10 Jun 2011

Forced marriage of children is widespread but some child brides are fighting back against powerful religions and traditions

National Geographic - June 2011

Too Young to Wed

The secret world of child brides

By Cynthia Gorney

Because the wedding was illegal and a secret, except to the invited guests, and because marriage rites in Rajasthan are often conducted late at night, it was well into the afternoon before the three girl brides in this dry farm settlement in the north of India began to prepare themselves for their sacred vows. They squatted side by side on the dirt, a crowd of village women holding sari cloth around them as a makeshift curtain, and poured soapy water from a metal pan over their heads. Two of the brides, the sisters Radha and Gora, were 15 and 13, old enough to understand what was happening. The third, their niece Rajani, was 5. She wore a pink T-shirt with a butterfly design on the shoulder. A grown-up helped her pull it off to bathe.

The grooms were en route from their own village, many miles away. No one could afford an elephant or the lavishly saddled horses that would have been ceremonially correct for the grooms' entrance to the wedding, so they were coming by car and were expected to arrive high-spirited and drunk. The only local person to have met the grooms was the father of the two oldest girls, a slender gray-haired farmer with a straight back and a drooping mustache. This farmer, whom I will call Mr. M, was both proud and wary as he surveyed guests funneling up the rocky path toward the bright silks draped over poles for shade; he knew that if a nonbribable police officer found out what was under way, the wedding might be interrupted mid-ceremony, bringing criminal arrests and lingering shame to his family.

Rajani was Mr. M's granddaughter, the child of his oldest married daughter. She had round brown eyes, a broad little nose, and skin the color of milk chocolate. She lived with her grandparents. Her mother had moved to her husband's village, as rural married Indian women are expected to do, and this husband, Rajani's father, was rumored to be a drinker and a bad farmer. The villagers said it was the grandfather, Mr. M, who loved Rajani most; you could see this in the way he had arranged a groom for her from the respectable family into which her aunt Radha was also being married. This way she would not be lonely after her gauna, the Indian ceremony that marks the physical transfer of a bride from her childhood family to her husband's. When Indian girls are married as children, the gauna is supposed to take place after puberty, so Rajani would live for a few more years with her grandparents—and Mr. M had done well to protect this child in the meantime, the villagers said, by marking her publicly as married.

These were things we learned in a Rajasthan village during Akha Teej, a festival that takes place during the hottest months of spring, just before the monsoon rains, and that is considered an auspicious time for weddings. We stared miserably at the 5-year-old Rajani as it became clear that the small girl in the T-shirt, padding around barefoot and holding the pink plastic sunglasses someone had given her, was also to be one of the midnight ceremony's brides. The man who had led us to the village, a cousin to Mr. M, had advised us only that a wedding was planned for two teenage sisters. That in itself was risky to disclose, as in India girls may not legally marry before age 18. But the techniques used to encourage the overlooking of illegal weddings—neighborly conspiracy, appeals to family honor—are more easily managed when the betrothed girls have at least reached puberty. The littlest daughters tend to be added on discreetly, their names kept off the invitations, the unannounced second or third bride at their own weddings.

Rajani fell asleep before the ceremonials began. An uncle lifted her gently from her cot, hoisted her over one of his shoulders, and carried her in the moonlight toward the Hindu priest and the smoke of the sacred fire and the guests on plastic chairs and her future husband, a ten-year-old boy with a golden turban on his head.

The outsider's impulse toward child bride rescue scenarios can be overwhelming: Snatch up the girl, punch out the nearby adults, and run. Just make it stop. Above my desk, I have taped to the wall a photograph of Rajani on her wedding night. In the picture it's dusk, six hours before the marriage ceremony, and her face is turned toward the camera, her eyes wide and untroubled, with the beginnings of a smile. I remember my own rescue fantasies roiling that night—not solely for Rajani, whom I could have slung over my own shoulder and carried away alone, but also for the 13- and the 15-year-old sisters who were being transferred like requisitioned goods, one family to another, because a group of adult males had arranged their futures for them.

The people who work full-time trying to prevent child marriage, and to improve women's lives in societies of rigid tradition, are the first to smack down the impertinent notion that anything about this endeavor is simple. Forced early marriage thrives to this day in many regions of the world—arranged by parents for their own children, often in defiance of national laws, and understood by whole communities as an appropriate way for a young woman to grow up when the alternatives, especially if they carry a risk of her losing her virginity to someone besides her husband, are unacceptable.

Child marriage spans continents, language, religion, caste. In India the girls will typically be attached to boys four or five years older; in Yemen, Afghanistan, and other countries with high early marriage rates, the husbands may be young men or middle-aged widowers or abductors who rape first and claim their victims as wives afterward, as is the practice in certain regions of Ethiopia. Some of these marriages are business transactions, barely adorned with additional rationale: a debt cleared in exchange for an 8-year-old bride; a family feud resolved by the delivery of a virginal 12-year-old cousin. Those, when they happen to surface publicly, make for clear and outrage-inducing news fodder from great distances away. The 2008 drama of Nujood Ali, the 10-year-old Yemeni girl who found her way alone to an urban courthouse to request a divorce from the man in his 30s her father had forced her to marry, generated worldwide headlines and more recently a book, translated into 30 languages: I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced.

But inside a few of the communities in which parent-arranged early marriage is common practice—amid the women of Rajani's settlement, for example, listening to the mournful sound of their songs to the bathing brides—it feels infinitely more difficult to isolate the nature of the wrongs being perpetrated against these girls. Their educations will be truncated not only by marriage but also by rural school systems, which may offer a nearby school only through fifth grade; beyond that, there's the daily bus ride to town, amid crowded-in, predatory men. The middle school at the end of the bus ride may have no private indoor bathroom in which an adolescent girl can attend to her sanitary needs. And schooling costs money, which a practical family is surely guarding most carefully for sons, with their more readily measurable worth. In India, where by long-standing practice most new wives leave home to move in with their husbands' families, the Hindi term paraya dhan refers to daughters still living with their own parents. Its literal meaning is "someone else's wealth."

Remember this too: The very idea that young women have a right to select their own partners—that choosing whom to marry and where to live ought to be personal decisions, based on love and individual will—is still regarded in some parts of the world as misguided foolishness. Throughout much of India, for example, a majority of marriages are still arranged by parents. Strong marriage is regarded as the union of two families, not two individuals. This calls for careful negotiation by multiple elders, it is believed, not by young people following transient impulses of the heart.

So in communities of pressing poverty, where nonvirgins are considered ruined for marriage and generations of ancestors have proceeded in exactly this fashion—where grandmothers and great-aunts are urging the marriages forward, in fact, insisting, I did it this way and so shall she—it's possible to see how the most dedicated anti-child-marriage campaigner might hesitate, trying to fathom where to begin. "One of our workers had a father turn to him, in frustration," says Sreela Das Gupta, a New Delhi health specialist who previously worked for the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), one of several global nonprofits working actively against early marriage. "This father said, 'If I am willing to get my daughter married late, will you take responsibility for her protection?' The worker came back to us and said, 'What am I supposed to tell him if she gets raped at 14?' These are questions we don't have answers to."

I heard the story of the rat and the elephant one day in early summer, some weeks into my time among girls who are expected to marry very young. I was in the backseat of a small car in remote western Yemen, traveling along with a man named Mohammed, who had offered to bring us to a particular village down the road.

"What happened in this village has given me strong feelings," he said. "There was a girl here. Ayesha is her name." The Prophet Muhammad's youngest wife was also named Ayesha, but this was not of interest to our Mohammed just now. He was extremely angry. "She is 10 years old," he said. "Very tiny. The man she married is 50 years old, with a big belly, like so." Spreading his arm around him, he indicated massive girth. "Like a rat getting married to an elephant."

Mohammed described the arrangement called shighar, in which two men provide each other with new brides by exchanging female relatives. "These men married each other's daughters," Mohammed said. "If the ages had been proper between the husbands and new wives, I don't think anyone would have reported it. But girls should not marry when they are 9 or 10. Maybe 15 or 16."

Fifty families live in the rock and concrete houses of the village we visited, between cactus stands and dry furrowed farm plots. The local leader, or sheikh, was short and red-bearded, with a mobile phone jammed under his belt beside his traditional Yemeni dagger. He showed us to a low-ceilinged house crowded with women, babies, and girls. They sat on the carpeted floors and beds, and more kept ducking through the doorway to squeeze in; the sheikh squatted in their midst, frowning and interrupting. He regarded me dubiously. "You have children?" he asked.

Two, I said, and the sheikh looked dismayed. "Only two!" He tipped his head toward a young woman nursing a baby in one arm while fending off two small children with the other. "This young lady is 26," he said. "She has had ten."

Her name was Suad. The sheikh was her father. She had been married at 14 to a cousin he selected. "I liked him," Suad said, her voice low, as the sheikh kept his eyes upon her. "I was happy."

The sheikh made various pronouncements concerning marriage. He said no father ever forces his daughter to marry against her will. He said the medical dangers of early childbirth were greatly exaggerated. He said initiation to marriage was not necessarily easy, from the bride's point of view, but that it was pointless to become agitated about this. "Of course every girl gets scared the first night," the sheikh said. "She gets used to it. Life goes on."

His phone tootled. He extracted it from his belt and stepped outside. I pulled the scarf off my hair, something I'd seen my interpreter do when men were gone and the intimate talk of women was under way. Speaking quickly, we asked, How are you all prepared for your wedding night? Are you taught what to expect?

The women glanced toward the doorway, where the sheikh was absorbed in his phone call. They leaned forward. "The girls do not know," one said. "The men know, and they force them."

Could they tell us about young Ayesha and her elephant husband of 50? The women all started talking at once: It was an awful thing; it should have been forbidden, but they were helpless to stop it. Little Ayesha screamed when she saw the man she was to marry, said a young woman named Fatima, who turned out to be Ayesha's older sister. Someone alerted the police, but Ayesha's father ordered her to put on high heels to look taller and a veil to hide her face. He warned that if he was sent to jail, he would kill Ayesha when he got out. The police left without troubling anyone, and at present—the women talked urgently and quietly now, because the sheikh appeared to be ending his conversation—Ayesha was living in a village two hours away, married.

"She has a mobile phone," Fatima said. "Every day, she calls me and cries."

"If there were any danger in early marriage, Allah would have forbidden it," a Yemeni member of parliament named Mohammed Al-Hamzi told me in the capital city of Sanaa one day. "Something that Allah himself did not forbid, we cannot forbid." Al-Hamzi, a religious conservative, is vigorously opposed to the legislative efforts in Yemen to prohibit marriage for girls below a certain age (17, in a recent version), and so far those efforts have met with failure. Islam does not permit marital relations before a girl is physically ready, he said, but the Holy Koran contains no specific age restrictions and so these matters are properly the province of family and religious guidance, not national law. Besides, there is the matter of the Prophet Muhammad's beloved Ayesha—nine years old, according to the conventional account, when the marriage was consummated.

Other Yemeni Muslims invoked for me the scholarly argument that Ayesha was actually older when she had marital relations—perhaps a teenager, perhaps 20 or more. In any case her precise age is irrelevant, they would add firmly; any modern-day man demanding marriage with a young girl dishonors the faith. "In Islam, the human body is very valuable," said Najeeb Saeed Ghanem, chairman of the Yemeni Parliament's Health and Population Committee. "Like jewelry." He listed some of the medical consequences of forcing girls into sex and childbirth before they are physically mature: Ripped vaginal walls. Fistulas, the internal ruptures that can lead to lifelong incontinence. Girls in active labor to whom nurses must explain the mechanics of human reproduction. "The nurses start by asking, 'Do you know what's happening?'" a Sanaa pediatrician told me. "'Do you understand that this is a baby that has been growing inside of you?'"

Yemeni society has no tradition of candor about sex, even among educated mothers and daughters. The reality of these marriages—the murmured understanding that some parents truly are willing to deliver their girls to grown men—was rarely talked about openly until three years ago, when ten-year-old Nujood Ali suddenly became the most famous anti-child-marriage rebel in the world. Among Yemenis the great surprise in the Nujood story was not that Nujood's father had forced her to marry a man three times her age; nor that the man forced himself upon her the first night, despite supposed promises to wait until she was older, so that in the morning Nujood's new mother- and sister-in-law examined the bloodied sheet approvingly before lifting her from bed to give her a bath. No. Nothing in those details was especially remarkable. The surprise was that Nujood fought back.

"Her case was, you know, the stone that disturbed the water," says one of the Yemeni journalists who began writing about Nujood after she showed up alone one day in a courthouse in Sanaa. She had escaped her husband and come home. She had defied her father when he shouted at her that the family's honor depended on her fulfilling her wifely obligations. Her own mother was too cowed to intervene. It was her father's second wife who finally gave Nujood a blessing and taxi money and told her where to go, and when an astonished judge asked her what she was doing in the big city courthouse by herself, Nujood said she wanted a divorce. A prominent female Yemeni attorney took up Nujood's case. News stories began appearing in English, first in Yemen and then internationally; both the headlines and Nujood herself were irresistible, and when she was finally granted her divorce, crowds in the Sanaa courthouse burst into applause. She was invited to the United States, to be honored before more cheering audiences.

Everyone Nujood met was bowled over by her unnerving combination of gravity and poise. When I met her in a Sanaa newspaper office, she was wearing a third-grader-size black abaya, the full covering Yemeni women use in public after puberty. Even though she had now traveled across the Atlantic and back and been grilled by scores of inquisitive grown-ups, she was as sweet and direct as if my questions were brand-new to her. At lunch she snuggled in beside me as we sat on prayer mats and showed me how to dip my flat bread into the shared pot of stew. She said she was living at home again and attending school (her father, publicly excoriated, had grudgingly taken her back), and in her notebooks she was composing an open letter to Yemeni parents: "Don't let your children get married. You'll spoil their educations, and you'll spoil their childhoods if you let them get married so young."

Social change theory has a fancy label for individuals like Nujood Ali: "positive deviants," the single actors within a community who through some personal combination of circumstance and moxie are able to defy tradition and instead try something new, perhaps radically so. Amid the international campaigns against child marriage, positive deviants now include the occasional mother, father, grandmother, teacher, village health worker, and so on—but some of the toughest are the rebel girls themselves, each of their stories setting off new rebellions in its wake. In Yemen I met 12-year-old Reem, who obtained her divorce a few months after Nujood's; in doing so she won over a hostile judge who had insisted, memorably, that so young a bride is not yet mature enough to make a decision about divorce. In India I met the 13-year-old Sunil, who at 11 swore to her parents that she would refuse the groom who was about to arrive; if they tried force, she declared, she would denounce them to police and break her father's head. "She came to us for help," an admiring neighbor told me. "She said, 'I'm going to smash his head with a stone.'"

The push to reach many more underage girls and their families, through education programs and scattered government or agency-supported efforts, is targeted way beyond just the prepubescent marriages that most easily rouse public indignation. "The public loves those kinds of stories, where there's a clear right and wrong," says Saranga Jain, an adolescent-health specialist. "But the majority of girls getting married underage are 13 to 17. We want to recharacterize the problem as not just about very young girls."

From the ICRW's point of view, any marriage of a teen under 18 is a child marriage, and although definitive tallies are impossible, researchers estimate that every year 10 to 12 million girls in the developing world marry that young. Efforts to reduce this number are mindful of the varied forces pushing a teenager to marry and begin childbearing, thus killing her chances at more education and decent wages. Coercion doesn't always come in the form of domineering parents. Sometimes girls bail out on their childhoods because it's expected of them or because their communities have nothing else to offer. What seems to work best, when marriage-delaying programs do take hold, is local incentive rather than castigation: direct inducements to keep girls in school, along with schools they can realistically attend. India trains village health workers called sathins, who monitor the well-being of area families; their duties include reminding villagers that child marriage is not only a crime but also a profound harm to their daughters. It was a Rajasthan sathin, backed by the sathin's own enlightened in-laws, who persuaded the 11-year-old Sunil's parents to give up the marriage plan and let her go back to school.

Because the impossible flaw in the grab-the-girl-and-run fantasy is: Then what? "If we separate a girl and isolate her from her community, what will her life be like?" asks Molly Melching, the founder of a Senegal-based organization called Tostan, which has won international respect for its promotion of community-led programs that motivate people to abandon child marriage and female genital cutting. Tostan workers encourage communities to make public declarations of the standards for their children, so that no one girl is singled out as different if not married young.

"You don't want to encourage girls to run away," Melching says. "The way you change social norms is not by fighting them or humiliating people and saying they're backward. We've seen that an entire community can choose very quickly to change. It's inspiring."

The one person who explained most eloquently to me the excruciating balance required to grow up both independent and respectful within a culture of early marriage was a 17-year-old Rajasthan girl named Shobha Choudhary. Shobha was in her school uniform, a dark pleated skirt with a tucked-in white blouse, the first time I met her. She had severe eyebrows, an erect bearing, and shiny black hair combed into a ponytail. She was in her final year of high school and a scholarly standout; in her village she had been spotted years earlier by the Veerni Project, which disperses workers throughout northern India in search of bright girls whose parents might let them leave home for a free education at its girls' boarding school in the city of Jodhpur.

Shobha is married and has been since she was eight. Picture the occasion: a group ceremony, a dozen village girls, great excitement in a place of great poverty. "Beautiful new clothes," Shobha told me, with a mirthless smile. "I didn't know the meaning of marriage. I was very happy."

Yes, she said, she had seen her young husband since the wedding. But only briefly. He is a few years older. So far she had managed to postpone the gauna, the transition to married life in his household. She looked away when I asked her impression of him and said, he is not educated. We regarded each other, and she shook her head; there was no possibility, none, that she would disgrace her parents by delaying the gauna forever: "I have to be with him. I'll make him study and understand things. But I will not leave him."

She wanted to go to college, she said. Her intense wish was to qualify for the Indian police force so she could specialize in enforcement of the child marriage prohibition law. She had been keeping a diary throughout high school. One of the entries read, in carefully lettered Hindi: "In front of my eyes, I'll never ever allow child marriages to happen. I'll save each and every girl."

