Forced Marriage is Abuse
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 16) states that “marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.” As such, forced marriage is a clear violation of human rights.
The tactics used to force someone into marriage or to punish him or her for leaving a forced marriage are also human rights violations. The life of someone forced into marriage may consist of daily abuses, including rape, forced labor, domestic violence, and deprivation of the right to education, which can result in severe and long-term harm, including deteriorating medical and mental health.
Stefanie* was born and raised in New York, and lived with her grandmother until she passed away when Stefanie was 13. Stefanie then moved in with her father, who had started a new family and lived in a nearby town. A few months later, Stefanie’s father moved their whole family to Saudi Arabia, where her step-mother’s family lived, and their treatment of Stefanie changed drastically.
While Stefanie was allowed to continue schooling, she was also expected to take care of her younger siblings, do most of the chores and cleaning around the house, and regularly not allowed to eat during family meals. Her father and step-mother also began making arrangements for her to be married. Although Stefanie was terrified by the idea of being married so young and being separated from her family, her father moved forward with finding potential husbands and began monitoring her at all times to ensure she did not reach out for help. While her father had a phone and computer, he did not let Stefanie use them, and she worried he would know if she emailed or called when he was out of the house.
Stefanie was finally able to get in touch with a cousin back in New York, and let her know that she was at risk of being forced into a marriage. Stefanie also told her cousin that she was being regularly beaten and abused by her father and mother, and that – based on conversations she overheard at home – she feared her father was making plans for her to marry a man in a distant village where it would be impossible for her get help or escape. Fearful of being raped by her potential husband, and facing increasing psychological and physical abuse, Stefanie was considering running away despite the risks of being caught by Saudi authorities and returned to her father.
After spending weeks looking for resources and finding no one that was able to help, her cousin connected with Tahirih’s Forced Marriage Initiative. Tahirih staff gave around the clock assistance to Stefanie and her cousin, providing emotional and psychological support, safety planning, and securing pro bono family law assistance in the United States. Tahirih also worked directly with the U.S. State Department and trusted family members in the U.S. to get Stefanie safely back home.
Guided by Tahirih advocates, Stefanie’s family in the U.S. was able to persuade her father to bring her back to New York for a visit. Upon their arrival, family members, aided by the expert pro bono attorney and Tahirih staff, were able to bring a successful emergency petition for custody of Stefanie, and Stefanie was removed from her father’s care by law enforcement that same day. Stefanie was able to return to school in the U.S., and is receiving supportive counseling. She is excelling in her studies, and wants to pursue a career in advocacy in order to serve women and girls like herself.
*Names have been changed to protect client’s identity and privacy.