We speak of forced marriage when at least one of the partners has been forced into a formal or informal (e.g. through a religious or civil ceremony) marriage by acts of physical violence or threats. A refusal was ineffective or the victim did not dare to oppose out of fear. Financial or deportation threats may also lead to a forced marriage.
We also speak of forced marriage when a partner stays in a conjugal relationship against her/his will because of the fear of sanctions from her/his family or environment. A person who is not allowed to break up with her/his partner is in a forced marriage, even if the marriage was originally voluntarily.
It is sometimes difficult in practice to differentiate between forced and arranged marriage. If in doubt, we listen to the point of view of the victim. This leads to the following definition: An arranged marriage has been negotiated by relatives, acquaintances or professional marriage brokers, but has been entered into by the two partners with full consent.
According to a survey by the German Ministry for Families, 7% of the people threatened or affected by forced marriage are men. However, they are usually older when the marriage takes place. Also, the social consequences for them are different: men in forced marriages usually have more freedom than women and girls.
The motives for forced marriage are manifold. According to a nationwide published German survey on forced marriage, in 58% of the cases the “family honour” is the main motive for forcing someone into marriage. But also financial reasons can play a part: 19.1% of the affected people stated, that their family got money for the marriage. In about 4% of the cases the marriage was meant to regulate the children’s sexual orientation: They were meant to marry, because they were gay or lesbian. Another possible motive for forced marriage is getting a legal status or a visa for the partner abroad to come to Germany – 13.4% of the cases in the survey were forced into marriage because of that. The girls and young women who come to Germany are regarded by patriarchal families as less ‘westernised’ and thus better suited for a marriage that fulfils the parents’ expectations.
In almost all countries worldwide, forced marriage is against the law. Also in Germany, forced marriage is a criminal offence in its own right (according to §237 StGB) and is penalized with imprisonment from 6 months to 5 years. Also the abduction into foreign countries to be married or intended marriages during holidays abroad are chargeable. Even if the forced marriage is not performed, the attempt can already be liable to prosecution.
There are no representative studies yet on the number of victims of forced marriage in Germany, because the total numbers are difficult to determine. Some federal states have conducted surveys at various institutions, such as specialised support groups. According to a survey of institutions in Berlin dealing with youth and migration issues, in 2007, there were 378 girls and young women affected by forced marriage, seeking help. Such surveys have also been undertaken in Hamburg and Baden-Württemberg.
The first nationwide survey regarding forced marriage was published in November 2011: On behalf of the Ministry for family, seniors, women and youth, a scientific survey by the Lawaetz Foundation was realized in cooperation with TERRE DES FEMMES and Torsten Schaak (office for socio-political counselling), which was accompanied by an advisory committee. Nationwide, 1445 helpdesks were interviewed on their experiences with cases of forced marriage. 830 of them replied and stated that there were all in all 3,443 cases of forced marriage in 2008 alone – 93% of them concerning women or girls. A close third of the affected people were underage, while 40% were between 18 and 21 years old.
A marital dissolution can be requested, if one of the spouses was illegally urged into marriage by threats (§ 1314 Abs. 2 Nr. 4 BGB), meaning that there was a forced marriage. A lawyer must submit such a request within 3 years. This prolonged respite applies for forced marriages, which were executed after the law against forced marriages (§§ 1317 Abs. 1 Satz 1 i.V.m. 1314 Abs. 2 Nr. 4 BGB) was passed (2011). For all the other forced marriages, the respite is one year.
Certain types of forced marriage are strongly linked to foreign countries, which carries significant legal risks for the victims. As mentioned above, men and women living in Germany are married off to spouses who live abroad and who can then legally move to Germany. Their leave to remain is bound to being married for three years. Under aggravated circumstances it is possible to gain the right to remain sooner, e.g. in the case of a forced marriage. The problem is, that the victims themselves have to prove that they were forced into marriage. In practice, this is a great obstacle for the acknowledgement as aggravated circumstances.
A different case is that of an abduction with the intention to force someone into a marriage. In this type of forced marriage, girls and boys are taken on a holiday to their or their parents’ home country and are then forcibly engaged or married and often have to stay in that country. According to the nationwide survey which was mentioned above, more than half of the marriages (52%) are executed or planned to be executed abroad. 36.2% of the people threatened by forced marriage fear that they will have to stay abroad permanently after marriage. Only in 7% of the cases, the affected persons had already been displaced abroad, which indicates a high dark figure. In contrast to the former regulation, someone’s permission to reside and settle in Germany does not expire anymore after spending six months outside the country. If the girl or woman was illegally forced into marriage by violence or threats and if she was hindered from returning to Germany, she is now allowed to re-enter Germany within 10 years (§51 Abs. 4 Satz 2 AufenthG) – provided she can prove that she was forced into marriage. Above that, girls and women can claim their right to return if their permission to reside has expired (§37 Abs. 2a AufenthG). The condition for this right is, that the foreign person is able to integrate into German living conditions because of his/her previous education and personal living conditions (§ 37 Abs. 2a AufenthG).