Every time I visited Shobha's village, her parents served chai, or spiced tea, in their best cups, and the Shobha stories thickened in their layers of pride and dissembling and uneasiness as to what the foreign visitor was up to. It wasn't a wedding! It was only an engagement party! All right, it was a wedding, but that was before the Veerni people made their kind offer and Shobha's capability had astounded them all. It was Shobha who had figured out how to obtain electricity for the house, so that she and her younger siblings could study after dark. "I can sign things," Shobha's mother told me. "She taught me how to write my name." And now, her parents indicated, this fine episode was surely concluding—and it was time. The husband was calling Shobha's cell phone, demanding a date. Her grandmother wanted the gauna before old age overcame her. The classes in Jodhpur were both Shobha's passion and her delaying tactic, but Veerni support runs only through high school; to stay on and cover the cost of college, Shobha needed a donor. The email arrived after I'd returned to the United States: "How are you I miss you Mam. Mam I am pursuing B.A. 1st year I also want to do English spoken course and computer course. Please reply mam fastly it is urgent for admission date in college."

My husband and I made the donation. "Let's see what happens," Shobha had said to me, the last time I saw her in India. "Whatever will be, I have to adjust. Because women have to sacrifice." We were in the cooking room of her family's home that afternoon, and my voice rose more than I intended: Why must women be the ones to sacrifice, I asked, and the look Shobha gave me suggested that only one of us, at that moment, understood the world in which she lives. "Because our country is man-oriented," she said.

She has completed more than a year now of post–high school study: computer training, preparation for the police exams. I receive emails from her occasionally—her English is halting but improving—and recently my Jodhpur Hindi interpreter borrowed a video camera and sat down with her, on my behalf, in a city café. Shobha said she was studying for the next exam. She had lodgings in a safe girls' hostel in the city. Her husband still called frequently. No gauna had yet taken place. She looked straight into the camera at one point, and in English, an enormous smile on her face, she said, "Nothing is impossible, Cynthia Mam. Everything is possible."

Two days after I received the video, a dispatch arrived from Yemen. Newspapers were reporting that a bride from a village had been dropped off at a Sanaa hospital four days after her wedding. Sexual intercourse appeared to have ruptured the girl's internal organs, hospital officials said. She had bled to death. She was 13 years old.

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  1. Forced marriage in the UK: hidden from view

    Sajda Mughal, 29 November 2011

    Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.” Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16 (2)

    Forced marriage is a serious issue in the UK. The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) received 1063 reports of possible forced marriages in the first six months of 2009 – an increase of 25% on the same period in 2008. The majority involved families of Pakistani background, with the rest originating from other parts of South Asia, Middle East, Europe & Africa. Nearly 40% of the cases dealt with by the FMU concerned people under the age of 18 and women and girls were the victims in 85% of the cases. And the numbers keep rising: in 2010 there were 1,735 potential forced marriages involving British citizens.

    Recognising the need to address the issue of forced marriage, in 2007 the UK government passed the Forced Marriage Civil Protection Act “to make provision for protecting individuals from being forced to enter into marriage without their free and full consent and for protecting individuals who have been forced to enter into marriage without such consent; and for connected purposes.” The FMU was established as a joint-initiative of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office.

    However, the current government treats forced marriages primarily as an immigration issue, which underestimates the true extent of the issue. This approach does not tackle the fact that forced marriages are happening in the UK but remain a hidden problem. According to a report published by the Home Office Communications Directorate “with a small number of exceptions, none of the relevant service providers keep detailed figures on the number of cases of forced marriage they deal with”, which directly undermines genuine attempts to establish methods of successful intervention.

    There are various challenges in combating forced marriages. Misconceptions about forced and arranged marriages prevail in the UK, and it is crucial to stress that an arranged marriage is one where both parties consent to the union, whilst a forced marriage is one where one or both parties are under physical or psychological pressure to enter the marriage. Various religious misconceptions about forced marriage need to be challenged, because contrary to popular belief, no religion endorses this practice. In Islam there are Hadith’s (practices) that condemn forced marriages and highlight that the consent, in particular a woman’s consent, must be sought.

    Forced marriage is still a taboo subject in Asian and Muslim communities, one which few are willing to discuss outside their cultural environment, and one that must be challenged in order to deal with the many cases of forced marriage that stay hidden. In our experience the FMU figures do not reveal the extent of the problem. In the last three years, JAN Trust has consulted with nearly 1,000 Muslim and Pakistani women and 85% of them said that a forced marriage had occurred in their family (or they knew of individuals who had been in a forced marriage) and that the individuals involved were unhappy. Over 90% felt that a project was needed which specifically targeted the Asian and Pakistani communities. As one woman told us," forced marriages are not discussed in the Pakistani community. It is sad because they lead to bigger problems and ruin people’s lives. Something must be done…our community needs educating”. ...

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  2. Afghan child bride tells of 'torture' by in-laws


    KABUL - An Afghan child bride Saturday spoke of how she was tortured by her mother-in-law who locked her in a toilet for six months, beat her, pulled out her fingernails and burned her with cigarettes.

    Sahar Gul, 15, is recovering in hospital in Kabul, her face bruised and swollen, her skin still bearing the marks of her ordeal, barely able to speak.

    Police have said she was locked up when she defied her in-laws who tried to force her into prostitution. Her brother had sold her to her husband about seven months ago for $5,000.

    "For several months I was locked up in toilet by my in-laws and particularly my mother-in-law," she managed to tell media in a frail voice during a visit from Afghan health minister Dr Suraya Dalil.

    "I was denied food and water. I was tortured and beaten."

    The minister said it was an example of "increased cases of violence against women in Afghanistan".

    Women continue to suffer in Afghanistan despite billions of dollars of international aid which has poured into the country during the decade-long war.

    Dalil said Gul was suffering from severe blood loss, with multiple burns and injuries.

    "She is also suffering from trauma and psychological problems," she said.

    "She is still a child, below the legal age of marriage. She is only 15 and from a remote part of the country. It's a tragic and heartbreaking story for Afghanistan."

    The teenager was found in the basement of her husband's house in the northeastern Baghlan province late on Monday.

    Her family, from the neighbouring province of Badakhshan, had reported her disappearance to the police after being denied access to the home.

    Three women including the girls' mother-in-law were arrested over the case but her husband fled.

    The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission logged 1,026 cases of violence against women in the second quarter of 2011 compared with 2,700 cases for the whole of 2010.

    And according to figures in an Oxfam report in October, 87 percent of Afghan women report having experienced physical, sexual or psychological violence or forced marriage.

    Gul's case comes after a woman known as Gulnaz was pardoned and released earlier in December after spending two years in prison for "moral crimes."

    She was jailed after she reported to police that her cousin's husband had raped her. Gulnaz gave birth to the rapist's child in prison.

    In November, the United Nations said that a landmark law aiming to protect women against violence in Afghanistan had been used to prosecute just over 100 cases since being enacted two years ago.


  3. Moroccans demand change to Islamic penal code after girl, 16, kills herself because judge forced her to marry her RAPIST

    By LEE MORAN, Daily Mail UK March 14, 2012

    Angry Moroccans are demanding a change to the country's strict Islamic penal code after a 16-year-old girl killed herself after being forced to marry her rapist. An online petition, a Facebook page and countless tweets expressed horror over the suicide of Amina Filali, who swallowed rat poison on Saturday in protest at her marriage to the man who raped her a year earlier. Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code allows for the 'kidnapper' of a minor to marry his victim to escape prosecution, and it has been used to justify a traditional practice of making a rapist marry his victim to preserve the honour of the woman's family.

    'Amina, 16, was triply violated, by her rapist, by tradition and by Article 475 of the Moroccan law,' tweeted activist Abadila Maaelaynine. Abdelaziz Nouaydi, who runs the Adala Assocation for legal reform, said a judge can recommend marriage only in the case of agreement by the victim and both families. 'It is not something that happens a great deal - it is very rare,' he said, but admitted that the family of the victim sometimes agrees out of fear that she won't be able to find a husband if it is known she was raped. The marriage is then pushed on the victim by the families to avoid scandal, said Fouzia Assouli, president of Democratic League for Women's Rights. 'It is unfortunately a recurring phenomenon,' she said.'We have been asking for years for the cancellation of Article 475 of the penal code which allows the rapist to escape justice.'

    The victim's father said in an interview with an online Moroccan newspaper that it was the court officials who suggested from the beginning the marriage option when they reported the rape. 'The prosecutor advised my daughter to marry, he said 'go and make the marriage contract'," said Lahcen Filali in an interview that appeared on goud.ma Tuesday night.

    In many societies, the loss of a woman's virginity outside of wedlock is a huge stain of honour on the family.
    In many parts of the Middle East, there is a tradition whereby a rapist can escape prosecution if he marries his victim, thereby restoring her honour. There is a similar injunction in the Old Testament's Book of Deuteronomy
    Morocco updated its family code in 2004 in a landmark improvement of the situation of women, but activists say there's still room for improvement. In cases of rape, the burden of proof is often on the victim and if she can't prove she was attacked, a woman risks being prosecuted for debauchery.

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    'In Morocco, the law protects public morality but not the individual,' said Assouli, adding that legislation outlawing all forms of violence against women, including rape within marriage, has been stuck in the government since 2006.
    According to the father's interview, the girl was accosted on the street and raped when she was 15, but it was two months before she told her parents. He said the court pushed the marriage, even though the perpetrator initially refused. He only consented when faced with prosecution. The penalty for rape is between five and 10 years in prison, but rises to 10 to 20 in the case of a minor. He said Amina complained to her mother that her husband was beating her repeatedly during the five months of marriage but that her mother counselled patience.

    A Facebook page called 'We are all Amina Filali' has been formed and an online petition calling for Morocco to end the practice of marrying rapists and their victims has already gathered more than 1,000 signatures. The incident throws more light on the way women are treated in Islamic countries. Last year a woman in Afghanistan, 21-year-old Gulnaz, was jailed for 'adultery by force' after she was brutally raped by her husband's cousin. Her attacker was jailed for seven years for the crime that left her pregnant. A global outrage saw the President of Afghanistan personally pardoning her and releasing her from Kabul's Badam Bagh jail, with no pre-conditions.


  5. Protesters in Morocco demand reform of rape laws after teen girl's suicide

    From Khalid Fakhar, for CNN March 17, 2012

    Rabat, Morocco (CNN) -- Demonstrators rallied Saturday in Morocco's capital, demanding the North African nation reform its rape laws following a teenage girl's suicide after her father said a judge mandated that she marry her alleged rapist -- allowing him to stay out of jail.

    Amina Filali, 16, died suddenly last week in Larache, a city in northwestern Morocco along the Atlantic coast. Her father, Lahcen Filali, told CNN that she was with her new husband when she "fell into street (and) started vomiting."
    By the time an ambulance arrived, the father said, "It was already too late."

    The girl died hours later at a Larache hospital.
    The state-run MAP news agency reported that Amina Filali had committed suicide, the stark nature of her life and death spurring hundreds to turn out for Saturday's protest in front of the nation's parliament.

    Lahcen Filali told Moroccan newspaper Hona Press that his daughter had ingested rat poison, doing so after her husband had severely beaten her.
    Police told CNN only that they were investigating the teenager's death, but didn't provide further details.

    Even so, the circumstances of her case have triggered outrage in Morocco, especially from women's rights advocates.

    "This girl was (in essence) raped twice, the last when she was married," government spokesman Mustapha El Khalfi said Thursday, referring to the initial reported rape and the fact she was forced to marry her alleged attacker.

    The girl's father said he "did not want to accept this marriage," which some have said was pushed in order to protect the family's honor. But "my wife, my family and the court of the city of Larache" wanted the union to proceed, as it did.

    "The judge decided he must marry her, and I had no opportunity to refuse the judge's decision," the father said. "I wanted to send (the eventual husband) to prison, and have my daughter stay with me until she became (an adult)."

    Under Moroccan law, rape is punishable by five to 10 years of prison, with a sentence as long as 20 years if the victim is a minor, pregnant or disabled. But if the victim and the rapist marry, the attacker is no longer liable.

    In this case, Amina Filali's husband was never formally charged with rape due to the fact the family signed an agreement in court, according to the girl's father.

    "Through this law, the rape becomes legitimate," said Fouzia Assouli, president of the Moroccan advocacy group the Federation of the Democratic League for Women's Rights, of the fact that an alleged rapist can avoid jail if he marries his victim.

    That fact has stirred anger and action in Morocco, including Saturday's demonstration in Rabat, which is about 170 kilometers (105 miles) south of Larache.

    Protesters held up pictures of Amina Filali, held up banners and chanted in Arabic, "Let's ... end the marriage of minors."

    Moroccan law defends "family morals, but does not take into account the right of women as a person," Assouli told CNN.

    "The terrible story of Amina Filali gives us more strength to move forward," she added.
    Morocco's government devoted much of its weekly meeting Thursday to reviewing the case.

    "We need to study in-depth the situation with the possibility of increasing the penalties as part of a reform," said El Khalfi, the communications minister. "We cannot ignore this tragedy."


  6. Morocco protest against rape-marriage law

    BBC News March 17, 2012

    Several hundred women's rights activists have demonstrated outside Morocco's parliament to demand the repeal of a law on sexual violence. Morocco's penal code allows a rapist to marry his victim if she is a minor as a way of avoiding prosecution.

    A 16-year-old girl, Amina Filali, killed herself a week ago after being severely beaten during a forced marriage to her rapist. The protesters held signs saying, "The law has killed Amina".

    The parents of Amina Filali were at the protest, says the BBC's Nora Fakim, in the Moroccan capital, Rabat. They say their daughter was pressured by a local court into marrying her rapist, who then abused her. She died after swallowing rat poison on 10 March.

    Her case has shocked many in Morocco. Women's rights groups have started an online campaign to have the law - article 475 - repealed. A Facebook page called "We are all Amina Filali" has been set up.

    "What we have witnessed is scandalous. We have had enough. We must change this law, we must change the penal code," said Fouzia Assouli, the president of the Democratic League for Women's Rights.

    Ms Filali came from the small northern town of Larache, near Tangiers. In poor, conservative rural areas such as this, it is unacceptable for a woman to lose her virginity before marriage - and the dishonour is hers and her family's even if she is raped, our correspondent says.

    The legal age of marriage in Morocco is 18, unless there are "special circumstances" - which is the reason why Ms Filali was married despite being under-age. A judge can only recommend marriage if all parties involved agree - but activists say pressure is often applied to the victim's family to avoid a scandal.

    Ms Filali's father said that when he reported the rape of his daughter, he was advised of the option to marry by court officials. "The prosecutor advised my daughter to marry. He said, 'Go and make the marriage contract'," Lahcen Filali told an online newspaper, goud.ma.

    Campaigners are also calling for the judge who allowed the marriage and the rapist to be jailed.

    Analysis - Nora Fakim

    The protest is an attempt to change attitudes concerning sex before marriage, especially in cases of rape, where the woman can sometimes be regarded as the criminal rather than the victim in order to preserve the family's honour.

    Fouzia Assouli, the president of the Democratic League for Women's Rights, says the removal of article 475 would be a step forward in changing conservative attitudes.

    However, the protesters feel let down by the lack of response from the government and are furious at the justice minister, who has not been willing to open an inquiry into Ms Filali's suicide.

    The demonstrators want women's rights to be respected, not violated, and they want to help poor women such as Ms Filali to be able to stand up for themselves.


  7. Indian child bride marriage annulled


    JAIPUR - An Indian couple who "married" when aged just one and three have had their wedding annulled in a ground-breaking case activists hope will challenge the culture of child marriages.

    Laxmi Sargara, 18, unknowingly wed her husband Rakesh, 20, in the desert state of Rajasthan 17 years ago after their families decided that when they grew up they would live together and have children.

    In the first procedure of its type, the pair had their union legally revoked in the city of Jodhpur on Tuesday as part of a campaign against enforced child marriages.

    "I was unhappy about the marriage. I told my parents who did not agree with me, then I sought help," Sargara told AFP. "Now I am mentally relaxed and my family members are also with me."

    When she discovered that she was married, Sargara went for advice to social worker Kriti Bharti, who runs the Sarathi Trust in Jodhpur, a welfare organization that lobbies for children's rights.

    Bharti negotiated with Rakesh, the groom, who only uses one name, and both families to persuade them that the marriage was unfair.

    "Laxmi was married to Rakesh when she was as young as one-year-old. Now she is 18 and a few days back she was informed by her parents that she was married and she would have to go to her husband's house," Bharti told AFP on Wednesday.

    "Hearing this, she got depressed. She did not like the boy and was not ready to go ahead with her parents' decision so she decided to refuse this marriage.

    "It is the first example we know of a couple wed in childhood wanting the marriage to be annulled, and we hope that others take inspiration from it," Bharti added.

    Rakesh, who works driving an earth-mover, at first wanted to press ahead with the relationship but was convinced by his wife's fierce opposition to agree that the marriage should be revoked, Bharti said.

    Child marriage is illegal in India but remains common in poor, rural communities in which it is seen as improving the financial security of both families.

    The girl often remains in her parents' home until she reaches puberty and is then taken amid great celebrations to her husband's family.

    The annulment took place on the same day as the Akshaya Tritiya festival, a traditional date of mass child weddings.

    On Sunday, villagers in Rajasthan attacked and injured at least 12 government officials who tried to stop a wedding of about 40 child couples.


  8. Tajik Parents Tried For Forcing Underage Daughters Into Marriage

    By RFE/RL's Tajik Service May 02, 2012

    KHATLON, Tajikistan -- Six sets of Tajik parents have gone on trial for forcing their underage daughters into marriage.

    Local officials in the southern Khatlon Province said the criminal cases against the parents were launched amid what they called a "worrying rise in early marriages."

    If found guilty, the parents would face a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

    In Tajikistan, the legal age for marriage is 18.

    Official divorce rates are high in Tajikistan, and according to Khatlon officials at least 50 percent of marriages end in break-up.

    The authorities link the high divorce rate -- especially among young couples -- to early marriages.

    They say the ongoing trial should serve as a "warning" to other parents who consider forcing their underage daughters into marriage.

