Hope for the Hopeless: The Lasting Effects of Forced Marriage

Stripped of hope and choice the lasting impact of forced marriages shreds the mind and body of its victims, creating a gradient effect onto their offspring.

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Sexually transmitted diseases, violence (both physical and sexual), psychological torment, loss of freedom, and fear along with so many other disastrous effects encompass just some of the challenges and lasting damage perpetrated upon victims of forced marriage. These harmful deeds conducted against women in forced marriages can be seen prior to the marriage, during the marriage and after the marriage should the woman choose (and manage) to escape.

Josephine, a young woman of now 22, is a resident of the House of Hope in Kenya, a residency for safeguarding young girls being forced into marriage and restoring their empowerment and lives. At the age of 9 she underwent female genital mutilation and was to be forced into marriage by her father when she was 12 – this is what led to her escape and seeking refuge.

In an interview where she shares her brave story, she does not cry or show immense distress at the violence and eradication of human rights she faced. Her true pain emerges when she speaks of her father and how what he had done to her and tried to force her into showed how he viewed and devalued her. Josephine’s pain exists in the obvious factors; however, this is a hidden pain that lays deeper: her love for a family that did not value her, something all victims of forced marriages must face. This is one of the first tolls on the psyche as it is the start of the bereavement that is to continue. However, it must be noted that forced marriage also occurs because the parents believe that encouraging marriage, even if is against the child’s wishes, is in the child’s best interests.

Josephine’s mother helped her to escape, a victim of forced marriage herself, and was beaten by her father for doing so. This speaks volumes to the awareness that some victims in forced marriage have of their situation and how they do not want it for their children, yet escape is not an option they seek for themselves. The longer the forced marriage continues the more sucked in the victim is and the possibility of escaping diminishes over time.

This is exactly what the perpetrator wants, no option but to completely submit to their husband and situation. In turn, horrific statistics of harm and mental health issues arise from those in forced marriage.

In Uganda HIV in married 15-19 year olds is 89% while in unmarried girls of the same ages it is only 66%. In the U.S. child brides are three times more likely to develop an anti-social personality disorder than those who marry as an adult. This is due to the pressure from the families and husbands of child brides, they have no voice or choice and this is a type of mental torture. Domestic violence may also be enacted onto the victim either from the husband in the marriage or by the family to push the girl into the forced marriage. Early pregnancy and sexual violence also lead to physical and psychological complications. Emotional problems that emerge consist of depression and self-harm. It was also found that young women in the South Asian community are two to three times more likely to commit suicide. Girls married before the age of 15 are 50% more likely to experience domestic and sexual abuse from their partner and describe their first sexual encounter as forced. Globally, 44% of girls aged 15-19 believe that their partner or a spouse in general is justified in conducting physical harm against their wife.

The risks of trying to escape or fight the forced marriage is also the prospect of honour killings, ordered / committed by the family, spouse or contract killer, as this refusal brings shame onto the family and this is seen as a viable solution to that shame. Physical harm , the victim being taken out of the country to limit their ability to escape or the date of the forced marriage being brought forward in general are other risks.

Adult victims of forced marriage face the same risks and abuses, however, they may suffer from learning disabilities (effects from being married as a child and a lack of access to education), emotional or psychiatric problems and their ability to consent or seek escape may be challenged. Abuse or neglect to the offspring of victims in forced marriage may be conducted by the husband or the victim. The damage of forced marriage trickles into the children of the arrangement whether or not they are at risk for forced marriage themselves. It is not enough to just protect the victim but their children as well.

Every minute 23 girls under the age of 18 are forced into marriage. Here at JAN Trust our mission is to combat that number. There are no religious reasons for forced marriage and it is a crime and deprivation of human rights. We battle this fight by providing resources and teaching awareness to thousands of participants in the community with the same agenda. We provide highly credible and expert training designed to raise awareness, deconstruct myths and enable statutory and voluntary sectors to offer efficient and appropriate responses to their clients and service users concerning forced marriages.

Visit our website here to learn more.

About JAN Trust

JAN Trust (www.jantrust.org) is a multi award winning not for profit organisation formed in the late 1980′s. We are based in London and cater for women and youth from disadvantaged and marginalised communities. Our work and services are delivered locally, nationally and internationally. Our aim is to create positive and active citizens of society by educating, empowering and encouraging women and youth. We are dedicated to the cause of combating poverty, discrimination, abuse and social exclusion among Black, Asian, minority ethnic, refugee and asylum seeking (BAMER) women. JAN Trust is making a real difference in improving the lives of communities; promoting human and women's rights as well as community cohesion. We provide a range of services and our work has been recognised by a variety of dignitaries. Check out our website for statements from some of our supporters: http://www.jantrust.org/what-people-say
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