"We must recommit ourselves to ending violence against women and girls in all their diversity—wherever and whenever it occurs. Ending this scourge is a moral imperative, and it is in our strategic interest to strengthen security and stability for us all. When women are safe and fully integrated into their societies, everyone does better.” President Joseph R. Biden, Statement on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (2022)
The Asian-Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence (APIGBV) states that globally there was about 15.4 million people forced into unwanted marriages in 2016. Within the U.S., “an online survey of 7,791 individuals estimated a sample prevalence rate of forced marriage in [in the U.S.] at 11%. 7% of respondents were in a forced marriage, 3% had faced or experienced it but were no longer married to that person, and 1% reported being threatened with forced marriage.” (Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence) Between 2009 and 2011, respondents of a national survey reported that at least 3,000 suspected, or known, individuals were involved in forced marriages. Taking a closer look at the affected communities and demographics, forced marriage was seen to be prevalent in immigrant communities, more specifically representing 56 countries. It was visible within people representing diverse faiths, especially Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Buddhists. “Between 2000 and 2015, at least 207,468 minors were married. 87% were girls, and 86% married adults.” (Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence)
In response, the Tahirih Justice Center, in 2011, launched a Forced Marriage Initiative, which “recognizes the need to mobilize a national response to forced marriage.” The National Network to End Forced Marriage was formed from this, which includes several members, participating organizations and survivors, that work together to end forced marriage and enforce policy work on a national level. In 2013, the U.S. passed the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), “and for the development of the approach to ending child, early and forced marriage. This led to the development of the U.S. Global Strategy to Empower Adolescent Girls, and the inclusion of child marriage in the U.S. Department of State’s annual country reports on human rights.” (Girls Not Brides)
One of the gaps that organizations are working with the U.S. government to change is the fact that several states do not have an age requirement for marriage. The Council on Foreign Relations says that “in California, which has no minimum legal marriage age, a 2017 bill to ban the practice was defeated after advocates – including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) – lobbied against it. The ACLU specifically argued that the legislation ‘unnecessarily and unduly intrudes on the fundamental rights of marriage without sufficient cause,’ adding that ‘largely banning marriage under 18, before we evidence regarding the nature and severity of the problem, however, puts the cart before the horse.’ Other opponents have argued that if a pregnancy is involved, the parties should be encouraged to get married, regardless of age.” (Council on Foreign Relations) Forced marriage halts young girls’ access and ability to obtain an education, which is another gap that can be seen within this discussion.
Given the prevalence of forced marriage within the United States, this symposium seeks to discuss the symptoms that lead to this phenomenon and the way that policy reacts to children and young adults being forced into unwanted marriages.
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