There is growing debate in Europe about forced marriages. It has been the focus of a conference at the European Parliament this week, just months after Germany introduced laws that criminalise the practice. One of those raising awareness is a Belgian senator who was once herself in a forced marriage.
Fatiha Saidi told euronews: “There are many factors behind it. One is religious, which is wrong, because religion doesn’t oblige parents to force their kids to marry somebody. There’s the cultural factor, which I think is the strongest one. And then there’s also the social constraint.”
NGOs are closely following a court case in Belgium this month in which a family faces charges over the killing of a young woman who tried to flee a forced marriage.
The head of the NGO La Voix des Femmes, Maria Miguel-Sierra, told euronews: “We get the most difficult cases. They need to find strength again. Sometimes a member of the family is able to ease their situation. We also discuss the issue in school, to help a girl express her desires and needs for her own future.”
With different approaches in different European countries, campaign groups are attempting to coordinate their efforts and gather data on forced marriages.
Katinka Ingves from the National Organisation of Women’s Shelters in Sweden told euronews: “All countries have to evaluate their laws and regulations before we know what is the best way to go. We are not here primarily to speak about your culture, your traditions or your religion, we’re here to speak about everyone’s right and free choice of partners. That’s a basic human right.”
A play currently being performed in Belgian schools by the theatre company La Compagnie Maritime is also putting the spotlight on forced marriages, with the title “Amours Mortes” or “Dead Love”.