    Local Islamic leaders in the predominantly Muslim country say they agree with the authorities' campaign.


    also see:

    Tajikistan government prosecuting parents for violating children's right to education without religious indoctrination


  9. Shafilea Ahmed honour killing witnessed by sister, court told

    by Helen Carter, The Guardian May 21, 2012

    The sister of a teenager who was murdered by her parents when she refused to agree to an arranged marriage saw the killing, a court was told on Monday.

    Alesha Ahmed told police she watched her parents "acting together" during the murder of her older sister Shafilea Ahmed, 17, in September 2003, Chester crown court heard.

    Their parents, Iftikhar Ahmed, 52, a taxi driver, and his wife Farzana, 49, deny murdering Shafilea, whose badly decomposed remains were found near a Cumbrian river in February 2004.

    Alesha, now 23, told police what happened in August 2010, when she was arrested for her part in a robbery at the family home in Warrington, Cheshire, the court heard.

    Prosecution barrister Andrew Edis QC described the information as the final piece of the jigsaw; until then there had been no direct evidence linking the parents to the murder.

    He said it was an extraordinary thing to accuse your parents of murder, to say "you were there and watched your parents murder your sister".

    He said for the past "almost nine years, Alesha Ahmed had lived under the most extraordinary of circumstances", as had the whole family. There are three younger siblings.

    Alesha had told friends about the killing between September and December 2003, but she soon retracted her comments and returned to the family home where she was brought back into "silence and denial". It must have been a great strain because of her divided loyalties, Edis said.

    The court heard that during a trip to Pakistan in February 2003, Shafilea had been introduced to a cousin whom her parents wanted her to marry. She drank bleach at her grandparents' house in Pakistan, which her mother had claimed was a mistake during a power cut.

    Edis said there was no way anyone would pick up a bottle in the pitch black of a bathroom and drink from it. As soon as she drank it, she screamed. It was, he said, a self-destructive act or one of serious self-harm. He also questioned why the trip to Pakistan did not involve marriage if her father only bought a one-way ticket for his daughter.

    Shafilea was taken to Warrington hospital for emergency treatment when she returned home in May 2003.

    A patient who asked her why she had drunk bleach was told: "You don't know what they did to me there."

    Edis said Shafilea told the patient her parents had accepted a formal offer of marriage from her cousin and "that is why she drank the bleach". Edis said: "She didn't even like the guy, she wanted to get out of there but they had taken away her passport."

    On Monday,, poems written by Shafilea were read to the jurors. One was called Happy Families and the other I Feel Trapped, in which she expressed her frustration about her family's concerns over honour and said she felt trapped. "I don't pretend like we're the perfect family no more," one of the poems said. "All they think about is honour."

    She was murdered, Edis said, because she failed to conform to her parents' wishes and they embarked upon a campaign of domestic abuse after she allegedly "brought shame" on the family.

    Shafilea's remains were identified by DNA and she was wearing westernised clothing – white stilettos – and her hair had been dyed red. By her clothing, the prosecution said, she was "seeking to demonstrate something of her independence and freedom".

    She was described as a Westernised young British girl of Pakistani origin at the beginning of the murder trial.

    The prosecution said her parents had standards that she was "reluctant to follow". In particular, like most 16- or 17-year-old girls she wanted boyfriends, which caused intense pressure on the family. Her parents controlled her so she did not have freedom of movement, Edis said. She ran away briefly from home in 2002 and early 2003.

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    In February 2003, shortly before the trip to Pakistan, Shafilea was "recaptured or abducted" by her father outside the gates at Great Sankey high school in Warrington, where she was a pupil. She was forced into the car after she had run away.

    In the year before she died, the prosecution said, her parents "embarked on a campaign of domestic violence and abuse directed at her and designed to force her to conform so that she behaved in a way that was expected.

    "The defendants had spent the best part of 12 months trying to crush her will, realised they were not going to succeed and finally killed her because she had dishonoured the family and brought shame on them."

    Edis said Shafilea went missing on 11 September 2003, but it was not reported to police until a week later. "Not by a member of her family, but by a teacher."

    The prosecution alleges she was murdered by her parents at the family home on the night of 11 September.

    Edis said arranged marriages were acceptable in many communities, but forced marriage was different. The defendants wanted an arranged marriage for their daughter but "in the end it was going to require compulsion because she didn't want to do it".

    Shafilea had been "appalled" by the prospect of an arranged marriage in rural Pakistan. When she returned to the UK, she was taken to hospital as an emergency case and needed regular treatment.

    He said no one else had caused Shafilea distress "apart from her parents". The prosecution claims they withdrew money from her bank account that she had saved from a part-time job.

    Edis questioned the couple's behaviour following Shafilea's disappearance, not reporting it to police or attempting to find her. Iftikhar switched off his mobile phone and there were no calls made from the landline to try to find her, unlike two previous occasions when she was missing and they repeatedly phoned her.

    The Ahmeds put their house on the market within two days. Iftikhar told a potential buyer they were moving to Lancashire "because the daughter had brought shame on the family", Edis said. He added it was a surprising observation to make "if she had simply run away from home".

    The police were told of a potential sighting at a chemist's in Glasgow in November 2003 following public appeals. The couple were shown CCTV footage and said they were 90% certain it was Shafilea, whereas her teacher said it was definitely not.

    Months later when the body was identified, the Ahmeds issued a brief statement talking of their beautiful and irreplaceable daughter, which contrasts with their conduct in the previous September, when the prosecution say "they did nothing at all" after her disappearance.

    Edis told the jury that Shafilea's father had been married to a Scandinavian woman, Vivi Anderson, whom he had a son Tony with. In 1986 he married Farzana in Pakistan because Iftikhar "felt the pull of his family" and loyalty. When his uncle told him that it was time to marry Farzana, he complied.

    Alesha Ahmed is expected to give evidence on Tuesday. The case continues.


  11. Parents Found Guilty Of Murdering Daughter In UK

    by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS August 3, 2012

    LONDON (AP) — The girl was murdered by her Pakistani parents for her Western ways. And it was her little sister who bravely told jurors how her mother and father suffocated the 17-year-old with a plastic bag — gripping testimony that led to her parents' murder conviction on Friday.

    Justice Roderick Evans sentenced Iftikhar, 52, and Farzana Ahmed, 49, to life in prison for killing their daughter, Shafilea, in 2003. The couple — first cousins from the Pakistani village of Uttam — were ordered to serve a minimum of 25 years in prison.

    "She was being squeezed between two cultures — the culture and way of life that she saw around her and wanted to embrace, and the culture and way of life you wanted to impose on her," Evans said during the sentencing at the Chester Crown Court in northwest England.

    In Britain, more than 25 women have been killed in so-called "honor killings" in the past decade. Families have sometimes lashed out at their children on the belief that they have brought their household shame by becoming too westernized or by refusing a marriage.

    Shafilea was only 10 when she began to rebel against her parents' strict rules, according to prosecutor Andrew Edis.

    The young girl would hide make-up, false nails and western clothes at school, changing into conservative clothes before her parents picked her up.

    But it was the last year of her life that proved to be the most traumatic.

    During the trial that began in May, jurors heard from Shafilea's younger sister, Alesha, who said she witnessed the murder when she was 12.

    After an argument about Shafilea's dress, her parents pushed her down on a couch, stuffed a thin white plastic bag into her mouth and held their hands over her mouth and nose until she died, Alesha testified.

    As she was struggling, her mother said, "just finish it here," according to Alesha's testimony.

    Although Shafilea's other siblings contradicted the testimony, the last-minute emergence of a diary convinced jurors.

    The diary belonged to a friend of one of Shafilea's other sisters, Mev. In it, the friend relays conversations she had with the sister about the night Shafilea died — details that supported Alesha's testimony.

    "The strong message goes out and should be very clear: If you engage in honor killings — if you engage in forced marriages — you will be caught and brought to justice," said Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Manchester-based Ramadhan Foundation, a Muslim organization.

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    When Shafilea became a teenager, she became interested in boys — something that spurred punishment from her parents.

    School officials alerted social services in October 2002 after Shafilea came to school with injuries to her face. That same month, Shafilea told a social worker that she was to be married in Pakistan in February 2003.

    In January 2003, she ran away, telling friends her parents would not leave her alone. She eventually returned.

    In February 2003, she ran away again and pleaded with British authorities to allow her to move out of her parents' house because, she said, they were abusive and trying to force her into an arranged marriage.

    Some of Shafilea's own words also proved compelling to jurors.

    In the application form to move out, she said she had suffered from regular domestic violence from the age of 15.

    "One parent would hold me whilst the other hit me," she said.

    Her father snatched her off the streets, however, in the same month as the application. He bundled her into a car and took her to Pakistan against her will, Alesha said.

    In protest, Shafilea drank bleach and was brought back to Britain in May 2003. She spent eight weeks in the hospital trying to recover from damage done to her throat.

    Even in her weakened and desperate state, Shafilea's parents were relentless.

    One night, her parents complained she was wearing a T-shirt and wasn't properly covered up, according to Alesha. The younger sister said Shafilea struggled and struggled as her parents held her down.

    Alesha described that after the attack, her siblings ran upstairs and she watched as her father carried Shafilea's body to the car wrapped in a blanket. She was reported missing shortly after, with her parents making a teary-eyed media appeal for information leading to their daughter.

    But police were suspicious — so much so that they bugged the house.

    Shafilea's decomposed remains were eventually discovered in the River Kent in Cumbria in February 2004, but it wasn't until 2010 that Alesha provided the key testimony.

    Last year, the British government's Forced Marriage Unit investigated more than 1,400 cases of forced marriages, most of which occur in Muslim communities. Britain is home to more than 1.8 million Muslims, most from Pakistani roots.


  13. The British child brides: Muslim mosque leaders agree to marry girl of 12... so long as parents don't tell anyone

    By RYAN KISIEL, Daily Mail UK September 9, 2012

    British Muslim clerics are willing to carry out sharia marriages involving child brides as young as 12, an investigation has found.

    Two imams said they would be prepared to officiate at the wedding of an underage girl to a man in his twenties, despite fears the pair would later have sex.

    The revelations have led the Home Office to confirm that such ceremonies will be examined in the Government’s forthcoming Bill to outlaw forced marriages.

    More than 1,000 of the 8,000 forced marriages of Britons each year are believed to involve girls of 15 or under, with one case last year allegedly involving a girl of five.

    The clerics were approached by man posing as the father of a 12-year-old who wanted her to marry to prevent her being tempted into a decadent Western lifestyle.

    Imam Mohammed Kassamali, of the Husaini Islamic Centre in Peterborough, stressed the need for secrecy with such a ceremony.

    He allegedly said: ‘If it (the marriage) was not possible, I would have told you straight away... I would love the girl to go to her husband’s houses (sic) as soon as possible, the younger the better.

    ‘Under sharia (Islamic law) there is no problem. It is said she should see her first sign of puberty at the house of her husband.

    ‘The problem is that we cannot explain such things (the marriage) if the girl went tomorrow (to the authorities).

    ‘The other thing is the underage thing and if tomorrow the girl is, let’s say coerced or forced into this, and she goes and reports it to the police then she will put all of us into the problems.’

    He also urged the father to encourage the newlyweds to ‘delay the togetherness’, meaning postpone having sex.

    Abdul Haque, a retired imam who still officiates at weddings at Shoreditch mosque, East London, reportedly agreed to carry out the ceremony after evening prayers on Wednesday.

    ‘Tell people it is an engagement but it will be a marriage,’ he told an undercover Sunday Times reporter.

    ‘In Islam, once the girl reaches puberty the father has the right, the parents have the right, but under the laws of this country if the girl complains and says her marriage has been arranged and she wasn’t of marriageable age, then the person who performed the marriage will be jailed as well as the mother and father.’

    He explained how the Prophet Muhammad had married a seven-year-old girl before adding: ‘We are his followers, and that is what you have to explain (to your daughter).’

    It is not illegal for clerics to perform Islamic marriages, even when one or both of those marrying are under 16.

    Such marriages are not recognised in British law, so civil formalities can take place only if both are over 16.

    Islamic law allows a couple to have sex after marriage but, as the legal age of consent is 16, a husband can be prosecuted for rape if he has sex with an underage girl.

    The Forced Marriage Unit, set up in 2005, dealt with 1,468 cases last year with 205 involving children under the age of 15.

    Farooq Murad, of the Muslim Council of Britain, said: ‘We are strongly opposed to it on the basis that it is illegal under the law of the land where we are living and even under sharia it is highly debatable.’

    After being confronted, Kassamali said he would not have performed the marriage without the girl’s consent and would have sought legal advice. Haque declined to comment.

    The Home Office said: ‘Child marriage is totally unacceptable and illegal. Perceived cultural sensitivities and political correctness cannot and will not get in the way of preventing and uncovering such abuse.’


  14. Swat Jirga Forces Family To Marry Off 6-Year-Old Girl To Settle Feud

    By RFE/RL's Radio Mashaal Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty November 07, 2012

    The parents of a 6-year-old girl in Pakistan's Swat Valley say tribal authorities are forcing them to marry off their daughter to resolve a family feud.

    A jirga tribal assembly in the village of Ashari ruled that the girl, Bibi Roza, should be married to a member of a rival family in order to resolve a dispute between the two clans.

    The parents have appealed to a Swat court to have the ruling overturned, and local police now say they will attempt to block the wedding, which is scheduled for November 11.

    Swara, the practice of exchanging women and girls to settle personal feuds, is common in Swat and other parts of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.

    But exchanges involving girls as young as 6 are considered extremely rare.


  15. Number of child brides exceeds 181,000, reports TürkStat

    TODAY'S ZAMAN İSTANBUL, TURKEY November 19, 2012

    The number of child brides in Turkey totals in excess of 181,000 as of this month, according to data released by the Turkish Statistics Institute (TürkStat), said Nazan Moroğlu, head of the Turkish Association of University Women (TÜKD), at a meeting held in the southern province of Adana on Sunday.

    Speaking at a meeting held by TÜKD, Moroğlu emphasized the problems to child brides. While the Convention on the Rights of the Child views any person under 18 as a child, in Turkey one can marry at 17, or even at 16 with the approval of a judge along with parental consent. According to the statistics released by TürkStat the rate of parental consent for legal marriage under the age of 18 increased by 94.2 percent in the last year and the number of child brides is currently more than 181,000. “Making girls marry at a young age is a major obstacle in education. As women make up half of the country's population, a lack of education may hamper development and democracy in our country,” added Moroğlu.

    Moroğlu stated that only 2 percent of women have access to a university education, which is far below EU standards. She further stated that every two out of 10 women are still illiterate in Turkey. Young girls forced into early marriage are dependent on their husbands, who are often much older; this situation makes them more vulnerable to domestic violence. Early marriage also leads to early pregnancy, which includes the risk of health complications.

    The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Fact Sheet shows that many Turks continue to marry at a young age: 23 percent of the 582,715 marriages conducted in 2010, for instance, involved a bride under the age of 19. A study of Turkish marriage practices conducted by Hacettepe University in 2011 reveals that the issue of child brides may be more prevalent in Turkey than one might think. The study indicates that almost 40 percent of Turkish women between 15 and 49 years of age were married by their 18th birthday.

    The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) earlier this year released a report which indicated that legal measures taken by the government to protect children and women were appreciated, but the committee drew attention to the issue of child brides as a serious problem. Moreover, the CRC recommended the minimum legal age for marriage in all relevant legislation be set at 18.

    Another child bride died as a result of domestic violence in the northwestern province of Adapazarı on Nov. 12. Two years ago Emine Yayla was forced to marry Süleyman Yayla at the age of 15. A year later Emine gave birth to baby girl. After being subjected to physical violence by her husband, she fled to her parents' house with her baby two weeks later. On Nov. 12, Süleyman reportedly entered through the window of her parents' house, stabbed Emine, critically wounding her and left the crime scene. Emine was taken to Sakarya State Hospital, where she later died of her injuries. She was 17. The police have launched an investigation to find Süleyman.


  16. Afghan judges free three jailed for torture of child bride Sahar Gul

    Three freed despite imprisoning, starving and burning girl sold into marriage as new laws could prevent relatives testifying against each other

    by Emma Graham-Harrison in Kabul, The Guardian July 11, 2013

    Human rights activists have warned of an new assault on women's rights in Afghanistan after judges and prosecutors allowed the early release of three people convicted for the brutal torture of a child bride, and conservative lawmakers made an aggressive bid to prevent relatives testifying against each other.

    If successful, the small change – introduced covertly into the criminal prosecution code – would stop the vast majority of cases of violence against women from ever reaching court.

    Together with the quashing of three convictions for the attempted murder of the teenager Sahar Gul, it marks an alarming two-pronged assault on women's rights by both those who make the laws and those tasked with upholding them.

    "The last two months have really been a parade of horrible for women's rights in Afghanistan," said Heather Barr, Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch, warning that the proposed change to the criminal code would leave most abused women with no legal protection against violence.

    "Underage marriage, forced marriage, domestic violence, sale of women – these crimes are almost always committed against women by family members, whether through birth or through marriage."

    The 10-year sentences handed down to Gul's tormentors last year was hailed as an important step forward, after her case horrified Afghanistan and prompted a bout of national soul-searching.

    She was sold as a wife when she was an illiterate 12-year-old and her in-laws wasted little time embarking on a campaign of almost unimaginable torture. They starved her, chained her in a basement bathroom, beat her, burned her with red-hot metal pipes and pulled her fingernails out.

    By the end of her ordeal she could no longer walk, and was rescued from her makeshift prison in a wheelbarrow. But last week, according to her lawyer and women's activists, a court ordered the release of Gul's mother-in-law, father-in-law, and sister-in-law saying there was no proof of abuse.

    No evidence

    "This was based on the idea that there was no evidence, but the people who would have given evidence didn't know that the hearing was taking place," said Kimberley Motley, a Kabul-based US lawyer who took on Gul's case last week after learning of the release.

    Judges ignored the fact that the courtroom was almost empty, with apparently no representation from government prosecutors or the victim, even though both should have been informed under Afghan law.

    "Sahar Gul was not told about this," Motley said. "The prosecutor didn't show up or wasn't informed. I believe the only person in court was the defence lawyer for the accused."

    The quashing of the conviction was followed by a suspiciously rapid release of the prisoners, just two days later. In Afghanistan there are many layers of baffling paperwork between an overturned conviction and freedom, that usually take at least a month to complete.

