Forced and Child Marriage


Forced and child marriages entrap women and young girls in relationships that deprive them of their basic human rights.  Forced marriage constitutes a human rights violation in and of itself.  Article One of the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages states that “No marriage shall be legally entered into without the full and free consent of both parties, such consent to be expressed by them in person after due publicity and in the presence of the authority competent to solemnize the marriage and of witnesses, as prescribed by law.”

The Marriage Convention addresses the issue of age. According to Article 2 of the Convention, “States Parties to the present Convention shall take legislative action to specify a minimum age for marriage. No marriage shall be legally entered into by any person under this age, except where a competent authority has granted a dispensation as to age, for serious reasons, in the interest of the intending spouses.”  Under General Assembly Resolution 2018 (XX) of 1 November 1965, “Recommendation on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages,” Principle II states that the minimum age to marry be set no lower than fifteen years.  However, this is only a recommendation and it still allows room for a competent authority to grant “dispensation as to age for serious reasons.” Leaving the minimum age of consent to the discretion of each country and allowing an authority to make exceptions to the minimum age of marriage aggravates the potential for early and forced marriages.

Forced marriages differ from arranged marriages.  In forced marriages, one or both of the partners cannot give free or valid consent to the marriage.  Forced marriages involve varying degrees of force, coercion or deception, ranging from emotional pressure by family or community members to abduction and imprisonment. Emotional pressure from a victim’s family includes repeatedly telling the victim that the family’s social standing and reputation are at stake, as well as isolating the victim or refusing to speak to her. In more severe cases, the victim can be subject to physical or sexual abuse, including rape.

In arranged marriages, the parents and families play a leading role in arranging the marriage, but the individuals getting married can nonetheless chose whether to marry or not.  Many regard arranged marriage as a well-established cultural tradition that flourishes in many communities, so a clear distinction should be drawn between forced and arranged marriages. However, in some cases the difference between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage may be purely semantic. In her January 2007 report, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Aspects of the Victims of Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children,” Sigma Huda states that, “[a] marriage imposed on a woman not by explicit force, but by subjecting her to relentless pressure and/or manipulation, often by telling her that her refusal of a suitor will harm her family’s standing in the community, can also be understood as forced.”


Forced and child marriage mainly affects young women and girls, although there are cases of young men and boys being forced to marry—especially if there are concerns about his sexual orientation. Reliable statistics on forced marriage are difficult to compile due to the unofficial and, therefore, undocumented nature of most forced marriages. In 2003, the International Centre for Research on Women estimated that more than 51 million girls under 18 years were married and they expected the figure to rise to over 100 million within the next ten years. Similarly, in 2006, experts estimated that thirty-eight percent of young women aged 20 to 24 in the fifty least developed countries were married before the age of 18. >>Learn more

Causes and Risk Factors

No major world religion sanctions forced marriage. It is purely a cultural practice. However, no culture exclusively practices forced marriage. Victims are forced into marriage for many different reasons. In the United Kingdom, the Working Group on Forced Marriage found that most cases were a result of “loving manipulation, where parents genuinely felt that they were acting in their children and family’s best interests.”  To families living in poverty or economic instability, a daughter may be seen as an “economic burden” who must be married as soon as possible to take financial strain off of the family. Marriage can also be used to settle a debt, or to strengthen family or caste status through social alliances. Fears about sexual activity before marriage, or fear of rumors about such activity ruining a daughter’s opportunity to marry well, also fuel early and forced marriages. >> Learn more

Consequences and Effects

Forced and child marriages have severe psychological, emotional, medical, financial, and legal consequences. Victims tend to be isolated from their peers and friends. They rarely have access to social services that could assist them. Early marriages often interrupt a victim’s education. This deprives them of their right to education, as well as limits any possibility of economic independence from their spouse, making it more difficult to escape from an unwanted marriage. The unofficial nature of many of these marriages means that they often go unregistered, leaving a woman with no legal protections in cases of separation. Forced and child marriages are also more likely to become violent because the relationship is based on the power of one spouse over the other. In addition, complications during childbirth are much more common among young mothers. >>Learn more

International and Domestic Law and Policies

Numerous international legal instruments prohibit forced and child marriage, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Although most countries have signed onto these documents, many countries have not taken sufficient steps to implement these treaties. In 2005, the Council of Europe adopted Resolution 1468 on forced marriages and child marriages. However, only a few countries have criminalized forced marriage. Despite this, forced and child marriage has been prosecuted as a crime against humanity under international law. >> Learn more

Prevention Efforts

Forced and child marriages are widespread, yet many local efforts to prevent these marriages have been successful. Crisis lines, women’s shelters, schools, groups or clubs for girls, and even monetary incentives have all proved effective in postponing marriages for girls and helping to stop forced marriages. Such programs have educated women and emboldened girls to take action on their own behalf

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