Forced Marriage Overseas: India
Individuals from the United States may face serious challenges if trying to avoid and/or escape forced marriages in India. Despite recently enacting stronger laws to protect women and girls, gender based violence – including child and forced marriage, domestic violence, and rape – is widespread, and victims are often unable to access protection from authorities.
For further information and guidance for individuals from the U.S. that are facing or fleeing a forced marriage in India, please contact the Forced Marriage Initiative.
Marriage in India
Women and girls in India have fairly equitable rights under the law when entering into or dissolving a marriage, but in many areas these laws are not followed or enforced. Indian citizens may elect to be married under civil marriage laws, or religion-based (Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, and Muslim) marriage laws.1 The age of consent for marriage in India is 18 for females and 21 for males under both the civil laws and personal religious laws governing marriage. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act also overrides any conflicting provisions between civil and religious laws.2 Annulment and divorce are available, and child and forced marriages are voidable under certain circumstances.3 Arranged marriages account for an overwhelming majority of marriages in India, and resistance to this norm, as well as strict family and societal expectations about marriage and women’s behavior, may lead to situations of forced marriage and violence against women and girls.
The civil marriage laws do not extend to the State of Jammu and Kashmir, though the minimum age of marriage is also 18 for women and 21 for men in those regions. Forced marriages are common in Jammu and Kashmir, and NGO reports have documented repeated cases of families tricking their daughters into traveling back to these regions from the United Kingdom for forced marriages.4
India has one of the highest rates of child marriage globally, and India’s twenty-four million underage child brides constitute nearly half of all child brides in the world.5 Despite laws criminalizing child marriage, with penalties for parents/guardians and adult grooms facilitating a child marriage,6 there are many hurdles to enforcement. While child marriage is banned under civil law, it is permissible under the Hindu Marriage Act and Muslim Personal Law,7 creating confusion and non-compliance regarding the minimum age of marriage. In addition, a strong preference for sons over daughters has contributed to a growing gender imbalance in India, leading to increased forced marriages and human trafficking to compensate for the shortage of brides.
Potential Risks and Protections in Country
While protections and resources exist in for individuals facing forced marriage in India, access may be difficult and response by authorities may vary, depending on the individual’s location and personal circumstances. While there are laws on domestic violence, and victims can avail themselves of civil remedies like protection orders,8 police response is often hampered by gender bias, corruption, and general incapacity. Officers may not accept reports of domestic violence and forced marriage, fail to sensitively and appropriately interact with victims, and may work with families to file false charges against or harass victims. Law enforcement, instead of offering protection, may view family violence and disputes as private matters and push for mediation instead of police involvement.9 There is a disparity in judicial treatment of domestic violence cases,10 and women who return to their family home are less likely to have courts grant them protection orders or access to the marital residence.11
Sexual assault is also widespread and one of the fastest growing crimes in India, with both Indian nationals and foreigners being targeted. Police response is often inadequate, and some victims may be pressured to marry the perpetrator. A number of highly publicized, brutal rapes, including the gang-rape and death of a female student in 2012, have spurred government action and reforms on gender-based violence, though serious gaps between the law and actual enforcement remain.12
Honor killings and dowry-related murders are also prevalent in certain parts of India, despite laws prohibiting the provision or acceptance of a dowry in marriage. In 2012 in India there were over 8,000 reported dowry-related deaths, mainly of brides at the hand of their in-laws.13
There are limited services from the government for women facing gender-based violence in India, and these are centered mainly in metropolitan areas. However, the country does have an extensive NGO network, with many organizations working to combat violence against women, and some specifically working to prevent forced marriage, and provide services and shelter for victims.
Special Challenges in Returning to the United States
Please check the entry and exit requirements for India for the most up to date information.
- The Tahirih Justice Center Forced Marriage Initiative
We are available to help individuals from the United States who are facing or fleeing forced marriage in India, including providing phone, text, and email support, connecting with the U.S. government and local resources, and coordinating shelter and services back in the United States.
- The U.S. State Department
The State Department is available to assist U.S. citizens that are victims of forced marriage with replacement of travel documents and return travel to the United States. For updated information and travel alerts, please visit the department’s webpage on international travel in India.
- U.S. Embassy New Delhi
Contact the embassy in the case of an emergency.
1 Law Commission of India, Laws of Civil Marriages in India – A Proposal to Resolve Certain Conflicts (October 2008), at 9.
2 Harish Nair, Child Marriage Act Will Override Personal Laws, Hindustan Times (July 29, 2012), available at http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/newdelhi/child-marriage-act-will-override-personal-laws-hc/article1-903502.aspx.
3 Special Marriage Act, 1954, Section 25(iii); Centre for Child and the Law & National Law School of India University, Note: Child Marriage and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act, 2012 (2013) (citing Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, Section 3).
4 IRIN, Forced Marriages: In Kashmir, Old Habits Die Hard (Nov. 25, 2013), available at: http://tribune.com.pk/story/636425/forced-marriages-in-kashmir-old-habits-die-hard/.
5 Too Young to Wed: Indian Girls Say No to Forced Marriage, NBC News (Feb. 3, 2014).
6 Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, Section 9 and 11.
7 Centre for Child and the Law & National Law School of India University, Note: Child Marriage and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act, 2012 (2013).
8 Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.
9 Do Indian Women Have A Right to Choose Whether, When and Whom to Marry?, KSLR Human Rights (March 31, 2012) (citing Lucinda M. Finley, Breaking Women’s Silence in Law: The Dilemma of the Gendered Nature of Legal Reasoning, 64 Notre Dame L. Rev. 886 (1989)).
10 Centre for Child and the Law & National Law School of India University, Note: Child Marriage and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offenses Act, 2012 (2013).
11 UN Women of South Asia, 6 Years after Introducing Domestic Violence Laws: How Are We Faring? (January 21, 2013).
12 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2014: India, available at http://www.hrw.org/world-report/2014/country-chapters/india.
13 Department of State, Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 2013, available at http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm#wrapper.