Forced Marriages in Asian and African Countries
Newspapers have always been periodically splashing with the headings discussing the forced marriages, but never bright enough to draw my attention to this phenomenon. I have always considered forced marriages quite rare and did not perceive them as a burning social issue and violation of human rights. I neither considered the consequences of arranged marriages, nor thought that there are sufficient reasons for the parents to arrange a good future deal for their child. Thus, I have always been loyal to forced marriages until this issue touched my friend of Asian origin whose parents decided to arrange a marriage for her, justifying their decision with religious and cultural matters. In this perspective, I have asked myself whether such an archaic social phenomenon as forced marriages should be banned in Asian and African countries.
Therefore, I have investigated what the forced marriages are. Forced marriage, also often called an arranged marriage, is a marriage where one or both parties are not engaged in marital decisions. It is usually based on parents’ arrangements, but not on the free will of the couple that is often ignored. Forced marriages also occur when one or both of the couple cannot take independent decisions for various reasons and are forced and pressed to enter into marriage (Foreign Commonwealth Office 2014). According to the FMU statistics, in 2013, within January – December, the majority of forced marriages is registered in Pakistan and implies 47.7% of people forced to marry.
When researching deeper into the issue of forced marriages and their details, I revealed why in Asian and African countries mostly children are vulnerable towards the forced marriages (Mohamed 2012). Specifically in the countries of Africa, serious family decisions are carried out by senior family members. It was stunning for me to find out that in order to arrange marriages in Africa, girls are even banned from attending school because parents are afraid that educated young women will refuse to follow their instructions as for their future marriage (Monekosso 2001). In Ethiopia, a third of the girls marry under the age of 15. Consider the fact that earlier the marriage age for girls was even lower until the officials annulled marriages where brides’ age was between 12 and 15 and charged their parents. Despite such occasional sanctions of the local governments, early forced marriages are still very common in Africa, especially in rural areas. According to the studies, the average age of girls getting married and becoming mothers in sub-Saharan Africa is one of the lowest in the world (LaFraniere 2005).
Despite the indignation the forced marriage arouses in the first view, each phenomenon in modern world has a logical explanation including the roots of the arranged marriages. For me, as for a modern person in democratic society, it is stunning to enquire that forced marriages in Asia and Africa are usually based on religious or cultural matters and can be justified. Moreover, there are far more vital reasons for the arranged marriages. In African countries, girls are seen as tools that have to serve their families (LaFraniere 2005). Some families sell their female children to other families in order to provide their sons with money for living or marriage. In some countries like Malawa in South Africa, there is a marriage fee or marriage payment that the groom’s family pays the bride’s. Thus, some families that are at the edge of poverty are using this tradition to earn money for living. In this perspective, forced marriages can be considered an inevitable outcome of poverty. Being in constant search for money, parents are forced to arrange marriages for their daughters. Moreover, these little girls understand the reasons for which they are marrying much senior men and perceive this as a sacrifice on behalf of their family.
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Among other reasons for arranged marriages, is a tribute to tradition. Mainly, families care about their reputation in the community and try to keep it; thus, parents tend to do their utmost to avoid out-of-marriage pregnancies. They try to protect their daughters from such a fate that is considered a big disgrace in Kenya (Jepkemboi 2007). Moreover, in most of African countries, there is a patriarchal order within the community where a father is to decide the destiny of his children, especially daughters, and control their future (LaFraniere 2005). It may seem unbelievable, but there are also medical reasons for early marriages in African countries referring to health protection. Old men marry young girls in regards to the fact that they are not infected with AIDS (Jepkemboi 2007). In such a way, men are seeking for partners that are less likely to be infected, thus, early forced marriages are a strategy to reduce the risks of HIV or AIDS transmission in the family.
I asked myself, if all the girls humbly accept their fate of being sold to their husbands at or even before puberty, and it revealed that not all of them accept their miserable destiny. Not eager to marry a stranger or an old man, young brides escape either before or right after their marriage. Unfortunately, there are some girls who chose another way out. I was shocked to find out that forced marriages are the most widely spread reason for suicides of young girls all over the world. Researchers have studied that in China, among the reasons for suicides, prevail those concerning family issues, while in India, “marital disharmony” becomes a common reason why a woman commits a suicide (Pridmore and Walter 47). Young women commit suicides because they are forced to marry and they face no alternative. Indeed, in African countries, little girls are sometimes threatened and physically or morally oppressed by their fathers if they decide to disobey or show disagreement with their father’s decisions. In Turkey, the rate of suicide is very high among girls aged 15 to 24 (Pridmore, Walter 48). It goes beyond any doubt that when a woman is stressed under the family conditions, violence and ignoring her wishes and feelings, she is more likely to commit a suicide in order to get rid of sufferings connected with violations of her rights.
