Girls’ Nightmare in Muslim Families: Forced Marriages in Europe

By Azam Kamguian

Every year, many thousands of young girls, living in Muslim inhabited communities in European countries face forced marriages. In Muslim immigrant families, often from the Middle East, North Africa and Turkey, teenage girls are struggling against the pressure of tribal culture and Islamic customs imposed on them by their parents; and forced marriage is often their fate.

A women group against sexual mutilation of women, formed in 1980s in France, estimates that more than 30,000 young girls have been involved in forced marriage since 1990. In Britain, south Asian women groups have records of numerous cases of young girls who have been forced to marry by their parents.

This nightmare started in 1990s, when young girls from Muslim immigrant families in Europe reached their early teenage years and were considered mature and marriageable by their parents. Teenage girls from Turkish immigrant families are especially under intense pressure. According to statistics provided by women groups in France and Britain, in 1990s, 43% of girls from Turkish families, and 36% of girls from South Asian families in Britain, have been involved in forced marriages.

Forced marriage is a taboo, untouchable, and is performed secretly. The secret is revealed when the girl suddenly behaves strangely, gets isolated and is not doing well at school. She often breaks the silence and talks about her painful ordeal with a friend or some teacher at school. In this way, she unveils the bitter reality that is awaiting her. Once the forced marriage becomes known outside the family, the real fight starts. Zahia Hasan, chair of a women association; "Women's Voice" in France, and a victim of forced marriages says: " it is a painful experience, it was a nightmare for me for many years. I was deeply ashamed, I lied about my life and hid my misery"

Girls, who reveal the terrible secret outside family, often clash with their parents and leave home. They even feel ashamed and guilty of revealing the secret and having betrayed their families and relatives. Many young girls under a heavy family and community pressure undergo forced marriage because they don't want to lose their families and relatives. Forced marriage is their inevitable fate, because there is no government or social support network to protect their rights. Forced marriages are practiced in France, Britain, Scandinavian countries and among Turkish community in Germany.

Early marriage is another aspect of forced marriages. Girls, 15 or younger, undergo forced marriages, are considered as part - times wives, continue to live with their parents and go to school, living with their dark and heavy secret.

In most cases, these marriages end to divorce; according to statistics; two out of three. Rape, teenage pregnancy, disrupted education; nervous breakdown, neurological disorders and suicide are all fruits of forced marriages for young girls. But, their families insist that their act is decent and good for the girls. They defend it by referring to Islam and Islamic Law; according to which, a girl cannot marry without the consent of her father, and in the absence of her father, that of her paternal grandfather. These families, not only haven't been affected by advanced and modern culture in Europe, but also are out of tune with the current situation in their countries of origin, where social and cultural norms and values have moved forward. By marrying their young girls in this way, Muslim parents try to block the integration of their daughters into a modern and European life style. As a result, parents deprive their own children of enjoying the civil rights and individual freedom entitled to them. They harm their children physically, emotionally and psychologically.

Under French law, a forced marriage can be annulled if there has been lack of consent. But if the marriage ceremony is a customary one, the French courts cannot act. However, magistrates can intervene before a marriage takes place if an underage girl, who has broken with her family, is in physical danger.

Under the guise of respecting 'others' traditions and Islamic values, the legal system and authorities tend to overlook forced marriages. They say: "there are customs and religion, which are different from those, practiced here. It is not for us to judge these traditions and religion, unless the young girls are in physical danger and there should be proof for that."

Consider a young girl under legal age, undergoing the ordeal of a forced marriage, clashing with her family, without a legal help or a supporting social network, who must provide proof against her own parents in the court, in order to get rid of this nightmare. Isn't it inhumane and shameful? What is respectable in this misery imposed on these innocent young girls? What is respectable in destroying and wasting lives, hopes and dreams of these girls? And of course, both 'Western' and Eastern 'intellectuals', shamelessly, tell us that "to talk of forced marriages is an Euro - centric way of looking at things."

Young girls in Muslim inhabited communities in Europe are victims of tribal and Islamic values and traditions, as well as a racist treatment by government authorities, intellectuals and mainstream media. These girls are born and have grown up in European countries, and should be entitled to all rights and freedom like other European citizens. Forced marriages must be prohibited by law as rape; and mental and emotional damages to teenage girls.

Girls from Muslim families are not the belongings of their families; they should be treated as equal citizens. The governments and the legal system must protect them from the harm caused by their parents. Society is duty bound to help the victims of forced marriages to recover from the emotional, mental and physical damages they suffer.

azam_kamguian@yahoo.com