    "I cannot see that [process] happening in a legal way in two days' time in Afghanistan," said Motley. "It has taken me a minimum of seven working days to secure the release of clients, and that's when I'm devoting 100% of my time to it. But I don't pay [bribes]."

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  17. Judges must firstly put their decision in writing. That letter is taken to the prosecutors, who can mull an appeal for up to 30 days before authorising a release. If they accept the judgment, their signature travels by the rickety postal system to the central prison directorate, which attaches another letter to the pile of documents and sends it to the prison where the prisoner is housed, Motley said.

    The prison governor must also sign off, and take the prisoners back to the office of the attorney general, who finally signs off again on the release and the prisoner is finally released.

    The process means that even if government prosecutors were not told of the original hearing, they must have twice had the chance to appeal or prevent the release, but passed it up.

    Systematic failure

    "This is a systematic failure. This is corruption at the core of the justice system. I don't know how they can justify how this happened to this girl," said Motley, adding that the release would have involved the connivance of three judges and a prosecutor "at an absolute minimum".

    The attorney general's office could not be reached for comment on the case.

    Sahar Gul only heard about the release when an organisation now supporting her recovery and education tried to chase up whether a date had been set to hear an appeal by her in-laws.

    "The lawyer went to court to find out when the trial was, and found out they had been released," said Manizha Naderi, executive director of Women for Afghan Women, which is supporting Gul. "We don't know where they are now … Sahar Gul is very scared, and wants them in jail for the rest of her life."

    However terrifying women's advocates find the quashing of sentences for Sahar Gul's tormentors, the legal changes that some MPs are hoping to bring to the country's criminal prosecution code, now travelling through parliament, would have stopped the case even reaching court.

    They have added a provision to clause 1 of article 26, which lists people who cannot be questioned as witnesses. "Relatives of the accused" are now grouped with small children, the accused's defence lawyer and others, according to one source who has seen a draft of the law.

    Qazi Nazir Ahmad Hanafi, a conservative MP who has been a driving force in efforts to quash a landmark law on violence against women, confirmed to the Guardian that the provision had been added to a draft of the code that recently went through the lower house of parliament. It would still need to be passed by the upper house and signed by the president to become law.

    Women's rights activists and female MPs who are outspoken about women's rights said they were not aware of the change, which still has to be approved by the upper house, but the head of the UN's human rights unit warned it could make prosecution of violence against women "almost impossible".

    "The state [government] is obliged to protect women from domestic violence wherever it happens and prosecute whoever is committing such crimes including victims' family members," Georgette Gagnon told the Guardian.

    It comes weeks after MPs quashed efforts to endorse a law on ending violence against women, arguing its terms against underage and forced marriage were unIslamic. The MPs also made a secret last-minute change to an election law, eliminating quotas of seats reserved for women on provincial councils.

    Mokhtar Amiri contributed to this report


  18. Girls are the worlds forgotten population: Nine facts about child brides

    By Max Fisher, Washington Post August 1, 2013

    The story of an 11-year-old Yemeni girl named Nada al-Ahdal, who recorded a brief video explaining why she’d fled her parents to avoid the marriage they’d arranged for her, has finally attracted much of the world’s attention to the plight of child brides. Married off by their parents before they turn 18 or often before they’ve even hit puberty, the girls stand to lose much more than just the right to choose their own spouse. “The problem with underage marriage is that it poses great risks to the girls involved,” Lauren Wolfe, who directs the Women Under Siege project at the Women’s Media Center, explained to my colleague Caitlin Dewey.

    Those risks are often substantial and the problem goes much deeper than you might think. Here, then, are several facts about child brides and what they face, compiled from a Human Rights Watch brief and other sources.

    1. Child brides often die from pregnancy or childbirth

    Child brides often become child mothers, frequently before their bodies are completely ready. In developing countries, where almost all child marriages take place, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the No. 1 cause of death for girls age 15 to 19. That means that pregnancy and childbirth kill more girls in the developing world than war, AIDS, tuberculosis or any other cause.

    The reason that pregnancy and childbirth kill so many girls is that their bodies are not ready. In developing countries, a girl or woman is twice as likely to die in childbirth if she’s age 15 to 19 than she is if she’s in her 20s. Girls under the age of 15 are five times as likely to die. Statistically, Nada al-Ahdal had real reason to fear that her marriage could kill her.

    2. Child brides are typically far from equal partners in their marriage

    This might seem like an obvious point, but its implications can be more pervasive than you might think. Keep in mind that husbands to child brides are typically adults and may have often paid her parents for the privilege; many activists consider child marriages to be a form of human trafficking, i.e. the buying and selling of human beings.
    This dynamic can leave the child brides as the subject of their husbands, rather than their partners, which is why some activists argue that sex in such marriages should not be considered consensual.

    3. The conditions of child marriage make marital rape more likely

    UNICEF calls child marriage “the most prevalent form of sexual abuse and exploitation of girls.”

    Some activists argue that, in cases where the bride is clearly a young child, sex in such marriages should not be considered consensual. Separately, the fact that the husband may have paid for his bride can set up a dynamic that’s more transactional than romantic. Comprehensive statistics on marital rape are not available and, in any case, what constitutes marital rape can be tough to define in places where a girl grows up learning that she’s expected to do her “marital duty.” Still, Human Rights Watch cites a number of anecdotal cases that clearly qualify as rapes, often justified as function of the girls’ marriage.

    4. Girls are often forced out of school when they marry

    This is just one of the many knock-on effects of point number two. Girls who drop out of school in their early teens or even younger are often left totally reliant on their husbands. This leaves them with little future except as a housewife and mother, a life they never have the opportunity to choose willingly as an adult. Having dropped out of school so young also makes it that much tougher for them, because they have little means to provide for themselves, to leave their marriage if their husband is abusive.

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  19. 5. Every year, 14 million girls become child brides, and that number is going up

    That’s 38,000 new child brides per day. Because child marriages are most common in countries where the population is growing, the overall number of child brides is expected to increase. In 2010, a study found that 67 million women age 20 to 24 had become married as children. The same study anticipated that this number would rise to 142 million by 2020.

    6. Child marriages are more common in poorer, rural regions

    This is true both between and within countries. In other words, being born in a poorer country makes a girl more likely to become a child bride, and being born into a particularly poor or rural part of that country makes child marriage more likely still. This cuts both ways: child brides in poorer regions have even fewer economic and political opportunities.

    7. There are eight countries where more than half of girls marry before turning 18

    Here are the eight countries where more than 50 percent of women age 20 to 24 had entered marriage as children (the metric used to determine child marriage rates) listed from those with the highest prevalence rate to the lowest: Niger, Chad, Mali, Bangladesh, Guinea, Central African Republic, Mozambique, Nepal.

    As you can see, six of those eight are in sub-Saharan Africa. The prevalence rate in Niger is 75 percent, suggesting that three in four girls there can expect to be married before turning 18.

    8. One in seven girls in the developing world is married before turning 15

    These girls – and they are, make no mistake, children – tend to be in West and Central Africa as well as South Asia. But the developing world is huge, including billions of people (precisely how many depends on how you measure it). And that population is expected to grow rapidly, far outpacing the rest of the world. See chart 5 on this page to get a sense of its rapid, and accelerating, growth.

    There are 40 countries, mostly in Africa and South Asia, where at least 30 percent of girls marry before turning 18.

    9. The issue is controversial in some countries, more accepted in others

    In Yemen, for example, girls often have few rights, legal protections or social norms on their side. When an 11-year-old Yemeni child bride who had been raped by her husband was brave enough to seek a divorce, the judge told her only, “We don’t divorce little girls.”

    In Nigeria, however, while child marriage is common in the country’s Muslim-majority north, it is more controversial in the Christian-dominated south and has become a national issue. Some legislators recently tried to amend the country’s constitution, to remove a provision that explicitly allows child marriages. Their effort was blocked by a coalition of 40 pro-child bride lawmakers, including one legislator who in 2010 paid a $100,000 dowry for the privilege of marrying a 13-year-old girl.

    Still, at least the issue is being debated in Nigeria. That’s a small step toward dealing with the underlying problem, which goes deeper than any religious or cultural norms that might say it’s okay for a middle-aged man to exchange money for the marriage of a girl too young to consent. As Lauren Wolfe, of the Women Under Siege project, put it to my colleague, “Girls are the world’s forgotten population.”


  20. Spoon in underwear saving youths from forced marriage

    By Agence France-Presse August 15, 2013

    As Britain puts airport staff on alert to spot potential victims of forced marriage, one campaigning group says the trick of putting a spoon in their underwear has saved some youngsters from a forced union in their South Asian ancestral homelands.

    The concealed spoon sets off the metal detector at the airport in Britain and the teenagers can be taken away from their parents to be searched — a last chance to escape a largely hidden practice wrecking the lives of unknown thousands of British youths.

    The British school summer holidays, now well under way, mark a peak in reports of young people — typically girls aged 15 and 16 — being taken abroad on “holiday”, for a marriage without consent, the government says.

    The bleep at airport security may be the last chance they get to escape a marriage to someone they have never met in a country they have never seen.

    The spoon trick is the brainchild of the Karma Nirvana charity, which supports victims and survivors of forced marriage and honour-based abuse.

    Based in Derby, central England, it fields 6,500 calls per year from around Britain but has almost reached that point so far in 2013 as awareness of the issue grows.

    When petrified youngsters ring, “if they don’t know exactly when it may happen or if it’s going to happen, we advise them to put a spoon in their underwear,” said Natasha Rattu, Karma Nirvana’s operations manager.

    “When they go though security, it will highlight this object in a private area and, if 16 or over, they will be taken to a safe space where they have that one last opportunity to disclose they’re being forced to marry,” she told AFP.

    “We’ve had people ring and that it’s helped them and got them out of a dangerous situation. It’s an incredibly difficult thing to do with your family around you — but they won’t be aware you have done it. It’s a safe way.”

    The charity is working with airports — so far London Heathrow, Liverpool and Glasgow, with Birmingham to come — to spot potential signs, such as one-way tickets, the time of year, age of the person and whether they look uncomfortable.

    “These are quite general points, but there are things that if you look collectively lead you to believe something more sinister is going on,” said Rattu.

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  21. People who come forward can be escorted out of a secure airport exit to help outside.

    Marriages without consent, or their refusal, have led to suicides and so-called honour killings, shocking a nation widely deemed to have successfully absorbed immigrant communities and customs.

    Officials fear the number of victims coming forward is just the tip of the iceberg, with few community leaders prepared to speak out and risk losing their support base.

    One woman, whose identity was protected by Essex Police in southeast England, was forced to get married in India.

    She said she was threatened by her father “because he said if I thought about running away he would find me and kill me”.

    “I was shipped off with a total stranger.

    “That night I was raped by my husband and this abuse continued for about eight and half years of my life.”

    She eventually fled.

    Last year, the Foreign Office’s Forced Marriage Unit dealt with some 1,500 cases — 18 percent of them men.

    A third of cases involved children aged under 17. The oldest victim was aged 71; the youngest just two.

    The cases related to 60 countries: almost half were linked to Pakistan, 11 percent to Bangladesh, eight percent to India, and two percent to Afghanistan. Other countries were Somalia, Turkey and Iraq.

    Calls to Karma Nirvana tend to spike before the British school summer holidays and again at the end, said Rattu.

    “The holidays are a really good time for young people to go missing because there is nobody accounting for where they are at school,” she said.

    Since Ramadan ended last week, calls have risen again, including one from an 18-year-old who has fallen pregnant and her family is trying force her into marriage to conceal it.

    Burdened by South Asian codes of “izzat”, or family honour, youngsters can be under extreme physical and emotional duress to marry relatives in a culture and country they were not brought up in.

    If they refuse, they are often threatened with being thrown out of the family — or worse.

    “It really takes a brave person to stand up against their family,” said Rattu.


  22. Child and bride

    The Stream speaks with Nigerian Senator Ahmad Yarima about his support of child marriage.

    Al Jazeera September 3, 2013


    The hot button issue of child marriage has once again polarised Nigeria. This time at the hands of Senator Ahmad Yarima who successfully fought to uphold a clause in the constitution that deems all married women as “full age”, including those under 18. He is a controversial figure who, himself, has an underage bride and claims banning child marriage goes against Islamic law. He’ll be joining us on The Stream to take your questions. Join the conversation with him at 1930GMT.

    Nigerians rallied around the hashtag #ChildNotBride after a controversial senate vote in July failed to define the maturity age of women as 18. Many perceive the vote as an endorsement of child marriage, after Senator Ahmad Sani Yarima argued that defining the maturity age violated cultural and religious norms.

    Yarima is infamous for his marriage to a reportedly 13-year-old Egyptian girl in 2010. His controversial position sparked debate among Nigerians as explained in this Al Jazeera English report.

    Immediately after the vote, netizens and activists began an online campaign calling for a clear definition of the maturity age in the constitution.

    The campaign got heated as it took to the streets and images were shared on social media.

    Famous Nigerian actress and singer Stella Damasus added her voice to the conversation.

    The #ChildNotBride movement still garnered criticism for its failure to draw crowds on the streets.

    Even Stella Damasus' viral video received a negative response:

    Yet early marriage continues to generate concern. According to UNESCO, one out of every five Nigerian children is out of school. Nigeria also has 10 per cent of the world's VVF patients, three quarters of whom are young girls suffering from early pregnancy trauma. Twitter users discussed these issues.

    We asked our community why they think it is important to set a clear age of consent for marriage. Some spoke in favour of this.

    To view the links, videos and twitter comments embedded in this article go to:


  23. 8-year-old Yemeni child dies at hands of 40-year-old husband on wedding night

    Albawaba.com September 9th, 2013

    Al Nahar, Lebanon, has reported that an eight year old child bride died in Yemen on her wedding night after suffering internal injuries due to sexual trauma. Human rights organizations are calling for the arrest of her husband who was five times her age.

    The death occurred in the tribal area of Hardh in northwestern Yemen, which borders Saudi Arabia. This brings even more attention to the already existing issue of forced child marriages in the Middle Eastern region.

    "According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), between 2011 and 2020, more than 140 million girls will become child brides. Furthermore, of the 140 million girls who will marry before the age of 18, 50 million will be under the age of 15."

    It is reported that over a quarter of Yemen's young girls are married before the age of 15. Not only do they lose access to health and education, these child brides are commonly subjected to physical, emotional and sexual violence in their forced marriage.

    One of the main issues is that there is currently no consistent established definition of a "child" that has been agreed upon worldwide. This leaves various interpretations within countries and little protection for those who are affected.

    Establishing this age limit is among the top priorities of groups like HRC which was responsible for publishing the 54-page report “How Come You Allow Little Girls to Get Married?”, documenting the lifelong damage to girls who are forced to marry young. Most pro age-limit organizations agree that 18 should be the legal age for marriage.

    In February 2009, a law was created in Yemen that set the minimum age for marriage at 17. Unfortunately, it was repealed after more conservative lawmakers called it un-Islamic.


  24. Women in forced marriages number in the hundreds in Ontario

    25% of women in forced marriages were teens when they married

    CBC News September 20, 2013

    Hundreds of women in Ontario are in marriages against their will, with a quarter of them married when they were just teenagers, according to a three-year study looking into the practice.

    The South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, or SALCO, released its findings today looking at 219 cases of forced marriage that were identified in the province between 2010 and 2012.

    The report, titled Who/If/When to Marry: The Incidence of Forced Marriage in Ontario, found that both men and women in the province are coerced into marriage, but 92 per cent of those affected are women. In 25 per cent of the cases, the people involved were just 16 to 18 years old when they were married.

    It’s the first study to provide a closer look at these non-consensual unions, which are defined as marriages where individuals are forced to wed against their will, under duress or without full, free and informed consent from both parties.

    "I think the reality is that number is just a tipping point of all those cases we know are not getting reported," said Shalini Konanur of SALCO.

    "And you have to remember our collection was just in Ontario, so the national picture would be much more, I think, bigger."

    The study found that the majority of the people affected are Canadian citizens and permanent residents, with people in 31 per cent of cases living in Canada for more than a decade before being forced into marriage.

    “This is a Canadian problem,” said Konanur, ”and it does transcend communities, religion and ages.”

    One woman, who goes by the name Haya and does not want to be identified, had been living in Ontario for several years before her father took her to Pakistan to force her to marry her cousin.

    “I thought, ‘Yay, we’re going to go back home for a vacation,’” Haya told CBC News.

    “It turns out my dad ends up taking my passport, telling me I can’t go back home to Canada and I’m just going to have to end up getting married,” she said.

    Haya managed to escape from Pakistan and is now living in Mississauga, Ont., but said she was disowned by her father.

    The report lists a variety of reasons people are pressured into marriages — usually by family members, community elders or religious leaders — including upholding cultural tradition, family reputation and honour.

    The report says shame and fear are common themes in many of the cases it examined. In some cases, victims were threatened with violence.

    “In our society, we are fairly good at understanding issues of violence, particularly violence against women,” said Uzma Shakir, a former director at SALCO. “But this is an aspect of that violence that we are not quite familiar with.”

    The report lists several recommendations on how to deal with forced marriages across the country, including a national public awareness campaign, building a better framework for assessing cases and providing legal and social support for victims of the practice.


  25. Underage marriages agreed

    Religious leaders appeared willing to agree to perform underage marriages at some mosques across the UK, an ITV investigation has discovered.

    The Exposure undercover reporter, posing as the mother of the girl.

    UK Imams agree to perform underage marriages

    OCTOBER 6, 2013

    18 UK mosques 'agree to perform underage marriages'

    Religious leaders appeared willing to agree to perform underage marriages at some mosques across the UK, an ITV Exposure investigation discovered.

    Two undercover reporters called 56 mosques to ask whether they would perform the marriage of a 14-year-old girl.

    Two-thirds of those contacted refused to perform the marriage but 18 of the respondents spoken to agreed.

    UK Editor Lucy Manning reports:

    see video at: http://www.itv.com/news/story/2013-10-06/uk-imams-agree-underage-marriages/

  26. Putting an end to forced marriage in Australia

    by Jennifer Burn, The Conversation October 19, 2013

    According to Human Rights Watch, 14 million girls are married, worldwide, each year - with some as young as eight or nine. While early and forced marriage appears most prevalent in countries of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, several recent cases have shown Australia is not immune to the practise.

