Causes and Risk Factors of Forced and Child Marriage

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. In many cultures, a family’s honor depends on a girl’s virginity, so a girl will sometimes be married off soon after her first menstruation to “protect” her virginity.

Sending a victim back to an immigrant family’s country of origin to marry or forcing a victim to sponsor a spouse from the country of origin (usually to a Western country) has grown increasingly common. In some cases, victims of forced marriages can be considered trafficking victims, as well. The United Kingdom’s Forced Marriage Unit states that every year they see over 100 cases of British nationals being forced abroad to marry.

In societies with highly disproportionate ratio of men to women, women are trafficked for the purpose of marriage. In China, a large number of North Korean women are being trafficked into the country to compensate for the “shortage” of women due to the one-child policy and a cultural preference for male children. In situations of armed conflict, such as in Sierra Leone, women are sometimes trafficked for the purpose of marrying soldiers.