood Mai, who is separated from her husband, had no say in the matter. But her other uncles were furious.

"This is a terrible crime," said Muhammad Nawaz, sitting outside the house in southern Punjab. He vowed to move the family before Rabia could be taken away. "This is the first time in the history of our tribe such a thing happened."

But Mr Nawaz is wrong. Although village courts are illegal, they still hold a powerful sway in rural Pakistan, and verdicts that target the innocent - particularly women - are common.

Poor farmers still turn to informal justice systems, known variously as jirgas or panchayats, to settle disputes about land, honour and money. The courts have many attractions. In contrast with the plodding, expensive and often corrupt public courts, a panchayat can be convened at a few hours' notice in a house or under a tree. The gathered elders act quickly, cost little, and are unequivocal in their judgments.

But the justice rendered is often rough, say human rights activists, who say panchayats favour the rich, fuel old notions of bloody revenge, and perpetuate feudal inequalities.

"They nearly always decide in favour of the most powerful," said Rashid Rehman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan in the southern city of Multan. "In these areas the people are living in the 16th century. And still the state is sleeping. Why?"

Panchayat decisions can be as bizarre as they are cruel. A panchayat in Lodhran district last year ordered seven women to divorce their husbands, in an effort to end a feud between two clans. Their 25 children were handed over to the fathers.

In another case, a woman claimed by two rival men had her fate decided by the flip of a coin. Panchayats are also central to the phenomenon of karo kari, or honour killings.

Oxfam estimates that between 1,200 and 1,800 women are murdered by their relatives every year in the name of preserving family honour. Many killings are sanctioned by village courts.

The most notorious "honour" case of recent years concerned Mukhtaran Bibi, a 29-year-old Punjabi woman who in 2002 was gang-raped on the orders of her local panchayat. She became an international human rights heroine when, in defiance of local custom, she confronted her attackers in court and had six men sentenced to death. But an appeal court sparked an outcry by freeing the convicted men, citing flaws in the original prosecution. Now the supreme court has said it will decide the matter.

But Mukhtaran Bibi's is an exceptional case - most panchayats go entirely unscrutinised. The weak writ of government in remote rural areas allows rough justice to thrive, according to Mr Rehman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. "It's a story of two countries. People in towns can access modern institutions, but those in the countryside live in a semi-tribal system."

In Kutcha Chohan, the nearest police station is 40km away and the nearest lawyer's office 100km distant. Police patrols pass by only once a fortnight, residents say, and legal fees are too expensive for poor labourers.

"If a person wants speedy justice, the courts are a waste of time and money," said Muhammad Hussain Tahir, a neighbour of two-year-old Rabia. In contrast, he said panchayats were decisive and could avert violence between sparring families.

"Their verdicts are mostly good. Maybe they make a mistake 5% of the time," he said.

Rabia's case has provoked a storm of controversy in Kutcha Chohan. The district police officer, Maqsood ul Hassan, said the marriage deal had taken place. But it was a simple case of arranged marriage, he said, "so no law has been broken".

Last month President Pervez Musharraf repeated his message of "enlightened moderation" to curb Islamist and tribal extremism. But critics say he has failed to introduce real reform.

Tribe orders adulterer to marry off child,” Vancouver Sun, 22 February 2005.

MULTAN, Pakistan. – A Pakistan village council has punished a 20-year-old man for adultery by ordering the betrothal of his two-year-old niece to the husband of the woman with whom he had the alleged affair, police said on Monday.

… the woman’s husband has since divorced his wife.

Police said that the council in Kacha Chohan village, about 350 kilometres west of Punjab province’s major city of Multan, decreed that the two-year-old girl would be married to Mohammed Altaf when she turns 18.

Altaf, a 42-year-old farmer, divorced his 32-year-old wife over her alleged love affair with Akmal, and then asked elders to convene the panchayat or council, on Feb. 15 to arbitrate in the dispute and propose a punishment. …

Village councils in conservative rural parts of Pakistan traditionally rule on local disputes, such as when a family’s “honour” is purportedly besmirched by allegations of love affairs. The councils can dictate harsh – and sometimes illegal – punishments.

In 2002, another village council near Multan ordered a woman to be gang-raped as punishment for her brother’s sexual relations with another woman.

Rory McCarthy, “'I was sold to a man ... is this Islam?'” Guardian, 29 Jan. 2001.

Pakistan's military ruler has failed to combat the murder of women who resist forced marriages

Shehnaz Akhtar did not want to marry her cousin. But a woman of 25 from a poor family living deep in the Punjabi farmlands of Pakistan is rarely allowed to choose her husband.

