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Marriage and Migration: Moroccan Women’s Views on Partner Choice, Arranged and Forced Marriage in Belgium

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With family reunification as one of the key routes to legally gain entry to the European Union, governments are introducing more stringent legislation to counter abuses such as forced marriages and marriages of convenience. This study explores Moroccan women’s views on partner choice, arranged and forced marriages to ascertain the impact of the migratory context. Moreover, it examined whether the diasporic experience affects the occurrence of forced marriage. Using a participatory approach, focus-group discussions and in-depth interviews were held with women from the Moroccan community in both urban and provincial settings in Flanders, Belgium. Our findings indicate a preference for a partner in Belgium. Religion as opposed to ethnicity emerges as the most important attribute in a partner. Furthermore, religion is also a progressive voice in opinions on forced marriage and the virginity norm. Although forced marriages are no longer a pressing issue among the youth of the Moroccan Belgian community, the immigration legislation and policies that aim to enhance integration and tackle forced marriage and marriages of convenience appear to effectively deter women from choosing a partner from Morocco. Overall, the diasporic experience and migration context do not give rise to an increase of forced marriage among the Moroccan community; yet, arranged marriage is prevalent, even though it is on the decline.

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  1. In 2015, the vast majority of first permits for family reunification to TCNs were granted by Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK altogether (EMN Synthesis Report 2017)

  2. For EU citizens and their family members, the European directive 2004/38/EC regulates freedom of movement and right of residence. Both Directives were transposed into Belgian residence law (in 2006 and 2007 (Art. 10, 10a, 40a and 40b Aliens Act).

  3. Firstly, there is an age requirement: both spouses and partners must be over 21 years old. Additionally, a minimum income is required of at least 120% of the social assistance level (or living wage) and proof of ‘adequate housing’ is needed. Both partners should be covered by health insurance.

  4. For the purpose of this paper, the term ‘marriage migration’ is used both in the case of an existing partnership (marriage or equivalent legally registered partner) between a resident of Belgium and non-resident Third Country National (TCN), and in the case of a TCN or non-resident partner coming to Belgium with the aim of entering into a marriage or legal partnership (also referred to as ‘family formation’). An existing partnership denotes that the transnational couple has already officially entered into wedlock or legal partnership in the country of origin. The procedure for family reunification is set in motion in both instances (Desmet et al. 2011).

  5. Law of June 2nd, 2013 (BS 23/09/2013).

  6. In 2016, Morocco received 3727 first residence permits for family reasons, outnumbering Syria, India and Turkey. Since 2015, Turkish beneficiaries are no longer the second most important nationality (EMN Belgium, Sarolea and Hardy 2017).

  7. Family reunification can also involve descendants or ascendants, in addition to spouses.

  8. In Belgium, integration policies fall within the scope of the federated entities. Flanders, the Walloon region and the Brussels-Capital Region have each developed their own integration policy according to their debates and objectives regarding the management of cultural diversity. Moroccan and Turkish migrants were the first migrants targeted by these policies. For several years, Flanders has had a compulsory integration programme targeting newcomers. More recently, the two other regions also made their integration programmes for new migrants mandatory. However, the compulsory programs in the Walloon region and Brussels-Capital Region were not yet implemented at the time of research. Moroccan and Turkish migrants were thus differently affected by integration programmes, depending on the region in which they settled (Gsir et al. 2015; Van de Pol and Vanheule 2018).

  9. Evaluations of this method show that the quality and quantity of communication between the generations improved significantly (GTZ 2005).

  10. The 95 participants consisted of 70 Moroccan women, 11 Belgian women with no Moroccan heritage, 7 Tunesian, 4 Turkish and 3 Syrian women. Our research population group of Moroccan participants consisted predominantly of a mix of first-generation and second-generation women.

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

  12. Child marriage is defined as the marriage of anyone under the age of 18 years, seeing that consent to marriage cannot be free and full when one of the parties is not sufficiently mature to make an informed decision (article 1 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; article 16(2) Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

  13. Leaflet: Vakantietijd: huwelijkstijd? (Translated: Holiday time: time for marriage?). Available at:


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The authors thank all the participants for their valuable time and input. We are also very grateful to all who reviewed this paper, especially A. La Velle.


This work was supported by the Flemish Interuniversity Council (Vlaamse Interuniversitaire Raad)–Institutional University Development Cooperation [VLADOC grant 2009-04] and by the Agentschap Integratie & Inburgering [Managers van Diversiteit 2010/01/016].

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Correspondence to Alexia Sabbe.

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Sabbe, A., El Boujaddayni, K., Temmerman, M. et al. Marriage and Migration: Moroccan Women’s Views on Partner Choice, Arranged and Forced Marriage in Belgium. Int. Migration & Integration 20, 1097–1120 (2019).

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