Comprehensive action needed to tackle forced marriage

Concerted legal and practical efforts are needed from the EU and its Member States to help combat forced marriage, finds a new paper by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA). While it is difficult to calculate how many people are victims, this paper outlines different actions to address this particular form of gender-based violence.

“Marriage is a right not an obligation. Forced marriage is another form of violence against women which is unacceptable in our society today,” says FRA Director Morten Kjaerum. “The EU and its Member States should support victims of forced marriage and act to ensure everyone has the right to choose who and when to marry.

The paper identifies a trend to criminalise forced marriage in the EU, as seven Member States have now made forced marriage a crime. However, it also acknowledges that criminalisation is only a partial solution, as enforcing this law is often problematic.

It describes civil laws that can help prevent forced marriage and support victims. These include mechanisms to ensure free consent to marry is given, safeguards for marriage for those who are under 18, as well as opportunities to annul a forced marriage.

For non-EU nationals, the threat of losing EU residency should not be used by spouses to enforce marriage. Member States should also not use unproven forced marriage as a reason to limit family reunification involving non-EU nationals.

The EU has taken a strong stand in combating forced marriage internationally, beyond its borders. However, by acceding to the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women, the EU would ensure forced marriage is tackled in a harmonised manner across the region.

The paper also points to the lack of reliable data on forced marriage, which makes it difficult to gauge the extent of the problem. Unofficial figures of women approaching support centres for advice, from studies referred to in the paper, suggest the real figures may be much higher than official statistics suggest.

Examples of promising practices by authorities and NGOs that aim to support victims, and potential victims, are also referred to in the paper. These include a diverse range of activities, such as accessible support services, as well as awareness raising and educational initiatives, training and campaigns that also tackle prevention.

Forced marriage appears to predominately affect young women. Boys and men can also be affected but this tends to be less common, ranging from 5-8% of all forced marriages in Germany to 18% in the UK.

This works complements FRA’s wider work on the many other forms of violence against women. The findings are based on desk research carried out in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. To read the paper, see: Addressing forced marriage in the EU: legal provisions and promising practices.


Addressing forced marriage in the EU: legal provisions and promising practices

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