    If the global trend continues, Human Rights Watch estimates that 142 million children will be married by 2020.

    Snapshot of Australia

    There is no Australian research on the prevalence of forced marriage but the issue was brought to the fore following several recent high-profile family court cases.

    A 2010 case involving a 13 year-old Victorian girl began when her school alerted the state’s child protection service that she was not attending school. The school suggested the girl’s absence may be due to her parents preparing her for marriage to a fiance they had chosen for her – a 17 year-old living overseas.

    Consequently, the Department of Human Services initiated proceedings in the Family Court that eventually resulted in the court ordering the girl not be removed from Australia before she turned 18. The court also ordered that her passport be surrendered, that her parents be restrained from applying for another passport on her behalf and that her name be placed on the Australian Federal Police watchlist until her 18th birthday.

    The next year, another prominent case came before the family court. The girl (known as Ms Kreet) had just finished year 12 and had a boyfriend (known as “Mr U”) who lived in Australia. Ms Kreet’s parents told her she was to travel to their home country to marry Mr U there. But they deceived her and had another man in mind.

    The court heard that on arrival, Ms Kreet was introduced to the man her parents had secretly chosen to be her husband. Her father told Ms Kreet that if she did not acquiesce to the marriage, he would have her boyfriend’s sisters and mother kidnapped and raped. Ms Kreet consented and the marriage took place.

    But when Ms Kreet returned to Australia, she withdrew a visa application for her husband and applied to the Family Court for an annulment.

    The court accepted that Ms Kreet believed that her father would carry out his threat and said that at the time of the marriage ceremony, Ms Kreet’s consent was not real because it had been obtained through duress. The court declared that the marriage was not a valid marriage and that the marriage was void.

    continued below

  27. Australian law reform

    The latter case illustrates how coercion can overbear full and free consent to a marriage. When deciding Ms Kreet’s case, Judge Cronin concluded:

    If a cultural practice relating to a marriage gives rise to the overbearing of a mind and will so that it is not a true consent, the cultural practice must give way.

    Acknowledging emerging concerns about forced marriage in Australia, the Commonwealth government released a discussion paper on forced and servile marriage in Australia in 2010 and called for submissions from community groups to inform potential reform.

    Then, on March 8 this year, legislation passed to specifically outlaw the practice. The amendment created new offences relating to slavery and slave-like practices including forced marriage.

    Under the Act, a marriage is a forced marriage if – because of the use of coercion, threat or deception – one party to the marriage entered into the marriage without freely and fully consenting.

    Next steps

    Since the new law came into effect, there has been considerable community interest in the area of forced marriage; engagement in outreach and writing multilingual materials to raise awareness of the law.

    In one such innovative program, the Victorian Immigrant Refugee Women’s Coalition (VIRWC) designed a new campaign for high school students called The Choice is Yours. The coalition is calling for training about the indicators of forced marriage among teachers, doctors and community workers.

    The law is one part of a holistic and effective social response. But it’s also essential that comprehensive support services for those in forced marriage are available and that resources are put into community-based services and education to explain the law.

    In the 2010 case, the court had the power to prevent the girl leaving Australia, but such protective powers cease when the person turns 18. In the United Kingdom, civil protection orders are available regardless of the age of the applicant.

    This would be the next step to ensure those in forced marriage have all the support they need and can choose the extent that they wish to engage in legal processes.

    Jennifer Burn is Associate Professor, Faculty of Law and Director of Anti-Slavery Australia at University of Technology, Sydney


  28. Yemen police stop childs wedding

    By Sebastian Usher BBC News November 8, 2013

    The human rights ministry in Yemen says that one of its officials has managed to stop the wedding of a nine-year-old girl, due to take place on Friday.

    An official told the BBC it was the first such intervention to stop a child marriage in Yemen.

    The child, Hiba, was due to have been married on 8 November in the southern city of Taiz.

    The issue of young Yemeni girls being married off by their families has drawn growing international concern.

    Some of the families are motivated by the traditional dowry system.

    Hiba's story is not unusual in Yemen.

    She is looked after by her father, who married again after Hiba's mother died.

    An official from the local office of the human rights ministry heard about the planned wedding. The ministry has put the issue of child marriage at the very top of its agenda.

    The official contacted the police station near where Hiba lives, and the police decided to intervene.

    They spoke to Hiba's father and persuaded him not to marry his daughter off.

    Fuad al-Ghaffari, a senior official in the office of the Human Rights Minister, Hooria Mashhour, said he was proud of the action taken by his colleague, as well as the police.

    He told the BBC that it was the first time such an intervention had taken place.

    The women's rights group, Equality Now, has listed the stories of some of the young girls who have been through this experience.

    Wafa, it says, was married at 11 to a 40-year-old who raped and tortured her. A lawyer hired by the group and the Yemeni Women Union managed to arrange her divorce.

    Another 11-year-old, Fawziya, died in childbirth.

    Salwa, a 12-year-old girl, killed herself by throwing herself off a roof.

    A recent, widely-reported case, which was not officially corroborated, of an eight-year-old girl said to have died of internal injuries after her wedding night, prompted renewed calls for action.


    The Yemeni Human Rights Ministry is trying to build pressure at every level of government to bring in a legally-sanctioned minimum marriage age to stop such abuse.

    Officials there say they are making some progress, suggesting that the minister of legal affairs may soon propose a draft law.

    There have also been moves to try to enshrine in the new constitution being drafted a clause to end child marriage and make the minimum age 18. But powerful traditional elements, including religious clerics and tribal leaders, remain opposed and say they will block this.

    As for Hiba, her fate still remains in the balance.

    Without any legal sanction, human rights officials say there is nothing to stop her still being married off at a later date.

    Related Stories on the BBC website:

    Yemen minister seeks child bride law 13 SEPTEMBER 2013, MIDDLE EAST
    Girl's online plea highlights plight of Yemen's child brides 26 JULY 2013, MIDDLE EAST
    What is it like to be a child bride? 03 OCTOBER 2011, MAGAZINE
    Yemeni child bride fights for divorce 05 JANUARY 2010, MIDDLE EAST
    Yemeni bride 'bleeds to death' 08 APRIL 2010, MIDDLE EAST
    Yemen profile 26 OCTOBER 2013, MIDDLE EAST


  29. Till death do us part: The forgotten US victims of forced marriage - part one of a four part series

    by Alyana Alfaro, Sarah Fournier, Mary Zarikos, Al Jezeera America January 21, 2014

    Vidya Sri was a typical American teenager in the Queens borough of New York. She went to school, hung out with her friends and took dance classes. But all that changed when she was 18 and started dating her first real boyfriend, a sweet Irish Catholic boy.

    That was in 1987. Alarmed that Sri was dating someone who wasn’t Indian, her father shipped her off to India to live with relatives. Nearly every day for four years, she was pressured to get married. It became a condition of her return to the United States. Finally, she gave in and married a man she did not know.

    “I was introduced to him, and a week later we were married,” said Sri, now 44 and divorced.

    The marriage was recognized by the U.S., and the couple moved to New York. But Sri didn’t love her husband, wasn’t attracted to him and said she felt as if they came from “two different planets.” Despite not wanting to consummate the marriage, Sri gave in to family pressure and had two children with her husband.

    Sri was a victim of forced marriage, a practice in which women — and sometimes men — are forced to marry against their will. The Tahirih Justice Center, a national nonprofit organization that helps immigrant women and girls who have been abused, determined that there were as many as 3,000 confirmed or suspected cases of forced marriage in the U.S. from 2009 to 2011.

    That the numbers aren’t clear is part of the problem.

    “We hide. We hide very carefully,” said Sri, who now works at her own organization to help prevent forced marriages like hers. “This whole thing is so humiliating. It’s so shaming, all you really want to do is drop dead.”

    For those who might think that forced marriage isn’t much of an issue in the U.S., a host of organizations, scholars and victims beg to differ. A constellation of factors — from cultural misunderstandings to lack of legislation — keeps the issue in the shadows here, although activists are hoping that a growing awareness in Europe will bring changes in the U.S. as well.

    The AHA Foundation, an advocacy organization founded by vocal women’s rights defender and often controversial critic of Islam Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who escaped her own forced marriage in 1992, funded a recent survey of immigrant populations in New York conducted by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. The results show that the issue of forced marriage is very much alive and probably underdocumented.

    “Forced marriage is only one variant of the honor violence that happens in these communities,” said Ric Curtis, a professor of anthropology at John Jay, who led the survey.

    While forced marriage may sound like the concept of arranged marriage — with parents playing matchmaker for their children — the element of coercion when a marriage is forced often leaves women feeling “like slaves,” according to Tanya McLeod, senior campaign organizer at the Voices of Women Organizing Project (VOW), an organization dedicating to providing help and resources to victims of domestic violence in New York.

    Sri, who was forced to marry in India, now runs GangaShakti, a New Jersey–based nonprofit organization dedicated to helping victims of forced marriage find resources. She said the fact that the issue is often conflated with arranged marriage is a problem when protecting victims like her.
    In June 2012 the United Kingdom announced it would criminalize forced marriage, following the lead of Norway, Denmark, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Cyprus and Malta. In 2012 alone, the U.K. Forced Marriage Unit noted 1,485 cases related to possible forced marriage.

    continuing reading this Four Part Series on Forced Marriage at:


  30. Iraqi bill to legalize child marriage criticized

    By SAMEER N. YACOUB and SINAN SALAHEDDIN, Associated Press March 14, 2014

    BAGHDAD (AP) — A contentious draft law being considered in Iraq could open the door to girls as young as nine getting married and would require wives to submit to sex on their husband's whim, provoking outrage from rights activists and many Iraqis who see it as a step backward for women's rights.

    The measure, aimed at creating different laws for Iraq's majority Shiite population, could further fray the country's divisions amid some of the worst bloodshed since the sectarian fighting that nearly ripped the country apart after the U.S.-led invasion. It also comes as more and more children under 18 get married in the country.

    "That law represents a crime against humanity and childhood," prominent Iraqi human rights activist Hana Adwar told The Associated Press. "Married underage girls are subjected to physical and psychological suffering.

    Iraqi law now sets the legal age for marriage at 18 without parental approval. Girls as young as 15 can be married only with a guardian's approval.

    The proposed new measure, known as the Jaafari Personal Status Law, is based on the principles of a Shiite school of religious law founded by Jaafar al-Sadiq, the sixth Shiite imam. Iraq's Justice Ministry late last year introduced the draft measure to the Cabinet, which approved it last month despite strong opposition by rights groups and activists.

    The draft law does not set a minimum age for marriage. Instead, it mentions an age in a section on divorce, setting rules for divorces of girls who have reached the age of 9 years in the lunar Islamic calendar. It also says that's the age girls reach puberty. Since the Islamic calendar year is 10 or 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar, that would be the equivalent of 8 years and 8 months old. The bill makes the father the only parent with the right to accept or refuse the marriage proposal.

    Critics of the bill believe that its authors slipped the age into the divorce section as a backhanded way to allow marriages of girls that young. Already, government statistics show that nearly 25 percent of marriages in Iraq involved someone under the age of 18 in 2011, up from 21 percent in 2001 and 15 percent in 1997. Planning Ministry spokesman Abdul-Zahra Hendawi said the practice of underage marriage is particularly prevalent in rural areas and some provinces where illiteracy is high.

    Also under the proposed measure, a husband can have sex with his wife regardless of her consent. The bill also prevents women from leaving the house without their husband's permission, would restrict women's rights in matters of parental custody after divorce and make it easier for men to take multiple wives.

    continued below

  31. Parliament must still ratify the bill before it becomes law. That is unlikely to happen before parliamentary elections scheduled for April 30, though the Cabinet support suggests it remains a priority for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's administration. Al-Maliki is widely expected to seek a third term.

    Baghdad-based analyst Hadi Jalo suggested that election campaigning might be behind the proposal.

    "Some influential Shiite politicians have the impression that they should do their best to make any achievement that would end the injustice that had been done against the Shiites in the past," Jalo said.

    The formerly repressed Shiite majority came to power after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein's Sunni-led regime. Since then, Shiite religious and political leaders have encouraged followers to pour in millions into streets for religious rituals, a show of their strength.

    Iraqi Justice Minister Hassan al-Shimmari, a Shiite, has brushed off the criticism of the bill. His office introduced a companion bill that calls for the establishment of special Shiite courts that would be tied to the sect's religious leadership.

    Al-Shimmari insists that the bill is designed to end injustices faced by Iraqi women in past decades, and that it could help prevent illicit child marriage outside established legal systems.

    "By introducing this draft law, we want to limit or prevent such practices," al-Shimmari said.

    But Sunni female lawmaker Likaa Wardi believes it violates women's and children's rights and creates divisions in society.

    "The Jaffari law will pave the way to the establishments of courts for Shiites only, and this will force others sects to form their own courts. This move will widen the rift among the Iraqi people," Wardi said.

    New York-based Human Rights Watch also strongly criticized the law this week.

    "Passage of the Jaafari law would be a disastrous and discriminatory step backward for Iraq's women and girls," deputy Middle East director Joe Stork said in a statement. "This personal status law would only entrench Iraq's divisions while the government claims to support equal rights for all."

    It is unclear how much support the bill enjoys among Iraqi Shiites, but Jalo, the analyst, believes that it would face opposition from secular members of the sect.

    Qais Raheem, a Shiite government employee living in eastern Baghdad, said the draft bill contradicts the principles of a modern society.

    "The government officials have come up with this backward law instead of combating corruption and terrorism," said Raheem who has four children, including two teenage girls. "This law legalizes the rape and we should all reject it."


  32. War and the Rights of Children: America’s Proxy Government Aims to Legalize Pedophilia in Occupied Iraq

    By Felicity Arbuthnot, Global Research, March 13, 2014

    Less than a month before the eleventh anniversary of the illegal US-led invasion of Iraq, the near destruction of much of the country, heritage, culture, secularism, education, health services and all State institutions, the country is poised to revert “two thousand years” say campaigners.

    On 25th February Iraq’s Cabinet approved a draft law lowering the age of legal marriage for females to nine years old.

    Iraq was, prior to the invasion, a fiercely secular country, with a broadly equal male, female workforce and with women benefiting from a National Personal Status Law, introduced in 1959, which remained “one of the most liberal in the Arab world, with respect to women’s rights.”

    The legal age for marriage was set at eighteen, forced marriages were banned and polygamy restricted. Cohesion between communities was enhanced and fostered by: “eliminating the differential treatment of Sunnis and Shiites under the law (and erasing differentiation) between the various religious communities …” Women’s rights in divorce, child custody and inheritance were an integral part of the Law, with Article 14 stating that all Iraqis are equal under the law. see: http://www.lb.boell.org/web/52-263.html

    Equality was swept away from the first day of the invasion when George W. Bush and his Administration started to talk of Sunni, Shiite, Kurds, Christians and other religions and ethnicities and also effectively selecting the overseers of the “New Iraq” not by ability but by religion and ethnicity, effectively pitching Iraqi against Iraqi in what, for all the complexities had been a very cohesive society. “Divide and rule” pervaded all.

    So far, however, the Personal Status Law still stands, if largely ignored by the US backed Parliament and a largely – with honourable and courageous exceptions – woefully wanting judiciary. The draft law if ratified, as it is aimed to be after the April elections, would sweep its admirable provisions aside and turn Iraq in to a pedophiles paradise.

    This outrageous plan was first mooted as early as December 2003, just eight months after the invasion, by Abdel Aziz al Hakim, who heads the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, who cancelled the Personal Status Law when President of the Interim Governing Council. Due to opposition by women and others within the Council and from many civil and women’s organizations, the decision was revoked by Paul Bremer, arguably the only thing he got right during his woeful, ill informed tenure. Then, as now, the change: “would have transferred civil actions concerning family and personal law, including marriage, divorce, and inheritance, to the jurisdiction of clerics”, not civil Courts.

    Incredibly: “The proposal has been based on the Shiite Ja’fari school, called after an eighth century Shiite Imam. A Supreme Shiite Judicial Council in the holy city of Najaf will supervise nationwide religious tribunals that will settle family matters …”

    Woman’s groups and activists are vociferous in their outrage and condemnation and in spite of twenty one of the twenty nine present at the Cabinet decision voting in favour of the change, some clerics in Najav are distancing themselves from the proposal, which would also include women not being allowed to leave their home without the permission of their husband – and ironically a father’s permission being mandatory for a woman over eighteen to marry. Muslims will not be allowed to marry non-Muslims.

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  33. Hanaa Edwar, who heads the Al-Amal Association which fights for the socioeconomic improvement of Iraqis points out that among the poor – which since the invasion has spiraled, children as young as ten are already marrying and further, that most of the: religious: “ illiterate people hear it’s based on Ja’fari (law) and think it must be good.”

    Yanar Mohammed, President of the Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq is convinced that: “Iraqi people will not agree to the legalization of pedophilia … the objections come from all sides, and the number of women who rais their voices is high … It is an abuse of children’s rights and their bodily integrity.” see: http://rudaw.net/english/middleeast/iraq/100320141

    Edwar and Mohammed are lobbying in and out of the parliament, but “pressure from outside Iraq is essential.”

    As Iraq has ratified Convention on Elimination Against Women (CEDAW) the UN has already asked for the withdrawal of the draft law. CEDAW “provides that the betrothal and marriage of a child shall have no legal effect.”

    At the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action adopted by the World Conference on Human Rights, held in Vienna from 14th- 25th June 1993, States were: “urged to repeal existing laws and regulations and to remove customs and practices which discriminate against and cause harm to the girl child. Article 16(2) and the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child preclude States parties from permitting or giving validity to a marriage between persons who have not attained their majority. In the context of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, ‘a child’ means every human being below the age of 18 years …”

    Human Rights Watch in a less than robust statement on the marriage of nine year olds, who, in the West would still in Primary school, a year too young to enter Secondary education, never the less state: “This draft personal status law (change) flies in the faces of the Iraqi government’s legal commitments to protect women’s and girls’ rights … Passage of this law by parliament may lead to further discriminatory laws.” see: . http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/03/11/iraq-don-t-legalize-marriage-9-year-olds

    Silent is Ann Clwyd, MP., formerly Tony Blair’s Human Rights Envoy to Iraq and currently Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Human Rights Group and of the All Party Parliamentary Iraq Group, as is.Middle East “Peace Envoy” Tony “I’d do it again” Blair, as are the US and British Ambassadors in Iraq and the self appointed “Vicar of Baghdad” Canon Andrew White.

