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.”

Drafting Laws on Forced and Child Marriage

In partnership with UN Women, The Advocates for Human Rights created a section on drafting laws on forced and child marraige for UN Women's Virtual Knowledge Centre to End Violence against Women and Girls. This section, along with sections addressing other forms of violence against women and girls, may be found under Legislation at www.endvawnow.org.

Throughout this section on Drafting Legislation on Forced and Child Marriage, reference to certain provisions or sections of a piece of legislation, part of a legal judgment, or aspect of a practice does not imply that the legislation, judgment, or practice is considered in its entirety to be a viable option. The intention is to set forth examples of initiatives that are already in operation with a view to considering their application.