close hide page

Archive for June, 2013

ETHIOPIA: Surviving forced marriage

ALEM GENA, 23 February 2007 (IRIN) – Standing at the front of her classroom, Mulu Melka reads out of her English book in a shy voice like any other 13-year-old schoolgirl; betraying nothing of the fact that twice within two years, she has been abducted and forced into marriage. A target of the traditional practice, known locally as “marriage by abduction”, Mulu managed to escape on both occasions. “The first time I was 11,” she recounts. “I was going to the mill, when a group of men grabbed me from behind. They took me by surprise. I fell on the ground, and when I woke up again I was in the house of my abductor. I stayed there three days.”

In the meantime, her parents held a meeting with the abductor’s parents, mediated by village elders. In exchange for a cow and two sheep, her parents agreed to her marriage with the abductor. But, Mulu ran away one night. “I escaped from the abductor’s house while he and his friends were drinking and dancing. I went to the toilet and then I escaped through a fence and ran away.”She then hid for nearly a year in the house of one of her uncles. “After nine months, I could not stand hiding anymore, so I decided to go back to school,” Mulu says nervously, looking at her hands.

Later, her parents received a letter from another suitor asking to marry Mulu, but she refused. The 39-year-old man turned up at the house and kidnapped her with her parents’ consent. “I managed to get my parents to agree for us to be tested for HIV. I had heard about it at school and on the radio. I was negative but my abductor was positive.”  With the test results in her hand, Mulu managed to convince her parents to cancel the wedding.

Read more:

Forced Marriages – do you know where you stand?

There are many instances where a marriage can be voidable (set aside) or ‘void’ where the marriage is treated as though it has never taken place. Examples include non-consummation of marriage, due to either inability or wilful refusal. There are other reasons relating to unawareness that the bride is already pregnant or that one party has a serious STD. More commonly, these days, it may be that one of the parties may not have the legal capacity to consent to the union or may be entering it under duress or have suffered undue influence.

The latter appears to relate to the recent case highlighted in the Daily Mail involving a sixteen year old girl who had the protection of a Court Order which banned the arrangement of her marriage. The Order was backed by a Power of Arrest. It is alleged that, in spite of the Court Order, the girl was forced to marry a man she had met only once under a threat from her father to kill her (which would apparently be explained as suicide) if she refused to comply. She is reported to have turned up at a local police station in her pyjamas on her wedding night in a distressed state.

The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) is raising awareness about forced marriages across the public sector to professionals and lay clients alike. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16(2)). FMU goes on to say that No marriage shall be legally entered into without the full and free consent of both parties and a woman’s right to choose a spouse and enter freely into marriage that is central to her life and dignity and equality as a human being (Recommendation 21 Comment Article 16 (1) (b) UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women).

This unfortunate 16 year old lady is due to appear in Court where, presumably, the persons alleged to have threatened her and organised the marriage despite the Court orders and powers of arrest will have to account for their actions. Duress includes actions perpetrated against a victim for physical, psychological, sexual, financial or emotional reasons and such pressure tends to be consistent and wholly unacceptable. In 2008 over 1,600 cases in the UK were reported involving South Asian and other families. It is important to remember that many go unreported. This often starts when the victim is quite young when during school there are often prolonged absences that are not properly explained, requests for extended leave, with the victim showing anxiety as the school holidays and breaks come nearer. Often they are not allowed to join after-school activities or forge a friendship with other children or their families. This can result in self-harm, feelings of depression and isolation and can result in unreasonable restrictions at home. Incidents as being beaten by a parent for ‘looking at a boy’ can often result in confiscation of a mobile phone and being forced to go back to the originating country often to meet the prospective ‘husband’.


Read more: