Forced marriage……. Is criminalisation the answer to elimination?

Forced marriage……. Is criminalisation the answer to elimination?









The concept of forced marriage as a human rights violation is not universal.

Dear interested readers,

As a virgin blogger, I introduce my first of a compilation of blogs forthcoming which will explore the impact of global communication upon fundamental human rights issues key on international aid sector agendas.

Inspired by my own questions and self-reflection, I begin this first blog discussing the often reservedly approached topic of forced marriage.  As my discussion unfolds I draw upon researched data instigating aid sector response, introduce personal stories of those directly or indirectly impacted by forced marriage and consider if a connected world makes a difference.  My initial thought was that this discussion has been exhausted on social media. I then considered why then is legislation criminalising forced marriage only fairly recently coming into force in many countries? Possibly because the concept of forced marriage as a human rights violation and criminal act is not universal.

Pertinent questions to contemplate..

Has her family/culture deceived her and sent her away to be married without consent?

Has her family/culture sold her to be married?

Has her family/culture forced her to marry under the age of 18?

Has my own family/culture allowed me freedom to marry whom I chose, when I chose or not marry at all?

Forced marriage defined

“A forced marriage is when a person gets married without freely and fully consenting. This may be because they do not understand the nature and effect of the marriage ceremony or they have been coerced threatened or deceived, because of emotional pressure from their family, threats of or actual physical harm, or being tricked into marrying someone.” My Blue Skye

Boys are impacted by practices of forced marriage, however girls are predominantly targeted. Many cultures around the world condone and facilitate the marriage of girls under the age of 18 against their will, irrelevant of the practice being a human rights violation.   UNICEF estimates that 11% of women worldwide are married before reaching the age of 15 and 40% in developing countries under the age of 18 UNICEF.

Placing aside for one moment that forced marriage is a human rights violation of freedoms alone, let’s consider the negative impacts that are frequently consequential of forced and child marriage.

Contemplate your own freedoms and rights as you consider your life or your own children’s lives impacted by:

  • Sudden undesired and unknown role change from a child to a wife
  • Discontinued access to education
  • Discontinued potential to choose a career pathway
  • Forced to be a domestic servant
  • Vulnerable to domestic violence and abuse
  • Expectation as a wife to perform sexual intercourse
  • Desperate measures taken seeking escape

“Child marriage is also often accompanied by early and frequent pregnancy and childbirth, resulting in higher than average maternal morbidity and mortality rates” Anti-Slavery and OHCHR

Picture sourced from:

FORCED marriage…..The responsibility of Aid and Government sectors to address and/or communities?

Forced marriage is recognised as occurring in all regions of the globe – refer to full report by Walk Free Foundation 2018 Insight Series. As globalization expands, technology advances and migration increases, awareness and debate about forced marriage and how to address the issue has become widespread. Not surprisingly, as migration increases, forced marriage across boarders is prevalent. Consequently, laws have been introduced around the world criminalizing forced marriage.

Legislation was introduced in Australia in 2013 criminalising forced marriage. “It is illegal to take or send someone to another country for a forced marriage or get someone else to organise this. Sometimes people are taken to another country against their will to be forced into a marriage. This is also illegal and can result in imprisonment.” Australian Government DSS

Australia and other countries have family law / airport watch lists in place where people at risk of coercion of being sent overseas for the intention of forced marriage can opt to navigate legal processes enabling them to be flagged by immigration when approaching departure resulting in the likelihood of departure prevention (subject to local laws). Another interesting, yet in my opinion holding high risk of assurance, as tweeted:

How often have you had metal on you and the customs and immigration detectors did not sense the item?

So is it only the lucky ones who live in countries like Australia where legislative and protection measures are in place to prevent forced marriage?  What about the more than 15 million estimated to be living in forced marriage as at 2016  ILO Alliance Global Estimates of Modern Slavery  who may not have the privilege of such legal protection mechanisms?

Pictures sourced from: and

Whilst there is a legal difference between an arranged marriage and a forced marriage, coercion may draw a fine line in escaping the parameters of legislation as Meriam explains:

Insight Arranged Marriage extended “Meriam” interview

Recognising forced marriage as a harmful practice, the UN Sustainable Development Goals targets to eliminate forced marriage – 5.3 Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation UN Sustainable Development Goals.

This begs the question: Are legislations and global collective implementation of  UN Sustainable Development goals UN SGDs Goal #5 Gender Equality – Facts and Figures to eliminate forced marriage through advocacy and support of aid agencies the paramount preventative measures, or is a bottom up, behaviour change approach from within cultures condoning forced marriage a necessary direction? If culture is considered to be the perpetrator of forced marriage, then by empowering generations of girls and women, and educating girls, women, boys and men of all cultures through communication and use of  technology instigating global awareness, can cultural change become the preventative measure of forced marriage entirely?  Zarif Sahin, a victim of forced marriage shares her story Breaking the Cycle of Child Marriages: Zarif Sahin at TEDxRockCreekPark

I hope you will return to this space as my blogging experience evolves…. Future blog: How will the world eliminate Modern slavery? The government’s responsibility? The aid sectors responsibility? OR the person in the mirror… The Consumer?

Post feature picture sourced from

Written by Robyn

I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land I live on. I pay my respects to the Elders past, present and emerging, and to the the traditions, the culture and hopes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across the nation.



  1. Miriam Sastre

    Hi Robyn! I found this topic very interesting, harsh, obviously, but food-for-thought. Child marriage is nothing new and even in countries with laws trying to prevent it, it is difficult. I mean, when a practice is so deeply rooted to a culture, people will find the way to break the rule and follow their “supposed” right path. Besides, there are other factors interwined with this, such as the economy of a family… some have to “sell” their daugthers to the highest bidder in order to feed their other siblings… In essence, a difficult issue to address, but a bottom-up approach, within communities, empowering girls and educating citizens could be the most appropiate way to tackle the situation!

    Thanks for the links and insights!!

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  3. Thank you Robyn, very interesting and important. While reading your post I recalled my wife’s grandmother story (Jewish family originated in Yemen), how the governor ruled that every orphan Jewish girl under the age of 12 will be taken into the custody of a Muslim believer for…the sake of the girl… The solution of their community was, to marry even young girls with older men, in order to save them from slavery fate. Apperantly there is a context to everything… again, thank you for the fascinating read!

    1. Robyn Ormerod

      Dear Amram,
      Thank you for your comments and sharing your personally connected story. Yes indeed there is of course context to everything and justification behind actions, even if perceived to be with good intent such as saving the young girls from a fate of slavery. I believe society must collectively look at other ways to protect human rights, particularly to protect children / young girls from a fate that may be equally as devastating as a fate of slavery.
      Thank you

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