Anecdotal Report on the Incidence of Forced Marriage in Western Canada

Reflections of the Service Providers on Forced Marriage

The data revealed that the service providers who come across cases of forced marriage often think about how incidents of forced marriage may be decreased. It appears to be important to most of them as they see the negative consequences of forced marriage in their work. Many of them have shared their reflections on how this issue may be addressed.

Their views can be summarized under the following 8 categories:

  1. Most of them seem to think that there is a chance that forced marriage incidence can at least be decreased if communities get involved and face the issue. They believe that:
    1. The first step is awareness and acknowledgement of the occurrence of forced marriage and that it is against human rights.
    2. The next step is education of communities, especially of parents, elders and new immigrants. They believe that it will be beneficial if they learn about human rights, Canadian values of equality, dignity and freedom and about Canadian laws.
    3. Peer support and peer education are also very important in convincing parents and communities about giving consideration to the choice of spouse by their adult children.
    4. Community NGOs can play an important role in this effort. They can start some sort of awareness campaign, education workshops, discussion forums and outreach work in religious and cultural centers and organizations. They can seek support from the governments and or charitable foundations for this work.
  2. One suggestion which came from several respondents targeted high schools as the main initiator of awareness raising programs for youth regarding human rights of the individual, especially women. For example they need to learn the right to security and equality, right of choice and freedom of association. In Alberta, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is included in the curriculum. Learning about human rights will encourage thinking among Canadian youth and create a sense of entitlement to their right of choice of their life partner.
  3. Service providers talked about their experiences and views on service delivery. They pointed out that there are certain gaps in the services provided to the victims:
    1. They think that more direct services are needed as well as new services need to be added for the victims of forced marriage. For example specific services such as mediation services, consultation and some kind of help line can be very helpful for those facing forced marriage.
    2. They pointed out that not all service providers had adequate information and training in dealing with all the problems of victims of forced marriage, hence they see a need for more information for service providers as well as training in dealing with the victims in a culturally sensitive manner. As an example, the following quote, in the context of forced marriage, comes from a family lawyer, “ I am concerned that family lawyers, especially here in Alberta, have very limited experience with forced marriage…and may be woefully ignorant of how limited their role is and how they need to inform themselves of the steps they need to take. Many lawyers are unaware of how precarious the woman’s situation is and how urgent her needs are. We need to develop some specific expertise in the family law Bar…”
  4. With reference to creating awareness and providing accurate information, service providers think that there is need for more data (statistical if possible), more research, studies as well as educational sessions on the nature and consequences of forced marriage. There was seen a need for creating information on various cultural aspect of diverse communities to ensure that the victims receive help in a culturally sensitive manner.
  5. There was concern expressed repeatedly about one widespread cause of forced marriage viz. Canadian policy of family sponsorship. As the chapter on themes indicates, a large number of cases of forced marriage take place only to get immigration for relatives. Service providers think that, in view of this specific misuse of family sponsorship policy, some stringent measures are needed to prevent this misuse of the policy. They also point out that new spouses who come to Canada are ignorant of Canadian immigration laws and sponsorship laws as well as their rights. Many of the victims live under the threat that their sponsorship will be cancelled, so the service providers believe the sponsored spouses need accurate information about sponsorship laws and their rights in Canada even before they migrate to Canada.
  6. Service providers stressed that women and girls need to be especially empowered through knowledge of Canadian human rights and laws, and knowledge of available avenues of help and support in case of need.
  7. In the opinion of a few respondents, some form of premarital counselling for men and women, which could be organized by community NGOs, would be very helpful in their understanding of marriage contract and marital responsibilities. In ethnic communities hardly any such counselling exists. Some respondents even suggested that a marriage licence should be issued after such counselling.
  8. Forced marriage has cultural sanction among many sections of the ethnic communities in the name of ancestral cultural practice, family honour, culture preservation and in family reunion. In Canada they can justify practices like this under the right to what they believe to be cultural preservation. Some counsellors and professionals strongly feel that it is very important to re-examine the whole issue of cultural rights. In authoritarian families and communities cultural rights of the collective have precedence over individual rights. The family, for example, as a collective, feels that it has the right to force their daughters to enter into an unwanted marriage for the benefit of two families. The will of the individual is not important. One reason for this is that cultural rights are understood not as the rights of an individual member of the community but as right of the cultural group. In case of forced marriage there is an obvious conflict between individual rights (e.g. free choice, free association and freedom from violence) and rights of the group (e.g. maintaining cultural and religious heritage). The right of the individual may be violated in upholding the right of the group. The service providers feel that this issue needs to be addressed in concrete terms and there is a need to create a balance between individual’s rights, especially woman’s rights, and cultural practices sanctioned by communities.

The above are the reflections, on addressing the issue of forced marriage, from those who deal with the forced marriage problems. Many of these ideas may not be practical but it shows that some community members and some professionals are concerned about the issue. One respondent pointed out that Canada has a strong record of implementation of human rights as well as laws safeguarding women’s equality. Perhaps some greater efforts can be made through education to ensure that parents understand that the practice of forced marriage is inconsistent with Canadian values and that those at risk of being victimised are aware of their recourses.

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