Forced marriages and honor killings in developed nations
It is not a secret that young girls are married off to unknown, older men in a number of countries. Forced marriages exist in India, Yemen, Turkey, Pakistan and other nations. But did you know it also happens in England and the United States?
Karma Nirvana is a British charity devoted to helping victims of forced marriages and domestic violence. It was founded in 1993 by Jasvinder Sanghera. At age 8, she was promised to an older man in India by her parents. She lived with her family in England. When she turned 14, her parents pulled her out of school and made plans to send her to her future husband. Jasvinder refused and ran away. Her parents told her, “You are dead in our eyes from this day forward. You can come home and marry who we say: otherwise, you are dead.”
In 2008, Karma Nirvana reported there were 2,500 girls who went missing in England suspected of falling victim to forced marriages. Incidents of teenage girls being murdered by family members have been reported in England since at least 1999. Death is often the punishment for dishonoring the family name. For a horrific story that occurred in England in 2006, read here about Banaz Mahmod, a teenager who left an arranged marriage and fell in love with a man her family didn’t approve of. She was brutally raped and murdered by her father and uncle when she was twenty years old.
Sanghera’s work has led to England’s Forced Marriage Protection Order. It authorizes the court to issue injunctions against family members seeking to force their children into unwanted marriages. A special police unit also exists to investigate cases of girls sent out of country to marry against their will.
Although the practice exists in the United States, little action has been taken. Recognizing the problem as a violation of human rights as well as a form of child abuse, a study was released in 2011 by the Tahirih Justice Center in Houston, Texas. The report covered 3,000 cases of known or suspected forced marriages in the U.S. It included girls from 56 different ethnic communities and as young as 13. Few social service agencies know how to handle these cases. Child Protective Services is authorized to protect children from abuse and neglect. There are no laws allowing interference by the government into parental decisions regarding marriage. However, state criminal laws do apply when family members resort to violence to save face or restore a family’s honor by harming their child.
According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 8,694 girls and women have died in so-called honor killings between 2014 and 2015. Those crimes involved revenge killings for dishonoring a family, village or local custom.
For a disturbing but uplifting story of a 10-year-old girl who escaped an arranged abusive marriage in Yemen, see “I Am Nujood” on this site.