    The US and UK could put an end to this disgrace instantly by simply withdrawing trade, arms sales, and diplomatic presence. But Iraq is still a destroyed country, courtesy the same US and UK and there are also all those multi-million rebuilding, security, and military training contracts. As with the majority of those in their Iraq puppet Parliament, morality and integrity are long dead and buried.


  34. Iranian child bride faces execution for killing the man she was forced to marry

    Iran's judiciary urged to halt Razieh Ebrahimi's execution as international law prohibits execution for crimes by juveniles

    by Saeed Kamali Dehghan, The Guardian June 19, 2014

    Razieh Ebrahimi was forced to marry at the age of 14, became a mother at 15, and killed her husband at 17. Now at 21, she is on Iran's death row.

    Ebrahimi, who shot dead her husband while he was sleeping, faces imminent execution, despite international laws prohibiting execution for crimes committed by juveniles.

    Human Rights Watch, has urged Iran's judiciary to halt the execution. Earlier this week, Ebrahimi's lawyer also asked judges to consider a retrial, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported.

    "I married our neighbour's son when I was only 14 because my dad insisted," Ebrahimi was quoted as telling officials working on her case, according to Mehr. "My dad insisted I should marry him because he was educated and was working as a teacher. I was 15 when I gave birth to my child." Her child is believed to be now six years old.

    "I didn't know who I am or what is life all about," she said soon after being arrested. "My husband mistreated me. He used any excuse to insult me, even attacking me physically."

    Ebrahimi is said to have admitted to killing her husband with his own gun before burying him in the garden. Ebrahimi initially told the police her husband was missing but her own father found the dead body and gave her in to the police.

    Iran is signatory to the international convenant of civil and political rights (ICCPR) which prohibits death penalty for convicts if their act of crime is committed while they were under the age of 18.

    HRW called on the judiciary, which is independent of the Iranian government, to reverse its decision.

    "Every time an Iranian judge issues a death sentence for a child offender like Ebrahimi, he should remember he is in flagrantly violating his legal responsibilities to administer justice fairly and equitably," said HRW's Joe Stork. "Iran's judiciary should reverse its execution order of a battered child bride."

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  35. Although a death penalty for Ebrahimi was handed down by the judges, her victim's family have until the very last minute to pardon her, a decision they have so far refused. Under Iranian law the victim's family have a final say over the death penalty.

    In April an Iranian mother pardoned the man who had killed her sonjust moments before he was to be executed. Samereh Alinejad's act of forgiveness, has since inspired dozens of other families across Iran to pardon convicts at last minute.

    Iran's judicial authorities have previously denied accusations of juvenile executions, but according to HRW, the country has executed at least 10 juvenile offenders since 2009.

    The dispute appears to arise from Iran's own definition of a juvenile. The country does not provide a clear distinction between the age of majority – when minors cease to legally be considered children – and the minimum age of criminal responsibility, which is 15 for boys and nine for girls under Iranian law. Under the current civil code, girls can marry at 13 and boys at 15, HRW said.

    In 2013, Iran and Iraq were responsible for more than two-thirds of the executions that happened worldwide, according to Amnesty. Iran says most of its executions are related to drug-offences.

    Shadi Sadr, a London-based Iranian lawyer with the rights group Justice for Iran, told the Guardian that the case against Razieh Ebrahimi - also known as Maryan - underlined a hidden social and legal issue in Iran.

    "Forced girl marriage in Iran is a hidden social and legal issue," she said. "However, it should be noted that Maryam Ebrahimi's case is not a unique case at all. This March, for instance, Farzaneh Moradi, 28, was executed for murdering her husband. She was forced to marriage at 15, gave birth at 16, fell in love with another man at 19 and was accused of murdering her husband at 20."

    She added: "Women such as Maryam or Farzaneh, who are forced to marriage at childhood, are actually being raped constantly under the name of marriage. While they should go to school at that age, they are instead experiencing a life full of violence with no legal support. They eventually kill themselves or their husbands to end this vicious circle."

    Sadr said Justice for Iran's research shows in 2012 alone, 1,537 girls under the age of of 10 and 29,827 girls between the ages of 10 and 14 were registered for marriage in Iran.


  36. Forced marriage victim, legal experts say government action needed

    Unlike countries such as Britain, in Canada there is no law against forced marriage

    By Nicole Gibillini, CBC News September 13, 2014

    Ayesha Khan always felt trapped living in a traditional Asia-Muslim household in Scotland. She wanted freedom, so at 18 she ran away from home. It wasn’t long before her family found her and brought her back using death threats and blackmail.

    A few months later, during a trip to Pakistan, Ayesha’s family forced her to marry a man distantly related to her father.

    “The reason I got married was because it was punishment for running away from home,” she says in an interview from England. “I felt I had no option but to agree, just so that I could eventually go back to the U.K. and run away again.”

    Khan is one of thousands of people worldwide who’ve been forced into marriage — an action that is now a criminal offence in England and Wales, but not in Canada.

    Forced marriage happens when one or both parties do not consent to the marriage or are physically or psychologically pressured into it by a third party, usually a family member. But there are questions whether the new U.K. law banning forced marriage, which came into effect in June, is enough to combat the problem.

    Some fear it may even exacerbate the situation.

    “I think our biggest concern about criminalization has been that it could drive the problem further underground, because a lot our victims don’t want to get their parents in trouble,” says Hannana Siddiqui, a member of London-based Southall Black Sisters.

    The not-for-profit organization works with minority female victims of violence. Southall Black Sisters has written 10 recommendations to the British government — including more legal aid and immigration reform — to assist people forced into marriage who might be hesitant to seek help. The organization has been collecting signatures online and plans to present the recommendations in a couple of months.

    The issue of forced marriage has grown over the past decade in the U.K., which triggered government intervention. Under the new law, offenders can be sentenced up to seven years in jail. Forcing a British national into marriage outside the country is also now illegal.

    Criminalization “is a further move by this government to ensure victims are protected by the law and that they have the confidence, safety and the freedom to choose," Home Secretary Theresa May said in June.

    Full-force action

    The new law is just the latest measure in the U.K.'s effort to stop its citizens from being coerced into matrimony.

    In 2005, the British government set up the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) to take the lead on forced-marriage policy and casework. The FMU provides advice or support to possible cases — both inside and outside the U.K.

    The FMU and the Border Force, the U.K.’s border security unit, also train safeguarding and trafficking teams at airports. The training is meant to help the teams recognize forced-marriage situations. Outbound flights to countries where forced marriage is known to happen are monitored in order to help police officers stop suspected cases.

    In 2013, the FMU handled 1,302 cases, down from 1,485 in 2012. Of those, 82 per cent involved females. Although the incidents investigated by the FMU were spread across 74 different countries, almost half involved Pakistan, followed by India and Bangladesh.

    Siddiqui says while the number of cases reported to the FMU has gone down, she hasn’t seen a parallel at Southall Black Sisters. The majority of cases she deals with involve female minors who are taken abroad.

    A quiet problem in Canada

    Forced marriage isn’t only a problem for the U.K.

    continued below

  37. “It’s an issue for the European and Western countries,” Siddiqui says. “It took about three decades for the [British] government to listen. It was very much about cultural sensitivity — respecting cultural difference. So there was a tendency not to address these problems at all.”

    Siddiqui says awareness of forced marriage may be lower in other countries – including Canada – because a lot of the problems tend to involve second- or third-generation groups. The issue may not be as severe within new migrant communities, which are less likely to see discord between generations.

    “It is certainly a concern in this country,” says Nicholas Bala, a family law professor at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. “It is an issue and very troubling. We don’t really know the extent of it.”

    In Canada, there is no law against forced marriage. People forced into a union can get the marriage annulled in court, but the person who forced the marriage cannot be sent to jail.

    The issue is, however, on the government’s radar.

    The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade provided assistance to 34 individuals in forced marriage situations from mid-2009 to May 2012, according to a 2013 report by the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO). The report also indicated many incidents have not been officially noted as forced-marriage cases because many of the consular officers aren't familiar with the practice.

    SALCO's 2013 report, Who/If/When to Marry: The Incidence of Forced Marriage in Ontario, looked at 219 cases of forced marriage that were identified in the province between 2010 and 2012. It found that both men and women in Ontario are coerced into marriage, but 92 per cent of those affected are women. In 25 per cent of the cases, the people involved were just 16 to 18 years old when they were married.

    The report lists a variety of reasons people are pressured into marriages — usually by family members, community elders or religious leaders — including upholding cultural tradition, family reputation and honour, and in some cases the victims were threatened with violence.

    Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird attended the government-led Girl Summit in London recently to support the U.K.’s call to end forced marriage. He announced Canada would spend $20 million over two years toward ending child, early and forced marriages in Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Yemen and Zambia.

    “Canada will continue to work with our allies and partners to end this practice, to empower women and girls, and enable them to contribute to more stable and prosperous communities,” says Rick Roth, a spokesman for Baird.

    Bala says more government action is needed.

    “I think it merits a higher profile study and willingness to respond — including engagement with the relevant communities,” he says.

    Deepa Mattoo, acting executive director of the South Asian Legal Clinic, says she does not see the need to make forced marriage illegal in Canada. But she says more government intervention is needed.

    “I don’t think they’re doing enough, but they’ve started the conversation,” she says. “We want more awareness, more protection — not prohibition.”

    Khan, whose ex-husband filed for divorce after she fled Scotland 14 years ago, thinks making forced marriage illegal is a good thing.

    “Some people say you are going to force the problem underground, but how can you force the problem underground when it’s underground anyway?” she says.

    Now 37, Khan lives in England and works as a victim advocate at Karma Nirvana, a charity that supports people who have experienced forced marriages and honour-based abuse. She wants people in these situations to know there’s help.

    “I don’t want people to feel like nobody knows what they’re going through,” she says.


  38. The Sad Hidden Plight of Child Grooms

    by Nina Strochlic, The Daily Beast September 18, 2014

    The consequences of early marriage on young girls are well known, but millions of underage boys are also married off each year—and there is little research on their fates.

    Pannilal Yadev can’t remember much about his wedding other than the carriage he was carried in to meet his bride, 7-year-old Rajkumari. At the time he was a year older than she, and the two barely interacted for the next six years. By the time they moved in together he was 14, she was 13. She had already halted her education after their marriage, and when she became pregnant with the couple’s first child, Yadev dropped out of 10th grade.

    “Recently I spoke to a school friend who told me he was going to engineering college. The news left me feeling ashamed and pitiful. If our parents had not forced us to marry at such a young age, our lives would be so different,” he wrote in a letter that was provided to The Daily Beast. “I would have liked to have gone to engineering school. If we were allowed to finish our educations, Rajkumari and I would have learned about family planning. Maybe I would have gone to college. Forcing children to marry doesn’t just push them deeper into poverty and threaten their health. It crushes their ambitions—whether they are girls or boys.”

    Now 25, Yadev works for a new campaign called Tipping Point, which is collaborating with CARE USA to fight child marriage in Nepal. He and his wife have four children.

    Across the globe, millions of boys and girls are betrothed so young they spend the majority of their adolescence already married. Each day, 39,000 girls are married off. They suffer sky-high maternal mortality rates, illiteracy, and a daily struggle against violence and poverty. The younger they’re married, the more risk they face and more unlikely it is they’ll succeed later in life.

    But boys, too, are negatively affected by premature nuptials. They are often forced to drop out of school and take menial jobs to support their new family. This perpetuates the cycle of poverty that led to their marriage in the first place. Generation after generation will struggle to lift themselves out of this tradition.

    In fact, 156 million men alive today were married as children, according to the most recent UNICEF data. Despite that massive figure, there is scant research or work being done to address the issue of child grooms, meaning there are tens of millions of young boys and men who are almost virtually invisible in research, advocacy, and on-the-ground prevention work.

    “There is a very strong voice of men in the community saying, ‘Because of child marriage I don’t have good job, I’m a conditional laborer, I can’t have a good education.’ That’s why this is creating a strong background for the cycle of poverty,” says Sabitra Dhakal, who’s leading the Tipping Point movement in Nepal. “Child marriage is not only a bad practice for girls, it is really a bad practice for boys too.”

    Formal statistics differ, but around half of all Nepali women will be married before turning 18, which is representative of South Asia as a whole. But the average age of marriage for both boys and girls in Nepal is between 6 to 8 years old, Dhakal says. Early marriage is mostly a formality, but girls traditionally leave school at that time. After puberty, around age 13, the second marriage takes place, after which the girl moves in with her husband’s family and they both typically halt their education.

    continued below

  39. These young men have few advocates acting on their behalf, both on a grassroots and international level, while the massive number of young girls married off each year has captured global attention. For decades, grassroots NGOs, and major multinational organizations have been toiling to relieve the plight of child brides, making slow but steady headway: A quarter of all women today were married as children, while that same figure was one-third in the 1980s, according to UNICEF.

    There is little empirical data on how an early marriage affects young men. A variety of experts from the leading international organizations working to combat child marriage expressed a gap in knowledge about the issue of underage grooms. Neither UNICEF, Girls Not Brides, the Population Council, nor the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) had experts who could speak about the impact of marriage on boys.

    “I think there are a lot of interesting questions about how arranged marriage, particularly child marriage, influences the grooms,” Jeffrey Edmeades, a social demographer for ICRW, wrote in an email. “I don’t know of any research that has specifically focused on this.”

    Judith Bruce, a senior associate at the Population Council, explained: “Boys are not sexually initiated forcefully, they don’t get pregnant, and divorce is not the threat to them that it is to girls. But, obviously, being a boy groom is not a good plan.”

    It’s true that young girls are disproportionately and more devastatingly affected by child marriage. The disparity in laws is stark: Girls under 15 can be married without their consent in 52 countries, while the same is true for boys in 23 countries.

    The legal age for marriage differs in every country, and is almost always younger for girls than boys. In South Asia, 30 percent of 15- to 19-year-old girls are married, while just 5 percent of boys in that age range are. Girls often marry older males, and, depending on the geographical area, the men they marry can be much older—a situation that rarely occurs for child grooms.

    In India, the legal age for marriage for boys is 21 and 18 for girls. A state health survey in 2012 found that more boys than girls were getting married before reaching the legal age of consent. In one district alone, Madhya Pradesh, 18.9 percent of males were married before legal age, compared to 12.5 percent of females.

    Yet a little more than 5 percent of boys are married between 15 to 19, while nearly a quarter of girls are wed during those years in India, according to a 2006 Population Council survey.

    One local data collector in India told the study authors of a missing gap in the fight to curtail child brides: “There is also a need to focus on young boys and to convince them not to marry before 21 years. If boys agree to marry only when they are 21, then young girls will not get proposals from them till they are of the legal age. This will automatically raise the age at marriage.”

    It’s these boys who will later serve to perpetuate the cultural norms that brought them into marriage in the first place. “They will be the advocates of patriarchy, traditional systems and behavior,” Dhakal says. “[What] we have in our community in present condition will be transferred—poverty and harmful practices will not be changed. They will live in condition from very young age, we need to struggle for establishing the right of children and right of girls, it will be harder, we need to change perception of living conditions of young people.”

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  40. In 2011 Foreign Policy documented the pandemic of early marriage in Afghanistan by following a young boy named Ozyr Khul before his wedding day. Unable to read, write or count, and completely opposed to the union he was about to enter into, Khul was entering into a vicious poverty cycle, as the writer described: “If he ever had a chance of breaking out of the grip of poverty that suffocates his village...it is gone now that he has a family to support.”

    Immigrant communities in the West are also showing troubling numbers in terms of child grooms. In the U.K., forced marriages for men accounted for 14 percent of the total that the government deals with, but the unreported number is thought to be much higher. The victims are typically between 15 and 24.

    In 2008, a young Turkish man living in Germany described the practice of forced marriage among immigrants to Der Spiegel, recalling his betrothal at age 16 and marriage a year later to his first cousin. “It was pure horror,” he said after escaping and seeking counseling.

    These are just a few anecdotal examples of the practice, but if the numbers are to be believed, there are millions more untold stories from men who were married before legal age.

    “They are also facing same problem and no one is considering their negative consequences,” Dhakal says. “The most important things we need to do is engage boys.” Tipping Point, which launched its project in May, will be targeting men and boys as a prevention strategy, and investigating how young grooms are affected at a local level.

    In developing and Western countries alike, boys are more likely than girls to have parents who invest in and educate them. The reasons for child marriage run the gamut from cultural and religious to economic necessity, but running beneath all causes is an ingrained viewpoint of girls as property to be traded. But for families in the grip of poverty, it’s the responsibility of children of both sexes to provide economically and relieve their burden on the household as soon as possible.

    Child marriage, for both genders, often signals the point at which education stops and the opportunity to leave a cycle of poverty is missed. An ICRW survey in Afghanistan in 2010 found that 71 percent of parents who married off their daughters were illiterate. The girls are ushered into their role as housekeepers and child bearers and the boys are tasked with providing for the family.

    Dhakal says that despite the decades of attention paid to child brides, the root causes of child marriage have been ignored. About five years ago, activist groups realized their efforts weren’t advancing as fast as they should. While agenda after agenda had tackled the issue of child brides with female empowerment programs and age limit laws, girls were still getting married off by the millions.

    “We worked with symptoms and problems—we didn’t try to dig out root causes of child marriage and gender-based violence. Without working with more than half population how can we make a big difference in a community?” Dhakal asks.

    Now there are calls for a more comprehensive plan that pays due attention to the other half of the world. “We think child marriage and gender-based violence are problem of girls and we tried to empower women and girls only, we didn’t try to convince men,” Dhakal says. “Their position behavior and attitude are also the values of the community—but it took time to realize.” She believes it won’t be until men are targeted that child marriage will finally be eliminated.

    “The child marriage issue is not an issue of only girls, not only an issue of communities—it’s a human rights issue, an issue of global civilization, and modern civilization,” Dhakal says.


