Forced and arranged marriage

The German law defines a marriage as a voluntary bond between two people, in which both of them are considered equal. Nobody is allowed to be forced into marrying someone. Nevertheless, even a voluntary marriage can turn into a forced marriage in case the wife wants to end it but is prevented from doing so. Every woman has the right to get a divorced.

What is an arranged marriage?

In societies with traditional family relationships, arranged marriages are quite common: Girls and boys do not choose who they want to marry, rather, the families decide on the marriage of their children. This was custom in Germany too until 150 years ago. This makes a “love marriage”, which we consider the normal case, a quite new development here as well. Not every arranged marriage is a forced marriage at the same time. If the future husband and wife both fully agree with the marriage, without pressure or force, and they still have the freedom to decide against it, then there is no problem. Then the arranged marriage can be considered as another “dating concept”, in which the family plays a particularly large role.

What is a forced marriage?

Once there is power or violence involved and the will of the girl or woman is not taken into consideration, a marriage is a forced marriage. Even if there is no overt coercion, but the girl is scared to resist. A forced marriage is when you are forced to marry someone or if you are not even asked for your own will. It does not matter what kind of marriage is made: A formal or informal marriage, which is made with a religious or social ceremony.

No matter what your family tells you: Nobody has the right to force you into a marriage. Especially if you are still a minor. Do not let them pressure you into it! Even though, it is not easy to be isolated by your close family members. If they insult you, control you and lock you up at home, control your phone calls and read your messages. Or if they do not let you go out after school to meet and talk to your friends and you have to help at home. Maybe they accuse you for tainting their honor; maybe they hit you or threaten to take you to their country of origin. The larger the pressure, the more important your resistance: Be assertive and listen to your gut feeling! You have rights and the law is on your side. You have the right to your own contacts, hobbies and friendships outside of your family and you have the right to privacy.

Is forced marriage forbidden?

Forced marriages are violations of human rights. They violate the law in almost every country in the world. In Germany they are also forbidden. Since 2011 there has even been a separate law on combating forced marriage: According to Section 237 of the Criminal Code, forced marriage is a separate criminal offence, that can be punished with a prison sentence of up to five years. Therefore, a forced marriage can be reported at the police. In case you have already been forced into marriage, you can file for the annulment of the marriage. To do this, you have to register the application with the help of a lawyer within three years of the marriage.

The law combating forced marriage also penalizes marriages abroad; even attempting to carry them out is a punishable offence. Forced marriages abroad can be punished, regardless of the jurisdiction in each country. If a girl is forcibly married abroad, but has a permanent residency in Germany, the perpetrators can be convicted in Germany. Unlike the past, the permanent residency does not expire after six months. In case the girl/ woman has been forced into marriage by force or threat and has been hindered to return to Germany, she can return to Germany within ten years after leaving it.

Forced marriage of minors

Since 2017, there is also a law in Germany to combat child marriage. Therefore, the minimum age for marriages is 18 years – without exception. This law applies for both German and non-German citizens. Before this law was introduced, there were exceptional cases, in which girls could get married from 16 years of age, now this is prohibited. This also applies to the marriage or engagement of minors in a traditional or religious ceremony. Marriages with minors, which were made before the introduction of the law, can still be declared invalid upon request.

Why do forced marriages occur?

There are several reasons for forced marriages. According to a study, in half of the cases, the family’s reputation was mentioned as main motive. In a fifth of the cases, the family received money for the marriage. In 4% of the cases, the girls or boys should be married because they were lesbian or gay. Every tenth forced marriage involved a residence permit in Germany for the spouse from abroad.

The results of a study have also shown that there is a connection between violence in the family and forced marriages. Many forcibly married women and girls have already experienced physical violence and distance within the family beforehand. In an intact family, which is filled with warmth, love and care, parents would hardly force their daughter to marry a man she does not want to share the rest of her life and sexual experiences with! Many affected families were in a poor financial situations, often involving the father’s alcoholism, gambling addiction or drug addictions. In forced marriages, daughters are often used as means to an end to solve such problems: They are supposed to improve the prosperity, reputation and residency status of the family.

Are you afraid of being forced to marry abroad?

If you are afraid of being forced to get married on a vacation trip abroad, try not to leave Germany – if possible. You can contact the security personnel at the airport or at the immigration desk and tell them that you are being taken abroad against your will. Once you are abroad, it is much more difficult to receive help. If you cannot avoid the departure, prepare for it: Give your contact information, such as address and phone number at your destination to a confidant, get the phone number of the German Embassy or Consulate abroad, take an intact prepaid-phone with some credit on it with you and take some money and a copy of your passport, which you can use to enter the country in an emergency.
In case you are abroad and have already been married: In case you have German citizenship, you can get help at the German Embassy/ Consulate. In case you do not have German citizenship or you have a dual citizenship, it is more complicated to get you back to Germany.
You have the right to fall in love with whomever you choose

We removed the first paragraph about the movie “Mustang” to shorten the text. Falling in love is one of the nicest things that life has to offer. And if you’ve ever had sex, it is nothing to be ashamed of. Everyone has the right to live out his/her sexuality and choose the time for sex and the partner! Nobody has the right to tell you who to be with. In case you have a boy- or girlfriend and you are scared of telling your parents, you can first talk about other girls, who are in a relationship to test your family’s reaction. You can also try to confide in another member of your family first, who can then support you with telling your parents. If you cannot or do not want to talk to your parents, or in case they insist that you end your relationship and marry someone else, you should ask for help from an advice center!

Get help!

Every woman, every girl should have the courage to break away from a situation, which is not good for her, even if this is her own family. It hurts to resist your own family. Perhaps you are torn between the security of your family and your own wishes. It is very difficult to go through this alone. But even if you feel like it: You are not alone!
Be brave and take the first step! Go to your nearest counseling center. You can also contact our online counseling here. In case you are afraid of violence from your family, a women’s shelter or a girls’ refuge can also be a good place to go.