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Forced Marriage
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The U.S. Department of State’s highest priority overseas is the protection and welfare of American citizens Forced marriage is contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that “no marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses.” The U.S. Department of State considers forced marriage to be a human rights abuse, in the case of minors also a form of child abuse. Often, victims are subjected to non-consensual sex, physical and emotional abuse, isolation, and threats of violence.

Arranged marriages are a long-standing tradition in many cultures and countries. The Department respects this tradition, and makes a very clear distinction between a forced and an arranged marriage. In arranged marriages, the families of both spouses take a leading role in the arrangement but the choice whether to consent remains with the individuals. In a forced marriage, at least one party does not consent to the marriage, and some element of duress or coercion is generally present.

In Bangladesh, marriage laws are based on a combination of religious and civil law. Civil laws dictate that the legal age of consent and minimum age for marriage is 18 for women and 21 for men. Bangladesh does not have a specific law banning forced marriage. However, legally, the consent of both parties to a marriage is required. Where parties to a marriage are above the legal age of consent, consent to marry becomes one of the primary factors in determining the validity of a marriage.  A forced marriage may therefore be challenged and declared invalid if there is evidence to indicate that either party did not consent to the union. Where the parties are minors, consent to the marriage may be given by their legal guardians. However, marrying off minors is a criminal offence, and persons who marry off minors may be prosecuted under the Child Marriage Restraint Act. However, the marriage itself would not be invalidated by this process.

Marriages in Bangladesh are predominantly arranged, with relatively fewer choice (also referred to as “love”) marriages. Most men marry before the age of 35, while the majority of women marry before the age of 25.  While the past has shown that the average age for women getting married in rural areas is significantly lower (16 years of age) than that of those getting married in urban areas, even this age has recently increased significantly (to 20 years of age). The increase in the average age of women getting married reflects an increasing preference among men (and the families that are arranging marriages for them) for potential spouses with greater educational qualifications.  These trends seem to be indicative of a preference for women who will be able to fulfill more traditional roles while simultaneously maintaining a job and contributing to the earned income of the family.

In general, young women are more prone to becoming victims of forced marriage than young men. Where forced marriage occurs, it tends to be a practice that has occurred as a result of a host of different socioeconomic and cultural factors.  Societal pressure, poverty, illiteracy, and family status can all be contributing factors for forced marriages. Families living in poverty with unstable or non-existent income sources see a daughter both as an economic burden who must be married as soon as possible to take financial strain off of the family, and also a potential financial relief if she is able to be married off to someone of higher economic standing. Forced marriage can also be used to settle a debt or to improve family status through the formation or fomentation of social alliances. This pressure is exacerbated in rural areas where the parents and sometimes the young woman herself are subject to social duress from the surrounding community, sometimes resulting in a higher dowry that must be paid by the young woman’s parents.

There are several human rights organizations in Bangladesh that work closely with victims of forced marriages to provide assistance. Additionally, local police, lawyers, and foreign missions in Bangladesh play a significant role in the prevention of forced marriages and providing assistance to those who are victims of forced marriages. If an individual is above the age of consent and is the subject of a forced marriage he or she can challenge the legality of the marriage in court by providing evidence to show that there was no consent to the marriage at the time of the marriage. An underage girl who was married off against her will would have to repudiate the marriage upon attaining puberty and prior to reaching the age of 18. It should be noted that consummation of the marriage prior to attaining puberty will not negate this right, but consummation of the marriage after attaining puberty will.

While Bangladesh has security at border crossings and at other international ports of departure, the borders are relatively porous allowing individuals to move relatively freely, particularly across land borders. However, parents or family members can obtain a court order to place a lookout at international airports and border check points to prevent an individual from leaving the country, though this tends to be a time consuming process.  These lookouts can be placed on an individual regardless of age, and are often based on false allegations submitted to the court. Influential families have also been known to use both private and government contacts to limit the ability of an individual to leave Bangladesh.

If you are facing this situation, or know someone who is, contact the local authorities and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  Please see the Country Specific Information for Bangladesh for locations and contact information.

Contacting the Embassy

Forced marriages are not the same as arranged marriages.  Arranged marriages are a part of many cultural traditions and involve the free and full consent of both parties to the marriage.  Forced marriages are marriages in which one, or both, spouses do not (or in the case of children, or adults with impaired mental capacity due to learning or physical disabilities, cannot) provide legal consent to marry.  In many cases threats may be used to prompt the victim to accept the marriage.  These threats may be physical, psychological, financial, emotional, and/or sexual in nature, and are used to make the victim feel as though they have no choice but to accept the marriage.  Marriages of this type are considered forced marriages, and the United States considers forced marriages to be a human rights concern, since human rights principles seek to advance the freedom and inherent dignity of all people.