This month her parents decided she must marry Tajammul, a relative she knew but did not like, who was willing to pay 20,000 rupees (£250) for their daughter. Shehnaz was forced to sign the marriage certificate, but in secret she wrote a letter begging the high court in Lahore for help.

"In the days before Islam girls were buried alive, now they are sold like sheep and goats," she wrote. "I have been sold to a man I never wanted to live with. What kind of Islam is this?

"I am a very unlucky woman who has been thrown to the wolves. My marriage was cruel and arbitrary."

Exceptionally, Judge Khawaja Sharif agreed, and last week he ordered armed police to take Shehnaz from her family home to a refuge for women. "Marriage cannot be imposed on an adult woman against her free will," he said.

In much of Pakistan, marriage clearly is imposed on women against their will. Those brave enough to complain to the courts or run from their homes are hunted down by their families and forced to return or, all too frequently, murdered to restore a distorted sense of honour. The police usually turn a blind eye.

Honour killings

General Pervez Musharraf, the army chief who seized power 15 months ago, promised to end to these "honour killings." Yet in the past year the number reported in the Punjab alone jumped from 432 to more than 500.

"Women are treated as property and there is a perception that honour stems from the woman in the household," said Kamila Hyat, joint director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

"Gen Musharraf may genuinely believe this shouldn't happen, but he has shown no clear will to stop it. He needs to change tradition, and tradition is one of the hardest things to change."

Shehnaz is apart from her husband now, but her new life is far from ideal and she remains in considerable danger.

The judge sent her to Dar-ul Aman, a privately owned, rundown refuge in Lahore where 75 women live behind locked, steel gates, unable to leave the compound and in constant fear of their families' vengeance. Shehnaz is not allowed visitors, apart from her lawyer, and she and the other women seem to be mainly confined to their rooms. Husbands, fathers and male cousins gather menacingly by the gate.

"The inmates don't like to leave this institution, because their lives are in danger," said Zubaida Khatoon, who supervises the shelter. "If they leave people may murder them."

Some human rights workers are very concerned about this and seven government-run shelters in Punjab. "They call it a shelter, but it is actually like a prison," Ms Hyat said. More than 700 women have passed through the grey metal gates of Dar-ul Aman in the past year.

Despite some previous court rulings similar to the one in Shehnaz's case, support for women who escape brutal marriages is still limited.

Another victim, Tahira Bibi, believes she can live in safety only if she leaves the country. After her first husband died 15 years ago her parents forced her into three engagements. Each time the selected groom paid her family, once with land and twice with 15,000 rupees (£190) in cash, before her parents broke the engagement off.

Then, at the age of 35, Tahira Bibi fell in love with a school tutor, and married him, against her parents' wishes. "My brother and my cousin kidnapped me and tortured me for two months. They hit me with a stick. Then they forced my husband to sign divorce papers," she said.

Now she lives with 34 women in Dastak, a shelter set up in a secret location in Lahore by Pakistan's most prominent sisters, the human rights workers Hina Jilani and Asma Jehangir.


Many of the women need medical care and psychological counselling, but they are free to leave the house by day to work or shop for their children, if they wish.

One woman, Razia, was forced into a marriage when she was 13 and regularly beaten and locked in a room by her husband. "He said if I told anyone he would kill me," she said.

After a beating late one night she broke down, poured kerosene over her head and set herself alight. "I felt that death was better than this life," she said. Her husband quickly divorced her and married again.


”Gypsy king's daughter is sad child bride,” BBC News, 29 March 2003.

The school-age daughter of a Romanian gypsy (Roma) king has married a 15-year-old bridegroom.

Ana-Maria Cioaba, whose age has been reported as either 12 or 14, stormed off at one point during the ceremony at Sibiu in central Romania, shouting at reporters to leave her alone.

But she was persuaded to return by her family and went through with the wedding to Birita Mihai, himself from a wealthy Roma family.

Reports say Ana-Maria had been promised as his bride when she was aged seven, for the price of 500 gold coins.

Correspondents say the wedding is technically illegal under Romanian law, where girls must be at least 16.

But the practice of school-age marriages remains common in the Roma community, and the Romanian authorities normally turn a blind eye.

Ana-Maria's father, Florin Cioaba, is one of a handful of self-proclaimed Roma kings in Romania.

Observers said the young bride looked sad and sullen during the ceremony.

"She has been crying all day, but the marriage ceremony will go ahead with or without her," said a family adviser, Dana Cherendea, after the bride had stormed out, and hinted that the girl might receive a beating for her defiance.

