, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 165-184
Date: 21 Jun 2009

Coercion, Consent and the Forced Marriage Debate in the UK

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Abstract

An examination of case law on forced marriage reveals that in addition to physical force, the role of emotional pressure is now taken into consideration. However, in both legal and policy discourse, the difference between arranged and forced marriage continues to be framed in binary terms and hinges on the concept of consent: the context in which consent is constructed largely remains unexplored. By examining the socio-cultural construction of personhood, especially womanhood, and the intersecting structural inequalities that constrain particular groups of South Asian women in the UK, we argue that consent and coercion in relation to marriage can be better understood as two ends of a continuum, between which lie degrees of socio-cultural expectation, control, persuasion, pressure, threat and force. Women who face these constraints exercise their agency in complex and contradictory ways that are not always recognised by the existing exit-centred state initiatives designed to tackle this problem.