  41. Against their will

    Inside Canada's forced marriages

    Forced marriage is one of the last taboos to break. A new law could make it a crime. So why do those who champion prevention oppose it?

    by Rachel Browne Macleans January 5, 2015

    Two weeks after her 18th birthday, Lee Marsh was sitting at the kitchen table one Sunday, reading the Bible, when her mother came in and announced that Marsh would marry a 20-year-old member of their Jehovah’s Witness congregation in Montreal. The girl was stunned; she had met her husband-to-be just once. Five weeks later, it was done.

    For a few months before, her mother had been shopping her around while sizing up men in the congregation—some more than 20 years older—looking for a suitable husband. She made Marsh wear a tight, low-cut white dress bought for the outings. “I hated wearing it. I’ve always preferred to be covered up,” Marsh says. “But my mother really wanted me to be attractive to these men.” Marsh’s mother had rejected all the suitors up to that day in 1971 when she announced the match. “I knew I wasn’t allowed to have an opinion. This wasn’t a woman that you said no to.”

    Marsh thought about the leather strap hanging by the front door, the one her mother used when the children—Marsh was the eldest of four—dared to defy her. They never knew what would set her off; two weeks before, Marsh had got it for not cleaning the house properly. So Marsh buried the feelings of anger and betrayal she felt toward the woman who had abandoned her twice already in her short life: After her parents divorced when she was nine, she was left behind in Toronto with a father she says sexually abused her; later, in Montreal, when she had returned to her mom, she says her mother’s Jehovah’s Witness boyfriend also sexually assaulted her, and she was sent into foster care.

    In their congregation, the pressure to get married early was intense. Breaking off the engagement was not an option. “Once the announcement was made in church that we were getting married, I was trapped,” she says. “I couldn’t back out of it.” Marsh would do anything to stay in her mother’s good graces; she couldn’t bear the thought of losing her again.

    During the ceremony, Marsh was terrified. “I wanted to run, but I didn’t dare.” She had told her husband about her history of sexual abuse, but he told her not to worry, that they would get through it together.

    Two weeks into the marriage, Marsh realized just how much she resented it. Her husband started demanding sex constantly and she felt it was her duty to submit. “The Witnesses believe that when you’re married, you are obligated to deliver sex whenever your husband wants it,” she explains. “It brought back everything I had gone through as a child and I became extremely depressed and suicidal.”

    But she stayed, had two children and, for 15 years, endured what she describes as incessant verbal and sexual abuse from a man who eventually became a church elder. That meant he passed judgment on others in the congregation, deciding whether or not they had sinned and how they would be punished. In 1984, Marsh decided to leave. In addition to a legal, secular divorce, she needed a “spiritual” divorce, otherwise, the church would still consider her his wife. In a letter to church elders, she writes that she tried to be a “good, submissive wife,” and “almost always pushed aside my personal feelings so that he would be happy.” She details the emotional and sexual abuse, but does not cite forced marriage; only recently did she even hear the term. “It wasn’t really applicable at the time. I wanted out of the marriage, not because I was pushed into it, but because of the abuse that was triggering all of my past abuse,” she says.

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  42. It may seem strange even impossible, that someone could be forced to marry against her will. But, like sexual assault—and, more recently, human trafficking—the curtain is being pulled back on what has been happening in Canada, and around the world, for centuries. In some nations, such as Norway, Belgium, Pakistan and the United Kingdom, forced marriage is a crime. Next year, Canada is expected to join that list when Bill S-7, which adds forced marriage to the Criminal Code, is approved.

    In September 2013, Toronto’s South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario released a report that counted 219 confirmed or suspected cases of forced marriage in Ontario and Quebec from 2010 to 2012, information obtained through interviews and a survey filled out by service providers from shelters, legal clinics, immigration agencies and youth groups. The people, the vast majority of whom are women, came from a wide range of religious groups: 103 were Muslim, 12 Christian, 44 Hindu, 24 were unsure of their religious affiliation, and five had none. Almost half were Canadian citizens and, in most cases, family members were the perpetrators. People were taken out of Canada to get married in 57 per cent of cases. Yet the report points out that the Department of Foreign Affairs “confirmed they had provided assistance” to just 34 individuals from 2009 to 2012.

    Forced marriage always involves pressure to wed against a person’s will, under physical or emotional duress, or without free and informed consent, according to definitions from international law and human rights groups. The main reason people submit to a marriage is because they do not want to disobey or disappoint family or church.

    Very little data exist on forced marriage in Canada, but numerous court cases and anecdotal evidence suggest it’s been happening for more than a century, from coast to coast. Only in the last decade have researchers and advocacy groups started to grasp its prevalence and scope.

    Shortly after Marsh sent that letter to her church, the elders “dis-fellowshipped” her and announced it to the congregation; Marsh packed her bags and moved out. She says her husband bribed her children to stay with him, but, in 1986, she obtained custody of her two daughters, then 14 and 10, and went on to study at Montreal’s Dawson College and Concordia University to become a counsellor for abused women and children. Now 62, Marsh frequently hears from ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses who say they, too, were forced to marry. “I used to think I was the only one, but I’m hearing more and more women saying they were forced into marriage. I’m flabbergasted, because I thought I was alone.”

    Jehovah’s Witnesses in Canada would not directly answer questions regarding Marsh’s claims, but a spokesperson said in an email that “forced marriage, and spouses being required to submit to marital acts against their will, is repugnant and contrary to what Jehovah’s Witnesses believe, practise and teach.” They pointed to their website for information on dis-fellowshipping, which states: “If a baptized Witness makes a practice of breaking the Bible’s moral code and does not repent, he or she will be shunned or dis-fellowshipped,” and also explains that dis-fellowshipped people who demonstrate a desire to change their ways are “welcome to become members of the congregation again.”

    Since 2011, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird has sought to make Canada a world leader in combatting forced marriage around the world, which he has said can be eradicated “within a generation.”

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  43. Last October he introduced the first-ever UN resolution dedicated to ending it, and has pledged approximately $35 million to projects combatting child and forced marriage in developing countries such as Ghana, Bangladesh, Zambia and Burkina Faso. Yet York University Ph.D. student Karlee Sapoznik, who researched forced marriage in Canada for her doctoral thesis, says the Canadian government has historically ignored—and even denied—that people get married against their will within our borders. “There’s almost this mythology that it doesn’t happen in Canada.”

    On Nov. 5, when Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander announced S-7, the “Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act,” he introduced a three-pronged piece of legislation to address the problem at home and abroad. Alexander cited the 2012 Shafia honour killings, in which an immigrant from Afghanistan, his second wife and his only son conspired to drown the family’s three teenage daughters, because their “Westernized behaviour” had shamed the family. Bill S-7 would ban people in polygamous and forced marriages from immigrating to Canada. The second piece will amend the Civil Marriage Act to make 16 the minimum age of marriage across the country.

    It would also enshrine forced marriage in the Criminal Code. “Everyone who celebrates, aids or participates in a marriage rite or ceremony knowing that one of the persons being married is marrying against their will” would be guilty of a crime punishable by up to five years in prison. It is moving at a fast clip through Parliament; it received its third reading on Dec. 12.

    At York University, Sapoznik interviewed victims of forced marriages—including a Mennonite woman from Winnipeg, who says that in 1988, she was forced to get married at age 18 after her family and community found out she was pregnant—and examined legal cases dating back to the 19th century. More recently, 200 members of Lev Tahor, the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish group that originated in Jerusalem in the 1980s, moved to Quebec, where they lived for 10 years. Many fled to a small community in southwestern Ontario in 2013 after they heard that Children’s Aid was about to remove their children based on allegations that they were being confined to basements and forced to marry older men, among other abuses. An ex-member of the group testified that the goal of the community was to marry children by age 13. They fled again in March to Guatemala, although several children have since been returned to the Toronto area, where they are in foster care.

    In Toronto, the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO) investigated its first case of forced marriage in 2005, after a counsellor at a Toronto high school called to report that a family of girls had gone abroad for a vacation, but one of them did not return to Canada. Deepa Mattoo, the acting executive director of the clinic, says the group tracked the girl down, found out she was about to be forced to marry, and arranged to bring her home.

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  44. In many of SALCOs cases women who come to them for advice don’t even know that what is happening to them is wrong. “People going through it know they aren’t being given a choice, but they don’t necessarily call it forced marriage,” said Mattoo. “They may say something like their father is making them get married, but they won’t say that their human rights are being violated.” Toronto’s Barbra Schlifer Clinic started asupport program for forced-marriage victims in 2009, and the caseload has been increasing ever since. “I’ve had Irish clients who have experienced forced marriage; Roma clients, Saudi, South Asian, European and Christian clients. It’s pretty much across the board,” says Farrah Khan, who has been counselling victims since 2006. “We see different economic backgrounds, as well. We see it happening in communities that are isolated, in communities that have a fear about losing their connections to culture, to faith.” Rape must also be brought into discussions about forced marriage, because couples are expected to consummate the marriage.

    For families with LGBT children, forced marriage is a way to control their sexuality and protect the family from the shame of having a gay or transgender child. Yegi Dadui, transgender program coordinator at the Sherbourne Health Clinic in Toronto, deals with about four cases a year involving both Canadian citizens and newcomers. “There’s so much stigma around being trans already. Not being able to express yourself and be yourself is difficult, and that’s what’s going on in forced-marriage situations, as well.” Because these cases are even more taboo, it’s difficult to find people who will discuss their experiences openly. Although Antua Petrimoulx is not one of Dadui’s clients, her story has parallels with other cases in Canada.

    Born Manuel Aguilar in Reynosa, Mexico, in 1965, Petrimoulx was 20 when her mother, a devout Catholic, forced her to marry a woman, even though Petrimoulx knew, deep down, she was female with no desire for other women. Her mother and brothers taunted and punished her for behaving like a girl and having relationships with other boys. In her late teens, they forced her to have sex with a female prostitute in a hotel room and, shortly after that, her mother told her she would be marrying a woman in order to fit in with the community and become a real man. The couple had sex once, on their wedding night. After a couple of months, Petrimoulx moved back home, where the abuse escalated. Her mother forced her to take anti-psychotic medications, and often locked her in her bedroom. When she did make it out of the house dressed as a woman, the police frequently targeted her. She says she was once raped and burned with cigarettes by police officers in the back of their squad car. In 2005, she fled to Canada, where she filed an application for refugee status as a victim of forced marriage and police brutality. Her claim was accepted and she now lives in Windsor, Ont. Although she is safe, Petrimoulx suffers from depression, and has tried, and failed, to write the hairdresser’s exam five times; the stress and anxiety were too much and she could not concentrate. She cannot work and her mental health is precarious.

    Mattoo says SALCOs clients are often hesitant to seek help from the police or the courts, because they don’t want to incriminate—or testify against—family. Without them, they would be alone in the world, a fate sometimes more frightening than the abuse itself. It’s also difficult to prove emotional duress and subtler types of pressure.

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  45. In cases of physical and sexual abuse, SALCO has helped clients pursue criminal charges against spouses they were forced to marry, the same way they would even if the marriages weren’t forced. For Mattoo, Canada already has robust laws that deal with abuse, and she feels victims are more in need of a place to live, counselling to deal with the psychological trauma, and help getting back on their feet after they leave their marriages and, sometimes, their family members.

    That’s why SALCO and 13 other activist groups and social service agencies, including the Schlifer clinic and the Woman Abuse Council of Toronto, are opposed to Bill S-7. “The proposed legislation exposes the underlying racist agenda that this government harbours,” their statement reads, referring to the name of the bill and the fact that they feel it singles out non-Western communities where polygamy is accepted. Mattoo’s main criticism is that the new law allows the federal government to wash its hands of the problem. “I’m not saying that any criminal action should go unreported, but criminalizing will not help prevent it.”

    On June 16, the United Kingdom made forced marriage a criminal offence. Its forced-marriage unit, created in 2005 by the British government in response to a growing number of cases, says it “gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage” in 1,302 cases between January and December 2013, the most recent statistics. Anyone who uses “violence, threats or any other form of coercion” to force someone to marry faces up to seven years in prison. The case of a blond-haired, blue-eyed Christian girl from Ontario is one of the first being investigated under the new law.

    Elizabeth, who does not want to use her real name for fear of alerting her British ex-fiancé, whom she believes would jeopardize the criminal investigation, was raised in Hamilton by parents who belonged to the Church of God. It’s a distant offshoot of the Christian Open Brethren movement, which originated in 19th-century England and Ireland. The precise number of members is unknown, but scholars estimate there are 100 or so congregations around the world.

    Elizabeth says church elders were very involved in her family’s day-to-day decisions, and friendships outside the community were discouraged. When she was in Grade 3, she recalls being pulled out of class by a social worker and taken to a room, where she was asked if she was fearful of being married off to older men. “Thankfully, that wasn’t happening, but all community members are required to marry within the group. The penalty for not doing so is punishment or expulsion,” she says. “The attitudes of the leaders toward their marriage practices are: If you don’t like it, just leave.”

    At age 14, Elizabeth started receiving letters and gifts from men in her church and partner churches abroad who were interested in courting her. “They were also coming to visit all the time, making a point of being with my family, trying to get their foot in the door.” She wasn’t interested, and tried her best to ignore the advances, even graduating from high school. She was trying to figure out what she wanted to study at McMaster University when a church elder in his 30s came to town in search of a bride. One of his relatives began sending her tapes of sermons, in which he described how parishioners must only marry other church members or face excommunication. The church told the 25-year-old she would be cut off from her family if she didn’t marry the English church leader. “I was feeling pressure from the community, like a cloud hanging over me,” she said. “It’s a very difficult place to be in, because you’re being told the judgment of God is on you if you don’t conform.”

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  46. In a written response to questions about Elizabeth’s case, a spokesperson for the Church of God in Toronto says it’s not aware of any forced marriages in its congregations, and that members who may have come to Canada to find a spouse “probably came more in hope than expectation!”

    In 2007, Elizabeth’s future husband brought her to England to prepare for the wedding. She thought she would live with someone else until they were married, but, when she arrived, he told her she had to live with him right away for immigration purposes. She was only allowed to leave the house to run errands or go to church. “I was being kept at home and told how to dress and the things I could or could not wear as the wife of an elder.”

    She says he began raping her on a regular basis, once forcing himself on her in his car. It continued even when she was ill. “Rather than helping me through this sickness and getting me medical attention,” she said, “he’s demanding things sexually from me, premaritally, which is unusual in the Brethren.” In its letter, the Church of God Toronto states that “any church member engaging in premarital sex would be excommunicated from the Church for committing a serious sin.”

    In 2008, Elizabeth’s fiancé brought her back to Canada, where she thought she would be retrieving the rest of her belongings. Instead, she says he took her to a room at the Holiday Inn by Toronto’s Pearson airport and sexually assaulted her for the last time. He flew back to England alone and she hasn’t seen him since.

    Elizabeth says her parents and church elders ignored her complaints about the abuse and her plea to investigate and remove her ex-fiancé from his leadership role. Women in the church told her it was her fault the engagement fell through and that she should marry someone else. After writing church leaders about her grievances, she was officially excommunicated in a letter dated Sept. 26, 2011, for the “sin of unforgiveness,” specifically, for being unable to forgive her ex-fiancé and the church, but the letter does not go into further detail. “We do not intend to reopen discussion about those things. We have done all that we possibly can do as an oversight in Toronto. Local U.K. oversight has agreed, our District oversight has agreed, and those things must now be left with the Lord,” the letter to Elizabeth reads.

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  47. The Church of God Toronto wouldn’t comment on Elizabeth’s allegations, but says it would not “tolerate or permit the occurrence of sexual abuse by elders or church members” and would notify the police if it occurred.

    Three years ago, Elizabeth was riding the bus in northeast Toronto when she saw an ad for the Agincourt Community Centre’s forced-marriage project, with the telephone number for its hotline at the bottom. In that moment, she realized what had happened to her, even though, in her case, no marriage had occurred. When she mustered up the courage a few weeks later to call, she got Shirley Gillett on the line. The program coordinator had been raised in an Open Brethren church outside Orillia, Ont., a more liberal offshoot of the Brethren movement. “I couldn’t say that I was surprised,” Gillett recalls. “We had suspected that we were going to find forced marriage in small Christian sects in Canada.” Gillett invited Elizabeth to join her group of six or so survivors, which meets monthly. Elizabeth is now co-operating with the Tees Valley Inclusion Project, a non-profit group based in Middlesbrough, England, which is looking into more than 100 forced-marriage cases. Hers is their second Christian case. U.K. government authorities are reviewing the evidence in her case to see whether a conviction is possible.

    Elizabeth, now 33, lives in Toronto with her long-term boyfriend. When she tries to explain the forces that conspired to keep her in the relationship, the despair seeps through the sentences that tumble out of her computer. “I felt damned if I do (get forced into marriage, because I am a lover of freedom), and damned if I don’t (get married ‘in the lord,’ because I could not function in a Brethren society, and there are some things about the way of life I enjoy). It’s like being sawn in half and torn between two realities—painful. It’s mental torture. I felt trapped.”

    After excommunication, her parents wrote her out of their will in what she calls a classic Brethren tactic to make her feel socially rejected. “My parents are being very influenced by the Brethren and it REALLY upsets me,” she wrote in a recent email. “I feel like I’ve lost my own family members.”

    She warned her parents not to go to any Brethren weddings, because even celebrating a forced marriage could mean a jail sentence under Canada’s proposed legislation. Elizabeth is disappointed that SALCO is opposed to Bill S-7, because she feels the new law would help young men and women like herself who are born into the Brethren community. The day the law passes, she will be free of the shame and guilt of her failed relationship, the abuse and her excommunication. Finally, there would be vindication: the acknowledgement that what happened to her was a crime.


  48. Australian father jailed over 12-year-old daughter's wedding

    BBC, Australia July 17, 2015

    An Australian man has been jailed for eight years after arranging an Islamic marriage between his 12-year-old daughter and a man twice her age.

    He said he allowed the girl to marry a 26-year-old Lebanese man, in a ceremony in New South Wales, because he did not want her to have sex outside marriage.