The U.S. Embassy in Dhaka is willing to assist victims or potential victims of forced marriage.  If you are a U.S. citizen in Bangladesh, or know an American citizen in Bangladesh, who has been, is being, or fears being forced into marriage against your/their will, please contact the U.S. Embassy in Dhaka at:

 

Telephone

During business hours (Sunday through Thursday, 0800 – 1630) please contact the American Citizen Services Unit at: (2) 5566-2000.
If you need assistance after-hours, please call the main Embassy switchboard at (2) 5566-2000, when you hear the recorded message please press “3”, and you will be connected to the duty officer.

 

Email

You can contact the American Citizen Services Unit at DhakaACS@state.gov.

 

In Person

You can appear in person any work day, Sunday through Wednesday, from 1300 – 1600, and proceed to the ACS Window in the U.S. Embassy, which is located at:

Madani Avenue, Baridhara
Dhaka 1212, Bangladesh

 

If You Are in the United States

If you, or the person being forced into marriage, is still in the United States, please contact your local authorities or the Department of State in Washington, D.C., at 1-888-407-4747.

 

If You Are Calling from the United States to Report a Forced Marriage in Bangladesh

During business hours (0800 – 1630), please contact the American Citizen Services Unit at: (880) (2) 5566-2000 and ask for American Citizen Services Unit.

If you need assistance after-hours, please call (880) (2) 5566-2000, when you hear the recorded message please press “3”, and you will be connected to the duty officer.

Please remember, Dhaka is 10 hours AHEAD of U.S. Eastern Standard Time.

Frequently Asked Questions

My family has been hinting about my marriage plans. I’m worried they are going to force me into a marriage that I don’t want to be part of, and we are going overseas soon. What can I do?

My family has been hinting about my marriage plans.  I’m worried they are going to force me into a marriage that I don’t want to be part of, and we are going overseas soon. What can I do?

If you plan to travel overseas, or you think you may be taken overseas, and are afraid that you may be forced into a marriage to which you have not and do not consent, keep in mind the risks that you may face:

  • You may be alone, isolated, and unable to contact other family or friends
  • You may be in unfamiliar surroundings
  • You may face duress from members of your family
  • You personal freedoms may be curtailed, or you may not be allowed to leave the home
  • Your money, plane ticket, and or passport may be taken away from you
  • You may not have access to the phone or the internet

 

Here are some ideas to help you avoid some of these risks:

  • While you are in the United States, report the situation to your local authorities
  • If possible, take a call phone with you, and have the contact numbers for the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh stored in it.  Also, you may want to write down the numbers for the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh and keep them separate from your phone in the event it is confiscated
  • If you have your own financial resources, you may want to take some money and keep it with you in a place that only you know about
  • You should keep your passport in a safe place.  You may also want to keep a copy of your passport as well as an additional form of identification in a separate place
  • You should leave the following information with a trusted friend or adult outside of your family with instructions to contact the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh on your behalf should they be unable to contact you.  You may also wish to leave them a code word that you can tell them in the event of a forced marriage if your conversations are being monitored:
    • Your full name, date of birth, and place of birth
    • Address where you will be staying overseas
    • Phone number of where you will be staying overseas
    • Your U.S. passport number, as well as the issuance and expiration date
    • Your flight information

I am a victim of a forced marriage and I am overseas. How can you help me?

If you are an American citizen (including dual-nationals) we can provide confidential assistance with issues faced by victims of forced marriage by:

  • Intervening and negotiating on your behalf with members of your family
  • Locating a temporary shelter or safe haven for you
  • Helping arrange travel back to the U.S. on your behalf, and, if necessary, providing a loan to pay for your ticket and subsistence
  • Providing a list of legal service organizations and attorneys who have notified the Embassy that they are interested in assisting American’s with a wide array of cases.
  • Providing a list of doctors and hospitals, and information on the types of treatment and care they provide.

My friend/family member is overseas and I believe he/she may be, or may have already been, a victim of a forced marriage. How can I help him/her?

You should contact the U.S. Embassy in Bangladesh and ask to speak with the American Citizen Services Unit.  You will be asked for specific information that will allow us to confirm the identity of your missing friend or family member, as well as locate them.  To the greatest extent possible, be able to provide their:

  • Full name, date of birth, and place of birth
  • Local address and contact information
  • U.S. passport number, date of issue, and date of expiry
  • Flight information