I can’t laugh about it anymore. Not a day goes by when I’m not gripped with anxiety about the future of Pakistani children. I do not wish to use this as an opportunity to compare my situation to another’s, or to belittle the horrible grievances so many have to suffer through in society. Forced marriage is no laughing matter, and neither is the physical and emotional abuse which often feature where forced marriage is concerned.
According to Plan UK, 1 in 3 girls in the developing world is married by her 18th birthday. The Forced Marriage Unit, led by the Home Office and Foreign & Commonwealth Office, published a report on their findings from 2014. In it, they establish over 88 countries where forced marriage was a concern, and 23% of all the cases were domestic (i.e. in the UK), involving “no overseas element”.
Whilst the majority of campaigns against forced marriage understandably focus on underage girls in developing countries, there is something to be said for the fact that at least 46% of last year’s cases were with victims aged 18 or over, and a further 32% of adults’ ages were unknown. That is potentially 78% of cases with victims aged 18 or over. Whichever statistic you choose to consider, that is still a huge portion of adults finding themselves forced into marriage with few avenues to explore.
All things considered, there must be a proportion of adults in the UK who are suffering from abuse related to forced marriage, many of whom will be students at university, worried about their future. Whilst I do not wish to belittle the experiences of those outside that demographic, I think that my insight as a university student should allow me to focus in a little on university students.
Within my region from Pakistan, I am acutely aware of cases where people have been forced to get married to someone they barely know, ending in divorce, running away, domestic abuse, and at worst, murder.
These individuals were bright, had their whole futures ahead of them.
Intrinsically, we need to challenge the authority of the community and the parent. No matter what religions or diktats say about the power of the community, it’s not good for anything unless it’s tolerant and accepting. A community where people are looked down on for not being married or for choosing to marry someone they want to wholeheartedly marry, is not a healthy community. It’s an animosity-filled, hateful environment which people need help to get out of, and fast.
If only it was easy to get communities where this is considered the norm to change their attitudes. Arranged marriage is also often synonymous with forced marriage in the eyes of many. The pressure and guilt associated with each rejection mounts until someone cracks. If one is found out to have someone else in mind, then immediately, an intervention is called with religious leaders and family members to convince the person otherwise and to choose an appropriate person.
Even if there is no direct threat of violence, an arranged marriage can still be a forced one. It can be a marriage of convenience, to help you leave home, or to help you find some financial independence. It can be a means to escape your temporary situation and hope for the better, because you can’t think of an alternative. An arranged marriage where it wasn’t truly out of choice, but came with heaps of pressure and guilt is certainly not, in my opinion, a free marriage. A free marriage is one where you have wholeheartedly chosen to marry someone, without having to think about the consequences in the community. A forced marriage is much more like one where the only way to go is to say yes, for fear of repercussion or isolation.
I can no longer be an apologist for my community when it comes to arranged marriage. I know in certain cases, people consent to having matches found and would happily marry one of their family’s choices. If that works for you, that’s great. But lots of people in this world do not have the right of choice.
Marriage should not be something to trade your freedom for.