    The 63 year old was found guilty in April of procuring a child under the age of 14 for unlawful sexual activity.

    During sentencing in Sydney the judge told him he had "failed" his daughter.

    She said she hoped the punishment would act as a deterrent to others.

    'No justification'

    The father, who cannot be named to protect his daughter's identity, told Downing Centre District Court that he considered sex outside marriage a sin, so when his daughter reached puberty he decided she should marry.

    When the Lebanese man, who was in Australia on a student visa, showed an interest, he arranged for a local sheikh to carry out the ceremony.

    It took place last year in the Hunter Valley region, around 250km (150 miles) north of Sydney.

    The marriage, which is not recognised under Australian law, was consummated at a hotel on the night of the wedding with the father's permission.

    The pair also had sex at the father's home the following weekend. The court heard that the girl later had a miscarriage.

    The man was jailed for seven and a half years in March for the sexual abuse of minor.

    Australian authorities are now looking after the victim.

    The judge told the court that religious beliefs did not justify the father's actions. "They were linked in the purpose that (the man) would have sex with his daughter," she added.


  49. Woman Breaks Chains of Forced Marriage & Helps Others Do the Same

    By SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN - New York Times MARCH 20, 2015

    NEWARK — One day in March 2011, Fraidy Reiss went to her lawyer’s office to close on a house. The prosaic routine of paperwork somehow diminished her sense of accomplishment. Not even the seller was present to hear what she yearned to say.

    She was only buying a Cape Cod on a small patch of lawn in a blue-collar neighborhood in New Jersey. Yet she and her two daughters had already named the place “Palais de Triomphe,” palace of triumph. The house symbolized her liberation from an arranged marriage, threats of violence at the hands of her estranged husband, and indeed the entire insular community of stringently Orthodox Jews among whom she had spent her entire life.

    In that moment of emancipation, Ms. Reiss also felt the sudden, unbidden summons of obligation. “The house meant that I’ve gotten to the other side,” she recalled. “I wanted to do something to give back. I wanted to use my pain to help others in the same situation. And, selfishly, I thought that would help me heal.”

    Four years later, on a blustery morning early this month, Ms. Reiss, 40, stood in a classroom at Rutgers University in Newark telling her story to three dozen lawyers. She spoke with well-practiced pacing and emphasis — childhood in Brooklyn, coerced betrothal in her teens to a man she barely knew, and then the harassment and stalking and death threats, all of it documented in court papers. Finally, there was college and therapy and, after 15 years of marriage, divorce.

    Ms. Reiss spoke with a very specific purpose. The lawyers were attending a continuing education course sponsored by Unchained at Last, the nonprofit group that she founded four years ago to help women extricate themselves from arranged marriages. Her hope was that some of the lawyers would be moved to represent Unchained at Last’s clients without charge.

    “It’s a moral imperative,” said Katherine Francis, a corporate lawyer from the Trenton area, after Ms. Reiss’s presentation. “I hadn’t even planned to be here, but you know how you start a Google search and wander? And all of a sudden I saw this class and thought, ‘Hmm, there’s the universe talking.’ ”

    Unchained at Last operates in the contested crossroad between the modern secular concept of marriage for love between consenting adults and longstanding ethnic or communal customs of arranged marriage. Religion does not require such marriage, but is very often invoked to provide moral justification for it. And the laws of certain faiths, Orthodox Judaism in particular, give a husband the sole right to grant a divorce.

    A reliable estimate of arranged marriages is difficult because the definition is inexact. But the Tahirih Justice Center, an advocacy group for immigrant women, reported that about 3,000 cases of “forced marriage” took place in the United States from 2009 through 2011.

    Almost all of the 90 women whom Unchained at Last has helped had been pressured into marriage by their religious community: Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, Unification Church. Most lived in the New York area, though one was in Arizona. The women’s nations of origin stretch through Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

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  50. On a basic level Unchained at Last provides legal services because most of the women’s cases involve divorce and child custody litigation, and some extend into immigration status and restraining orders against a violent spouse. Because the clients’ situations can be so catastrophic — forced at gunpoint to accept a marriage, raped by a husband, essentially imprisoned within the home as a domestic servant — Unchained at Last also provides mentoring, access to therapy and cash stipends for everything from basic clothing to English as a second language class.

    Ms. Reiss’s earliest collaborator was Shehnaz Abdeljaber, a Rutgers classmate of Palestinian Muslim ancestry. In their barrier-crossing friendship, the women discovered a common bond. Ms. Abdeljaber had been pushed by her parents into an engagement to a young man from her extended family whom she had never met. Though she managed to break off the engagement, the broader issue intrigued her.

    “From the day I met Fraidy, I knew she was going to be part of my life,” Ms. Abdeljaber wrote in an email. “Little did I know that we weren’t going to be just friends. We became sisters, family and partners with her vision.”

    In early 2011, Unchained at Last incorporated in New Jersey. Ms. Abdeljaber became the first president of the group’s board, which also included a Hindu woman, Kavitha Rajagopalan.

    The annual budget back then came to barely $20,000, most of it from Ms. Reiss’s pocket. By now, Unchained at Last has a $3.4 million budget, with about $200,000 in donations from individuals and foundations and $3.2 million in free services from participating lawyers. In her own life, Ms. Reiss has become an atheist, and, after several years as a journalist, she became a private investigator.

    Most clients find the group through word-of-mouth. At the outset, Ms. Reiss said, the organization struggled to find enough volunteer lawyers. Child-custody litigation is particularly difficult. Religious communities have been successful at times in turning out large numbers to paint Unchained’s client as an “unfit mother” because she has left the theological corral.

    That has not deterred Ms. Reiss. Unchained at Last successfully lobbied in the New Jersey State Legislature last year for a law easing crime victims’ access to court records. This week, Ms. Reiss took part in an initial planning session held by the White House Council on Women and Girls to develop a national policy on forced marriage.

    Even in its more sophisticated form, though, Unchained at Last has retained the personal touch of what the Rev. Henri Nouwen, writing about ministry, called the “wounded healer.” Ditty Weiss, for one, experienced it.

    After 10 years in an abusive marriage, Ms. Weiss decided to risk leaving both her husband and their fervently Orthodox community. The only problem was that she had no idea who could help her. In a sort of desperate whim, Ms. Weiss sent an email to Deborah Feldman, the author of an acclaimed memoir,
    “Unorthodox,” about her rejection of the Satmar Hasidic sect in which she had grown up.

    Ms. Feldman steered Ms. Weiss to Ms. Reiss, who soon lined up two volunteer lawyers from a prominent Manhattan firm. When Ms. Weiss needed cancer surgery, Ms. Reiss babysat for her children. And as Ms. Weiss underwent chemotherapy, Unchained at Last gave her money to hire an au pair and buy a used car.

    “I cannot even describe,” Ms. Weiss recalled, “what it’s like to have an angel sweep down and kiss you on the forehead and then hold your hand and tell you,
    ‘I’m not letting go until you’re O.K.’ ”


  51. South Sudan The deadly consequences of child marriage

    Economic hardship and conflict fuel early and forced marriages for girls, a trend some hope to change through education.

    by Caitlin McGee | Al Jazeera February 16, 2016

    Nyal, Unity State, South Sudan - Elizabeth Nyanyot Diu was forced into marriage and motherhood when she was still a child.

    At 12, she was told she had to marry a 30-year-old man who beat her regularly. "At any time, whenever he wanted, he would cane me," she remembers.

    Two years into their union, she became pregnant but there were complications. Her body wasn't ready to carry and give birth. "It nearly killed me," she said.

    "My first-born died because I was too young. I was just 14 years old .... Women are having children too young," Diu added.

    Early and forced marriages are widespread in South Sudan.

    Even before the start of the civil war in December 2013, UNICEF reported that 52 percent of all girls were married under the age of 18. Now, after two years of persistent fighting and violent attacks, the situation is getting worse, according to the organisation.

    "One of the trends that we have seen in the past two years is an increasing number of girls forced into early marriage," said Ettie Higgins, UNICEF's deputy representative for South Sudan.

    The civil war that started in December 2013 has been disastrous for South Sudan.

    It has killed tens of thousands of people, displaced 1.69 million and left more than two million people facing severe hunger. But the toll on women has been particularly horrific.

    During her visit in July 2014, the UN special envoy for sexual violence in conflict areas, Zainab Hawa Bangura, said women in South Sudan were the victims of the worst sexual violence she had ever seen. Bangura described the levels of assault as "rampant".

    According to a Human Rights Watch report from September, there has been a surge in sexual attacks and violence since the start of the civil war.

    Dina Hunaiti manages the Women's Protection and Empowerment programme run by the International Rescue Committee in the town of Nyal in Unity state.

    She said violence against women had reached epidemic proportions.

    "It is entrenched," she explained. "It is expected as a normal part of a relationship and a normal part of life."

    Hunaiti said she saw a lot of forced marriage cases. "There are a lot of instances where girls are forced to get married. Not just early marriage but forced marriage ...."

    An age-old problem

    Only 35 percent of girls in South Sudan get an education.

    "I've worked in places before where the early marriage isn't such an issue for girls because of how they have been raised," said Hunaiti. "But here the girls actually want to stay in school."

    Higgins said a lack of money was one of the factors that drives families to pull their daughters out of school and marry them off.

    While girls are often the most vulnerable in conflict zones, the increase in early and forced marriages is also happening in areas where there is no fighting.

    "We've seen it used as a negative coping mechanism by families … to marry off a daughter means they have one less mouth to feed in the family," Higgins said.

    "It's part of the tough economic climate and families think they can benefit economically by forcing their girls into this kind of marriage."

    In exchange for giving away their daughters to marriage, families receive a dowry. In most cases this takes the form of cattle.

    "I was forced into the marriage young because of the dowry," Elizabeth said. Her family wanted to marry her off young because she would be worth more cows, she explained.

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  52. Dying to have a child

    For many of these girls, these unions have deadly or debilitating consequences.

    South Sudan has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the world, according to World Vision. Girls in South Sudan are three times more likely to die in childbirth than they are to finish high school.

    Mi Hao Sito is a midwife for Doctors Without Borders, based in the northwest city of Aweil.

    She sees girls in their early teens suffering through an obstructed labour because their bodies aren't physically mature enough to cope with delivering a baby.

    "Sometimes by the time they get to us they have been in labour for two days and the baby is already dead," she said. "This is happening to girls who are 14, 15, 16 years old. They are too young to get married, it is too early for their bodies to be having a baby."

    Sito said early and forced marriages were a big part of why so many girls die while giving birth in South Sudan.

    "Young girls' bodies are not mature enough and mentally they're not mature enough as well. They are still kids. It's too much physically and mentally. I think they want to go to school but they cannot go," Sito explained.

    Many of those who do survive are left with a debilitating condition called fistula.

    It can occur when the baby is stuck for so long during childbirth that there is rip between the vagina and the bladder or the rectum.

    It leaves women unable to control their bladder or bowel or both. So when they stand up, the urine drains out of them. The stigma and the shame associated with fistula means many women stay shut away and marooned in their villages.

    Corrective surgery is available, but in many cases it is a recurring problem.

    "After surgery there is a strict recovery period that requires them to not get pregnant straight away," said Sito. But many women have little control over their pregnancies and often find themselves pregnant soon after. "And then when they go into labour, they try and have the baby at home again instead of coming to hospital ... and then they get fistula again."

    Many of the young women understand that they need to come to hospital, Sito said, but they face pressure from their families and husbands to get pregnant again quickly and to stay at home to have the baby.

    'Men are the solution'

    Now 45, Elizabeth is taking part in the Women's Empowerment and Protection programme run by the International Rescue Committee in Nyal in Unity state. It enables a group of women to meet once a week to talk and make crafts that they can take home and sell.

    Another aspect of the programme is to educate boys at the local school about women's rights.

    Peter Kam is a teacher at Nyal mixed Primary school. He said that since the IRC's Women's Protection and Empowerment programme started last year, there have been big changes in the playground.

    "I've seen the attitudes of some families change," Kam said. "Now families are understanding that if their girls can go to school then they can get jobs and bring money into the family that way, instead of getting married for dowry."

    He said that before 2014 a lot of girls were being taken out of his classes and out of school to get married but now that is changing. And there is a big push to educate boys about equality.

    Elizabeth believes this is the best way to break the practice of early and forced marriages.

    "Men are the solution," she said. "If they are taught then it can go into their heart and into their head."


  53. Salvation Army Cancels Conference Promoting Child Marriage

    by Michael Stone, Progressive Secular Humanist May 6, 2016

    Busted: After negative media attention the Salvation Army has cancelled a conference to arrange child marriages for Christian homeschoolers.

    The “Let Them Marry” retreat was planned for November, and was “designed to bring together like-minded families who are committed to young, fruitful marriage and to help them overcome the barriers which have kept their children unmarried.”

    In essence, the conference was a gathering for parents to arrange marriages for their teen daughters without their child’s consent, while making a profit from the transaction.

    After multiple reports about the conference dedicated to arranging child marriages, concerned citizens contacted the the Salvation Army of Wichita/Sedgwick County where the conference was to be held. As a result of citizen complaints, the conference was cancelled.

    The Salvation Army of Wichita/Sedgwick County released the following statement announcing the decision to cancel the event:

    The Salvation Army has denied a request by the Let Them Marry organization to conduct its event at Camp Hiawatha.

    Our decision is based upon our long-standing concern for the welfare of children. At The Salvation Army, we work every single day to provide a safe, caring place for children, many of whom have been left vulnerable due to the actions of adults.

    We remain steadfastly focused on our mission of advocating for and protecting children.

    The “Let Them Marry” website issued the following brief statement:

    Note: The November Get Them Married Retreat has been cancelled.

    And the group, embarrassed by all the negative publicity, attempted to deny any wrongdoing:

    Note: Contrary to vicious internet rumors we do not support or in any way condone child sexual activity of any sort, child marriage, or any other illegal activity. Nor do we support or condone forced marriages. We believe that parents should NOT seek a spouse for a child where that child has not actively sought for the parents to do so.

    Yet despite the group’s denial, a glance at the the website’s Frequently Asked Questions shows that the group not only condones child marriage but actively promotes child marriage. Further, the group cites Biblical scripture to defend the position that children are essentially the property of the father to be sold into marriage without their consent.

    For the record, the Salvation Army deserves credit for doing the right thing and rejecting the conference.
    However the underlying problem remains. The “Let Them Marry” group and philosophy continues to exist, and as long as that group and philosophy continues to exist, children will continue to be exploited.

    For more on the group and the canceled conference see: Conference Will Arrange Child Marriages For Christian Homeschoolers - http://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2016/05/conference-will-arrange-child-marriages-for-christian-homeschoolers/

    to read the links embedded in this article go to:


  54. Child marriage legal and ongoing in Canada, researcher finds

    Ontario, Alberta and Quebec have licensed the most child marriages in the last 18 years, said professor Alissa Koski, who researches the practice in Canada

    by Joseph Brean, National Post June 11, 2019

    Since 2017, Canada’s government under Justin Trudeau’s Liberals has conducted foreign policy with an explicitly “feminist” approach, especially as it relates to sexual and reproductive health rights.

    Part of that has involved trying to eradicate child marriage overseas. Canada is a leader and key funder of United Nations efforts to end child marriage, which is regarded as a revealing measure of a country’s development.

    But there is a curious blind spot.

    “There’s been absolutely no reflection on the fact that it remains legal in Canada,” said Alissa Koski, who researches child marriage in Canada as an assistant professor at McGill University’s Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics and Occupational Health.

    The bizarre result is that Canada legally permits the very practices it condemns and combats in the developing world.

    Child marriage in Canada “is legal and ongoing,” Koski concludes, and not as a rare legal quirk in niche communities of religious extremists, as media coverage often suggests.

    Provinces have, in fact, issued marriage licences for 3,382 children over the last 18 years, according to Koski’s presentation to the Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences in Vancouver.

    In absolute numbers, Ontario sanctioned the most child marriages with 1,353 since 2000, then Alberta with 791, Quebec with 590 and British Columbia with 429. She adds that her results likely “underestimate the true extent of the practice.”

    It has happened in every region, Koski said. The vast majority are girls; and compared to boys, girls marry at younger ages and to substantially older spouses.

    The rate is highest in Alberta, at 5 girls per 10,000, and one boy as measured by data from the year 2016, or 3 children total per 10,000.

    continued below

  55. Her discovery that Canada has approved at least 3,382 child marriages since 2000 is based on data from vital statistics offices, which indicates the marriage happened in Canada, but otherwise offers limited information. Further work with census data might offer a clearer picture of demographics, although with the added caveat that it will include marriages that happened in other countries before the person came to Canada.

    In the United States, the rate of child marriage is about 6.2 children per 1000, higher in girls than boys (6.8 vs 5.7), lower among white people, higher among Indigenous and Chinese, and ranging from less than 4 children per 1,000 in Maine, Rhode Island and Wyoming, to as much as 10 per 1,000 in West Virginia, Hawaii and North Dakota, according to Koski’s previous studies of child marriage in America.

    Her doctoral research was on child marriage in sub-Saharan Africa and India, which fits with the common imagination of the phenomenon as “something that happens elsewhere,” as Koski put it.

    For example, her separate research on Canadian media coverage of the issue shows it is almost entirely about Canada’s efforts to eradicate child marriage abroad. The few exceptions are focused on specific religious minorities, primarily the fundamentalist Mormons in Bountiful, B.C., and the fundamentalist Jewish sect Lev Tahor, first in Ste-Agathe-Des-Monts, Que., later in Chatham, Ont.

    Canada’s federal Civil Marriage Act sets the minimum age for marriage at 16. Provinces, which administer the licensing, require parental consent for people younger than 18.

    But the United Nations, and Canada through its participation in its various programs and documents, regards child marriage as marriage of a child, which is to say someone younger than 18.

    The reasons are well known. The proportion of girls who marry before 18 is used as a quantifiable measure of a country’s development progress, Koski said, and it is widely considered a violation of human rights. Research in the US has shown higher mental illness and substance abuse in women who married as girls.

    “Child marriage is associated with poor health and economic outcomes, particularly for girls,” she said.

    Koski said there seems to be a general political reluctance to raise the age to 18, part of which involves concerns over infringing on religious freedom.