Accessibility links

Breaking News

European Groups Call for Action Against Forced Marriage

Several governments and women's rights groups say forced and arranged marriages are a growing problem in European countries. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul the Turkish city recently hosted one of a series meetings that brings together non-governmental organizations and local governments to examine the issue of people being forced to marry against their will.

A women from southeast Turkey told representatives of leading non-governmental organizations and local governments meeting last week in Istanbul about her forced marriage.

"I got married when I was 27, it was arranged marriage. I only met husband once before we wed, but I had no choice. It was decided by my family and his that this was the man I have to spend the rest of my life, this is how it is for women, marriage is not a question of choice," she said.

With the backing of the European Union, the Hamburg, Germany, city council initiated a series of meetings across Europe to discuss forced marriages. Dr. Matthias Bartke of Hamburg says hearing about the experiences of women involved and about Turkish women's rights groups efforts to end forced marriages was an invaluable experience.

"For us it was actually perhaps the most important conference, because in Germany, especially in Hamburg, the Turks are the biggest minority and force marriages often occur among the Turkish community in Hamburg and also as you know the Afghani community," said Dr. Bartke. "I learned quiet a bit today how they are seen in Turkey."

While there has not been a Europe-wide study of forced marriages, speakers said their first-hand experiences indicated a growing problem. Local studies in several German cities support such concerns.

German woman's rights worker Rahel Volz, who represents the group Terres des Femmes, says children of migrants are increasingly opposing traditional arranged marriages and are being coerced into them.

"Many women and girls of the second and third generation of migrants in Germany are emancipating themselves," said Volz. "They know which rights they have, and the other side the parents do not want to lose their power. This one reason why it is growing, and on the other side because of the very big media presenting this problem there are many more women going to counseling services and starting to resist the will of their parents."

Many European countries are introducing legislation against forced marriage, but several speakers expressed concern over the lack of effective implementation of new laws.

Britain, which last year set up a Forced Marriage Unit to combat the problem, was held up as a success. The unit has carried out several rescues around the globe of British nationals being forced into marriage.

But Marlen Shenk, of a Swiss anti-forced marriage group, says education is also important

"The children are very important to inform about their rights because they can also work with their parents. Because the children know more about the society in Switzerland for example, so they can explain to their parents, their life works in such way in Switzerland. So you have joined this way of life, for example, in choice of which partner you will marry," said Shenk.

The majority of reported forced marriages in Europe involve Muslim families, but Rahel Volz says it should not be seen as an Islamic problem.

"Persons affected are from migrant communities from Turkey, but there are also Christian minorities," added Volz. "It is not a religious problem, it is also a traditional problem and we also have women coming from Greece and south Italy who are affected by forced marriages."

Although Turkey passed tough laws protecting women's rights in 2005, Turkish rights groups claim there has been little implementation of them - a charge denied by the government.

The Women for Women rights group also criticized Ankara's failure to join the European Union's Daphne project to fight violence against women.

Women for Women representative Pinar Ilkaracan says her group is still battling to get forced marriage recognized as a problem in Turkey.

"It is the first meeting on forced marriages in Turkey. Forced marriages is an issue of the invisible suffering of women, so it has not been on the agenda, but I hope through this awareness now, as it is becoming an issue among emigrant communities in Europe, I hope that will also contribute to raising awareness here. We did research in 14 cities in eastern and southeastern Turkey and found that 52 percent of women were married against their will, so I think the numbers are horrifying," she said.

Women's groups in Turkey are trying to get the government to honor its three-year-old commitment to set up women's shelters in every city and major town. There are at present only 28 shelters.

Pressure from the European Union is seen by Turkish women's groups as their best chance of a change in the government's stance towards violence against women.