The Essential Distinction Between an ‘Arranged’ and a ‘Forced’ Marriage

The Essential Distinction Between an ‘Arranged’ and a ‘Forced’ Marriage

They might have a slight difference but essentially, aren’t they the same thing?

The answer is a resounding “NO”.

‘Forced’ and ‘Arranged’ marriages are two entirely different practices and should be treated as such. The terms are often used interchangeably which results in confusion over the distinction between the two.

It is important to clear up definitions of key terms around the issue. In an arranged marriage families play a leading role in finding a partner for marriage, but both parties are free to decline the proposal. This is key; the right to choose and refuse exists within an arranged marriage. Prior to the proposal they are encouraged to meet and find out if they are compatible. The degree to which each family gets involved varies from family to family. On the other hand, in a forced marriage the right to refuse is taken away; either or both parties are pressured or forced to enter the marriage against their will. Pressure can be subtle, and ranges from threats of violence to emotional blackmail. As soon as there is any pressure placed upon either one or both of the potential spouses to marry, it is a forced marriage. There is no ‘grey area’. Both ideologically and in practice, a forced marriage is fundamentally different to an arranged one.

However it is easy to confuse the two when information channels, such as the media, fail to use the correct language in their news stories. These media outlets can have audiences of hundreds of thousands, and their misuse of the terms contributes to widespread misunderstanding.

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This article from the Daily Mail headed ‘Dozens of missing school children feared forced into arranged marriages’ is a prime example of how using the wrong language can be inflammatory whilst misinforming thousands of readers. The other article illustrates a similar misconception.  Nobody can be forced into an arranged marriage as an arranged marriage requires the full and free consent of the individual. They can only be forced into a forced marriage.

In some cases, victims themselves are unable to distinguish between the two and may classify both arranged and forced marriages as ‘arranged’. Here are a few examples below from people seeking help about the issue:

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Forced marriage is most effectively tackled through education. This includes raising awareness toeverybody, especially those within affected communities. A great starting point would be clarification of the language and terms surrounding the issue. It is important to remember that these issues cannot be widely spoken about and dealt with when both victims and practitioners are using inaccurate, confusing language. Being aware of the correct language in order to address the issue is vital.

Using the words ‘Forced’ and ‘Arranged’ interchangeably when referring to forced marriages may have other consequences such as encouraging misplaced outrage and demonising legitimate cultural practices and values which have been performed for many years. It can contribute to racist, xenophobic narratives around ‘backwards’ and ‘dangerous’ non-Western cultures. Clearly distinguishing arranged and forced marriages means the former can be understood, respected and celebrated and the latter rightfully condemned as abuse.

Arranged marriages are conducted with the full and free consent of the individual with no form of abuse or coercion involved whilst forced marriages are a form of domestic violence. Using emotional or physical tactics in order to coerce, pressurise and force someone into a marriage is never acceptable. Individuals can only be forced into forced marriages.

To find out more about forced marriages, along with viewing our latest video, check out http://againstforcedmarriages.org/.