"Ana-Maria did not have any say over this marriage. It is something that was decided when she was seven," her aunt Luminita Cioaba, told AFP news agency.

"Sometimes the gypsy traditions are very hard, even unfair," she added.

A cousin of Ana-Maria said some Roma women were beginning to reject the custom of arranged marriages.

"I don't want to marry, I am choosy and I have refused several marriage partners my parents presented to me," said 17-year-old Gabriela Mihai.

Ana-Maria herself appeared to reject the marriage.

"What marriage?" she said after the ceremony, as her 12 bridesmaids chanted, "Out with Birita!"

The ceremony was being followed by a three-day party for 400 guests. The feast included 12 suckling pigs and thousands of bottles of wine.

"This is a happy day for the royal household - my youngest daughter is getting married," said Mr Cioaba.

Official figures say more than 550,000 Roma live in Romania, but the real number is believed to be more than 1.5 million. Romania has a population of 22 million.

More than 200 guests attended the wedding at a Pentecostal church.


TUR43000.E, “Turkey: Forced marriage in Turkey…,” 28 Sept. 2004. Immigration and Refugee Board, Ottawa, ON.

Forced marriages

A 2004 Amnesty International (AI) report on violence against women in Turkey indicates the following distinction between forced and arranged marriages:

Forced marriage, in contrast to arranged marriage, has been described as 'any marriage conducted without the valid consent of both parties and [which] may involve coercion, mental abuse, emotional blackmail, and intense family or social pressure. In the most extreme cases, it may also involve physical violence, abuse, abduction, detention, and murder of the individual concerned' (2 June 2004).

Based on research in the eastern and southeastern regions of Turkey, WWHR reported that 50.8 per cent of women "were married without their consent although the consent of both the woman and the man is a precondition for marriage according to Turkish Law" (Apr. 2002). Corroborating information on the prevalence of forced marriage in Turkey could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Amnesty International characterizes forced marriage as a form of violence against women by family members, that takes various expressions within Turkish Society: "early marriage, berdel (the barter of women to avoid paying dowries and other marriage expenses) and besik kertmesi (a form of arranged marriage in which families barter newborn daughters, forcing them to marry as soon as they are considered old enough)" (2 June 2004).

Young girls living in rural areas, specifically in eastern Anatolia, face difficulties, in trying to oppose forced marriage since under tribal custom they are considered the property of either their father before marriage or by their husband afterwards and if they resist social pressure from the community, "they do so at their peril" (MEI 11 Jan.2002). Similarly, according to one of the leaders of WWHR, rural women are likely to be marginalized in the context of changes induced by the new Civil Code, including the raising of the legal age for marriage to 18, as they "must contend with traditions and customs, [including underage marriage] that have little to do with the legislative revisions their urban sisters enjoy" (Women's Enews 13 Jan. 2002).

However, an article published by the London-based non-governmental organization Panos Institute in January 2002, indicated that child marriage did not exist only in "Turkey's conservative heartland". The same article reported "the story of a school in the Europeanised west of the country where more than 20 girls aged between 10 and 13 had been married off in exchange for bride price" that took place just after the new Civil Code took effect (Panos 4 Jan.2002). Middle East International (MEI) reported in January 2002 that many arrests were made by the authorities of the Western province of Aydin after finding that a large group of girls between ages 10 and 14 were being deprived of schooling due to forced early marriages (11 Jan. 2002).

According to Amnesty International, early marriages are tied to the level of education of a girl as well as to the economic situation of her family: "The lower her family's income and her level of education, the more likely she is to be forced into an early marriage" (AI 2 June 2004). This information could not be corroborated by sources consulted by the Research Directorate.

Amnesty International pointed out that forced marriages can also be a means to get a remission in cases of sexual assault, rape or abduction (2 June 2004). Prohibiting such practice was part of the debate around the draft revised Turkish Penal Code (AI 2 June 2004; BBC 15 Sept. 2004). In a analysis of the new Turkish Penal Code draft Law, WWHR calls on Turkish authorities to suppress Articles 326 (Active Penitence and Mitigating Circumstances) and 327 (Active Penitence Necessitating the Suspension of Criminal Proceedings or the Sentence) from the draft Law as they would allow such a practice to continue (2003).

Opposing forced marriage can lead to death (AI 2 June 2004). A high rate of suicide is reported among young girls forced into marriages (Country Reports 2003 25 Fe. 2004; Sec.4).


The Global Persecution of Women