Sometimes we take for granted how lucky we are to live in a country where we have choices, where women are treated as equal to men and can choose how to live their own lives. This guest post from Plan UK shows that this isn’t always the case.
Forced marriage is a scourge. In the 21st century, we still live in a world where a girl under 18 is married every three seconds. This is especially dangerous in developing countries where pregnancy and childbirth is the leading cause of death for girls between 15 and 19 and a leading cause of school drop-out, which only serves to exacerbate the disparity between the genders.
Unlike an arranged marriage which takes place between two consenting adults (although usually arranged by the spouses’ parents), a forced marriage is one in which one or more of the marriage party is being forced or coerced into the marriage against their will. The victims of such marriages are usually young girls, forced to marry men up to four times their own age. These girls then often face a lifetime of abuse and neglect, giving birth to their first child while they themselves are still children – if they survive that long.
Marriage, according to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, should only be entered into ‘with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.’ As well as this, according to the Convention on the Elimination on All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) – marriage before the age of 18 should not be allowed since children don’t have the ‘full maturity and capacity to act’.
However, in many countries, particularly developing countries, forced marriage of young girls is extremely commonplace due to poverty. Educating girls is often seen as a waste of money, due to misconceptions about the role of women and girls. As well as this, the high rate of teenage pregnancy due to forced marriages means that girls often miss out on an education and therefore have no way of breaking the cycle they are trapped in.
Forced marriage is a worldwide phenomenon but is most prevalent in Africa and Southern Asia. British citizens are also at risk, either by being forced to marry in the UK or being taken abroad and forced to marry there. The UK government has also done much to help, with the setting up of the Forced Marriage Unit to provide practical support, information and advice to anyone who has been through or is at risk of a forced marriage. As well as this, charities such as Plan have done much around the world by improving education for girls and increasing awareness of girls’ rights.
Physical and emotional abuse as well as the threat of disownment are most often used in order to coerce someone into a forced marriage. More rarely, but still in use, is the murder of the refusing party in an ‘honour killing’. Most cases of forced marriage involving British nationals comprise of South Asian families, as well as some East Asian, Middle Eastern, European and African families.
Forced marriage is, essentially, slavery. It prevents that person making their own life choices and deciding their own future, while ensuring they remain trapped by denying them an education and often condemning them to a lifetime of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. You can help by donating to charities such as Plan UK in order to continue the worldwide efforts against forced marriage.
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