I was aware that in some religions and cultures, forced marriages are a part of the religious tradition. Indeed, in Islam, arrangement of marriage of their children is a holy duty of any parent. In this culture, forced marriages are considered a moral act and a blessing (Samad and Eade 27). In Bangladesh and Pakistan, marriage is not a matter of choice of young people but a serious family issue, and the decision on future union is completely dependent upon parents. Indeed, individuals rarely make marital settlements independently from their families. In these Asian countries, such decisions are regulated by both religious and state authorities. Moreover, they assign the obligations and rights of the bride and groom as well as their relatives. In Muslim communities, women are also exposed to forced marriages since it is considered a family matter, but not an issue of a free choice of a young lady. Forced marriages are preserved even beyond the boundaries of Asia or Africa. They are carried out in Muslim communities in Europe and the United States. This problem especially touches girls from Turkish and Asian families (Kamguian n.d.), where almost 50% of young women are secretly forced to marry. In order to preserve racial purity and to avoid racial mixtures with Europeans, parents force their daughters to marry men from their communities. Thus, in this case, the arranged marriages are a part of cultural tradition of these countries, where institution of family is a significant connection between the private and public sphere. Moreover, they are a matter of religious beliefs that are hard to break or change.
I was shocked when I found out how enormously terrible are the harsh consequences of early forced marriages. The rights for education of females are definitely violated, because when married at an early age, a woman does not usually have time to go to school, as she is busy with household or children. Sometimes, new husbands do not permit their wives to study, in fact, making them their sexual and household slaves (Jepkemboi 2007). Moreover, it turns out that girls that are forced to marry much older men, suffer from lack of childhood, but this is just the start followed by further severe problems. It is important to emphasize that little girls are not physically ready for sexual relations and pregnancies that result in dangerous and extremely painful early births (LaFraniere 2005), so early marriages present a serious threat to their health. Indeed, early pregnancies have a high rate of lethal outcome, there are severe complications during delivery of a child that are often born with extremely low weights and are at risk of not surviving (Jepkemboi 2007).
Although forced and early marriages can be explained logically and culturally, I still have no hint of hesitation on deciding whether they are ethical or not. With a firm belief, I consider forced marriages a deeply unethical issue. In perspective of ethics, arranged marriages are wrong since they violate human rights and restrict free will of a human being. On the one hand, it is important to note that arranged marriages are an inevitable part of local traditions dating back to centuries ago, and even advocates who defend human rights in African countries stick to the point that forced marriages are “politically untouchable” (LaFraniere 2005). On the other hand, due to economic reasons, these respected traditions of the people have turned young girls in their countries into cattle, treated like a means to earn money or pay out family debts, which is unacceptable. Girls that are forced to marry are usually doomed to eternal subservience to their husbands, and this is a serious violation of human right for freedom and a free choice.
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Although I am outraged by the new information about the forced marriages and their peculiarities that I encountered during my research, I still stick to the point that prohibition of the arranged marriages in Asia and Africa is not a perfect way out of this social problem. I do not think that forced marriages should be banned at all, but there should definitely be strict regulations provided. Of course, it is understandable that arranged marriages are accepted in Islam as a sacred process or that sometimes there can be serious reasons for forced marriages such as mental disabilities of one of the couple or both of them. Moreover, arranged marriages have been a tradition in many Asian and African countries for centuries; traditions are hard to break, and it is impossible to forbid them. However, taking into consideration the frequency of cases when girls are forced to marry much elder men with reference to the mental and physical hazards they are exposed to due to the forced marriages, this practice should be precisely monitored and controlled by the officials. Furthermore, the governments of the countries where forced marriages are common should do their utmost to eliminate economic reasons for such marriages, especially in rural areas or regions known for poverty. Local authorities should create special social services all over the countries in Asia and Africa and inform the population about their existence, so young women who are not able to accept their fate could apply for assistance and get help.