Movement to tackle Violence against Women in Nigeria – Tackling Forced / Servile Marriage:
This write up offers information we all need to know about forced marriages and why we should stand against this evil in our societies
The concept of servile marriage covers marriage whereby a woman may be promised and/or given in marriage without her consent.
A useful definition of this concept derives from Article 1(c) of the 1956 Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery, and reads as follows:
A woman, without the right to refuse, is promised or given in marriage on payment of a consideration in money or in kind to her parents, guardian, family or any other person or group; or
the husband of a woman, his family, or his clan, has the right to transfer her to another person for value received or otherwise; or
a woman on the death of her husband is liable to be inherited by another person; based on religious practices and cultures.
International Laws signed by Nigeria against the abuse of Human rights (such as forced marriages):
The United Nations views forced marriage as a form of human rights abuse, since it violates the principle of the freedom and autonomy of individuals. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that a woman’s right to choose a spouse and enter freely into marriage is central to her life and dignity, and equality as a human being. The Roman Catholic Church deems forced marriage grounds for granting an annulment — for a marriage to be valid both parties must give their consent freely. Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery also prohibits marriage without right to refuse of herself out of her parents’, family’s and other persons’ will and requires the minimum age for marriage to prevent this.
In 1969, the Special Court for Sierra Leone’s (SCSL) Appeals Chamber found the abduction and confinement of women for “forced marriage” in war to be a new crime against humanity (AFRC decision). The SCSL Trial Chamber in the Charles Taylor decision found that the term ‘forced marriage’ should be avoided and rather described the practice in war as ‘conjugal slavery’ (2012).
In 2013, the first United Nations Human Rights Council resolution against child, early, and forced marriages was adopted; the resolution recognizes child, early, and forced marriage as involving violations of human rights which, “prevents individuals from living their lives free from all forms of violence and that has adverse consequences on the enjoyment of human rights, such as the right to education, [and] the right to the highest attainable standard of health including sexual and reproductive health,” and also states that “the elimination of child, early and forced marriage should be considered in the discussion of the post-2015 development
Forced marriage is a marriage in which one or more of the parties is married without his or her consent or against his or her will. A forced marriage differs from an arranged marriage, in which both parties consent to the assistance of their parents or a third party (such as a matchmaker) in choosing a spouse. There is often a continuum of coercion used to compel a marriage, ranging from outright physical violence to subtle psychological pressure.
The emancipation of women in the 19th and 20th centuries changed marriage laws dramatically, especially in regard to property and economic status. By the mid-20th century, many Western countries had enacted legislation establishing legal equality between spouses in family law. The period of 1975-1979 saw a major overhaul of family laws in countries such as Italy, Spain, Austria, West Germany, and Portugal. In 1978, the Council of Europe passed the Resolution (78) 37 on equality of spouses in civil law. Among the last European countries to establish full gender equality in marriage were Switzerland, Greece, Spain, the Netherlands, and France in the 1980s.
An arranged marriage is not the same as a forced marriage: in the former, the spouse has the possibility to reject the offer; in the latter, they do not. The line between arranged and forced marriage is however often difficult to draw, due to the implied familial and social pressure to accept the marriage and obey one’s parents in all respects.
Historically, forced marriage was also used to require a captive (slave or prisoner of war) to integrate with the host community, and accept his or her fate.
Causes of forced marriages
There are numerous factors which can lead to a culture which accepts and encourages forced marriages. Reasons for performing forced marriages include: strengthening extended family links; controlling unwanted behavior and sexuality; preventing ‘unsuitable’ relationships; protecting and abiding by perceived cultural or religious norms; keeping the wealth in the extended family; dealing with the consequences of pregnancy out of wedlock; considering the contracting of a marriage as the duty of the parents; obtaining a guarantee against poverty; aiding immigration.
For victims and society
Early and forced marriages can contribute to girls being placed in a cycle of poverty and powerlessness. Most are likely to experience mistreatment such as violence, abuse and forced sexual relations. This means that women who marry younger in age are more likely to be dominated by their husbands. They also experience poor sexual and reproductive health. Young married girls are more likely to contract HIV and their health could be in jeopardy. Most people who are forced into a marriage lack education and are often illiterate. Young ones tend to drop out of school shortly before they get married.
Depending by jurisdiction, a forced marriage may or may not be void or voidable. Victims may be able to seek redress through annulment or divorce. In England and Wales, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 stipulates that a forced marriage is voidable. In some jurisdictions, people who had coerced the victim into marriage may face criminal charges.
Forced marriages are often related to violence, both in regard to violence perpetrated inside the marriage (domestic violence), and in regard to violence inflicted in order to force an unwilling participant to accept the marriage, or to punish a refusal (in extreme cases women and girls who do not accept the marriage are subjected to honor killings).
Escaping a forced marriage
Ending a forced marriage may be extremely difficult in many parts of the world. For instance, in parts of Africa, one of the main obstacles for leaving the marriage is the bride price. Once the bride price has been paid, the girl is seen as belonging to the husband and his family. If she wants to leave, the husband may demand back the bride price that he had paid to the girl’s family. The girl’s family often cannot or does not want to pay it back.
After reading all the information given above, the question that lingers in all our minds is, what now? what next? what can we do as concerned individuals?
I would suggest that we observe our society well enough and we would start to notice victims of forced marriages or violent marriages. We need to speak up against it and encourage the victims to seek help. It is only when it becomes a daily topic in our lives that the appropriate attention will be given to it by leaders in our society. May God help us all!