Forced marriage is not the same as arranged marriage. Here’s the difference.

Sunny Angel was only 19 when she had, what her parents called, an “arranged marriage,” which they achieved by listing their daughter on an Indian marriage website stating her age, height, bra size, and personality. She went along with the marriage as not to bring shame and dishonor to her family.

However, she also said that her wedding felt like her funeral.

Arranged, coerced and forced marriages: these are completely different concepts and ways to potentially harm those involved. Forced marriage and coercion are still prevalent in present cultures and need to be abolished.

The idea behind an arranged marriage is that a third party arranges for two people to meet and – if interested – agree to get married. Both families involved are happy and everything that happens between the two is consensual. When done without emotional manipulation or family pressure, it is a happy union.

When the partners are happy with an arranged marriage and every process is consensual, one must respect the couple.

However, this is not always the case.

Forced marriages are often presented under the pretext of arranged marriages. This is where coercion comes into place. It is the type of pressure or emotional blackmail that dictates decisions. So, one party has agreed to the marriage under duress or they have entered into the marriage with the fear of societal consequence.

The practice of such marriages may seem like an outdated concept and one that is only common in South Asian backgrounds, but this isn’t the case.

As recent as 2015, non-profit groups such as Unchained at Last, have been campaigning in order to raise awareness of the problems of coerced marriages in the US. Growing up in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community, the founder, Fraidy Reiss, talked about her experience of having a forced arranged marriage at the age of 19. She stated, “It didn’t occur to me to question it or to think otherwise. Saying no to a match was a scary prospect.”

Importance of marrying into the same race and culture dictate the decisions people make when it comes to arranged marriage including coercion and are increasingly becoming more apparent.

The British Royal family knows this fact better than anyone.

Prince Charles’ marriage to Princess Diana was arranged. A union that has in today’s day and age raised some questions about how willing both parties were to marry, ie: marrying through obligation rather than for themselves. The Queen mother and Lady Ruth Fermoy introduced the two and talked about how they would be possible matches for each other as Charles was getting into his thirties and single.

However, the marriage ended in a divorce primarily because Prince Charles never really wanted to marry Lady Diana in the first place.

By the British Government’s definition, forced marriage is “when you face physical pressure to marry or face emotional and psychological pressure.”  The definitions vary from country to country. However, the premise is the same and it is understood that forced means forced. The choice is eliminated in this circumstance.

In 2014, forced marriage became an offense in the UK and 491 incidents of it have been reported, just in London alone, since the bill was passed. However, as of March 2019, the Metropolitan police have not secured conviction for a single one of those cases. With girls as young as 13 being forced into marriages, this is a worrying statistic.

All these cases point to one thing, that many of the people forced into these marriages do not want to prosecute the people involved. Usually, the people involved are their close family members and they’re scared of repercussions, including family’s image in society.

For their own safety, women forced into marriages, often don’t testify against their own families. They believe that by speaking out against their own family, they will bring shame, as family members might be charged and prosecuted.

There is still much to be done around the attitudes and awareness around arranged versus forced marriages. Women should feel secure and safe in raising their voices against ill practices, seek the help of authorities and never feel threatened by their own family members.

Above all, women must have their choice when deciding whom to marry.

By Sara Hussain

Sara Anum Hussain is a recent graduate in Criminology with Quantitative Methods from Manchester Metropolitan University. She has taken part in projects including Voices of Survivors: Hearing Women for Change and small student publications as well as having her own personal blog. With a flare for writing and a passion for tackling women’s rights issues, she’s taking the next step to ensure she’s in a position to do so.