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Forced marriage: an analysis of legislation and political measures in Europe

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Forced marriage is of current international concern in Europe. As many cases involve a transnational component linked to migration, it is increasingly receiving attention at the government level. The serious consequences for women, including sexual violence, and the physical and psychological health risks associated with it, seem to receive little consideration. Recent years have seen a rise in initiatives and measures taken by policy makers throughout Europe. As the focus is placed on criminalization and stringent immigration policies, ethnic minority population groups bear the greatest burden. It is argued that specific criminal laws make it more difficult for victims to come forward, while offering very little or no protection in return. The widespread 21-year age rule in immigration law has been denounced by scholars, institutes and magistrates alike for infringing on the fundamental human right to family life guaranteed by article 8 ECHR. The discourse on forced marriage appears to have reached a crossroads. European governments are faced with the challenge to create policies that protect and support victims, while simultaneously cracking down on perpetrators and safeguarding their borders from abuses in obtaining visas. There is a very pressing need to work more closely with those at risk, involving service provisions to directly support them, instead of a one-side top-down policy framework through which minority communities feel targeted and stigmatized.

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  1. Upon request, a complete reference list may be obtained from the corresponding author.

  2. Forced marriage applies to both formal and informal unions.

  3. Art. 1 CRC: “For the purpose of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.” Another United Nations instrument is the Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage, and Registration of Marriages (UN 1962), which reaffirms the consensual nature of marriages, requires the parties to establish a minimum marriage age by law and to ensure the registration of marriages.

  4. Article 16(2): “Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouse”.

  5. Article 23 ICCPR, article 10(1) ICESCR and article 16 CEDAW.

  6. See Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) website.

  7. Article 1 United Nations Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

  8. Article 2 (a), (b) CEDAW.

  9. In 2003, a paragraph containing a prohibition against forcing a person to enter into marriage was added to section 222 of the Penal Code. The penalty is imprisonment for up to 6 years, also for third parties involved [49].

  10. It was made a criminal offence on July 1st, 2006 [50].

  11. In 2007, article 391 sexies of the Penal Code was adopted [2].

  12. Forcing someone to enter marriage can result in a prison sentence of up to four years [51]. See article 260 (2) Danish Penal Code [52].

  13. Gesetzentwurf der Bundesregierung, 13.01.2011, BT-Drs. 17/4401; Beshluss- empfehlung und Bericht des Innenausschusses (4. Ausschuss), 16.03.2011, BT-Drs. 17/5093 [28].

  14. At the moment (January 2014), the breach of a Forced Marriage Protection Order is dealt with as a civil contempt of court, punishable with a fine or a custodial sentence of up to two years’ imprisonment.

  15. The legislative change is expected in the course of 2014. Note: In 2011, the Scottish government already had introduced the ‘Forced Marriage Protection and Jurisdiction Act’ (see:

  16. Resolution 1468 on Forced Marriages and Child Marriages, encouraging the introduction of a specific criminal offence to tackle forced marriages [56].

  17. Art. 37 Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women [57].

  18. In July 2013, the law enters into force.

  19. ‘Nikah’ refers to an Islamic marriage ceremony [52].

  20. The question to what extent the marriage candidate feels pressured out of a sense of duty or loyalty to the parents.

  21. “Beyond reasonable doubt” in a criminal case, versus “balance of probabilities” in a civil case.

  22. The 74 respondents represented the following categories: local councils, organisations concerned with domestic violence/violence against women, educational organisations, faith groups, police and legal experts, public sector and voluntary sector (community) organizations.

  23. This right is recognised by article 4, paragraph 5, of Directive 2003/86/EC.

  24. The Norwegian immigration act came into force in January 2010 [73].

  25. See R (on the application of Quila and another) (FC) (Respondents) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Appellant); R (on the application of Bibi and another) (FC) (Respondents) v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Appellant) [2011] UKSC 45, 12 October 2011.

  26. MIPEX (Migrant Integration Policy Index) measures integration policies in all European Union Member States plus Norway, Switzerland, Canada and the USA. Using 148 policy indicators MIPEX creates a rich, multi-dimensional picture of migrants’ opportunities to participate in society by assessing governments’ commitment to integration [79].

  27. Karma Nirvana is a registered Charity based in London, United Kingdom, that supports victims and survivors of forced marriage and honour based abuse. See:

  28. Southall Black Sisters is a not-for-profit organisation set up in 1979 in West London, United Kingdom, to meet the needs of black (Asian and African-Caribbean) and minority ethnic women. They run an advice, advocacy and resource centre, which provides a comprehensive service to help women and children escape violence and abuse (including forced marriage and honour crimes) and deal with a range of interrelated problems. See:


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This work was supported by the Flemish Interuniversity Council (Vlaamse Interuniversitaire Raad) - Institutional University Development Cooperation [VLADOC grant 2009–04].

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Sabbe, A., Temmerman, M., Brems, E. et al. Forced marriage: an analysis of legislation and political measures in Europe. Crime Law Soc Change 62, 171–189 (2014).

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