Servile Marriage Dehumanizes Women and Girls, Say CFI’s UN Representatives

September 19, 2013

At the United Nations Human Rights Council, the Center for Inquiry is bringing the principles of science and reason, and the values of secular humanism to the attention of the international community. This week, CFI’s Geneva-based U.N. representative, Dr. Elizabeth O’Casey, raised an alarm over servile marriages, in which young girls, even small children, are force-wedded to adult men for the purpose of satisfying religious or financial obligations, or to form political bonds.

“The persistence of servile marriage is grounded in a deeply unequal view of the female; where girls are perceived as commodities,” said Dr. O’Casey in a powerful statement to the Council. “It allows for violence against young girls, their bodies being used as tools for sexual reproduction and gratification. Servile marriages treat girls and women not as people but as property.

Last week the world was horrified by reports of an 8-year-old child bride in Yemen, forced to marry and have sex with a man over the age of 40, who reportedly died from injuries sustained on the night of her marriage. The outcry over the news has moved some officials in Yemen to push for a minimum age for marriage, which would be set at 18.

“All too often, perpetrators and enablers of servile marriage claim that their religion justifies or demands the practice, thereby codifying the practice into law,” said Michael De Dora, CFI’s New York-based UN representative. “It is one of the countless reasons religious belief and superstitions should have no role in public policy, a principle that holds here in the US, as well as the developing world.”

O’Casey criticized the excuse of “cultural relativism” for the lack of action against the practice of servile marriage, telling the Council, “Culture and religion . . . must never legitimise anachronistic practices that violate the core principles of equality, autonomy and dignity upon which human rights are based.”

Also at the Human Rights Council, writer and activist Raheel Raza spoke on behalf of CFI to call upon the member nations of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to take greater responsibility in ending the Syrian conflict, “the worst example of Muslim on Muslim violence in living memory.”


·CFI statement on servile marriage

·CFI statement on the crisis in Syria

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The Center for Inquiry (CFI) is a nonprofit educational, advocacy, and research organization headquartered in Amherst, New York, with executive offices in Washington, D.C. It is also home to both the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and the Council for Secular Humanism. The mission of CFI is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI‘s web address is