Daily Dispatches
Associated Press/Photo by David Guttenfelder

Forced marriage immigrates to the U.S.

Marriage

In February, The New York Times wrote about Amina Ajmal, an American citizen who was held captive by her family in Pakistan. The family threatened her with death if she wouldn’t marry and secure a visa for her Pakistani husband. She escaped after three years with the help of the American Embassy.

The Tahirih Justice Foundation identified 3,000 cases of forced marriage in the U.S. Many of the victims were immigrants from Muslim countries, but the survey found victims from Hindu, Buddhist, and Christian (primarily Catholic from Mexico) backgrounds.

Tahirih found that non-profits and government agencies lacked a clear definition of forced marriage, which the organization distinguishes from arranged marriage, where individuals can object to their partner. A forced marriage occurs without willing consent, and most victims are women under 18. Parents continue the practice to follow custom, settle debts, and create family alliances. If the girl actively refuses the marriage, abuse soon follows.

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In March, the mother of a 17-year-old girl from Hollywood, Fla., burned her with a hot knife when she refused marriage. The girl had been communicating with a young man over the Internet. He asked her father for permission to marry. The parents refused—they had already arranged for her to marry her cousin. The mother, Sahar Thabit, faces three counts of child abuse and the daughter now lives with a family friend so she can continue high school.

Many child brides never return to school after marriage. Their husbands control where they can go and who they can visit. Wives often have children early.

U.S. courts have granted asylum to women fleeing forced marriages, and Internet searches reveal groups that offer help, along with two U.S. government-sponsored websites with material on forced marriage. Few private organizations have been involved. The United Kingdom has a state bureau devoted to the issue and multiple advocacy organizations.

A United Kingdom advocacy group, Against Forced Marriages, specifically addresses the connection between Islam and forced marriage, using verses from the Quran and Hadith (a book of Islamic practice).

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