21 September 2005
Forced marriages and child marriages
Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee
Rapporteur for opinion: Mrs Helena Bargholtz, Sweden, Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe
I. Committee's conclusions
1. The Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee endorses, overall, the draft resolution and draft recommendation tabled by the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, which are designed to combat the practices of forced marriage and child marriage. It would point out that Ms Bargholtz, Rapporteur for opinion of the committee, was behind the motion that led to the report and wishes to congratulate Ms Zapfl-Hebling on her excellent work and very apt proposals.
2. It felt the need, however, to suggest a few amendments.
3. The committee would stress that the problem of forced marriages is not simply a "women's issue": it is connected, in particular, with social cohesion policies and immigration policies. It is regrettable that the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population was not asked for its opinion on this occasion.
II. Explanatory memorandum
4. As a preliminary remark, it is worth quoting paragraph 24 of the report which states that "child marriages by definition constitute forced marriages, as a child cannot be considered to have freely given consent to marriage". This is absolutely true. It is therefore necessary to draw the logical conclusion and the committee would therefore like the title of the report to be amended accordingly. It suggests calling it "Forced marriages, including child marriages".
5. The committee observes that the number of forced marriages is increasing in member states and that they particularly concern young people of immigrant origin. Very often, families intend to respect somewhat ossified traditions that are sometimes no longer common practice in their home country or are dying out. It would point out that in developing countries forced marriages are very often a traditional response to poverty and insecurity.
6. The report concentrates somewhat excessively on forced marriages of women. It should not be forgotten that boys and young men are also victims of this practice. This is a proven fact even though, as the report rightly points out, the practice currently particularly affects girls and young women. Men are victims too, however, in which case their fundamental rights are likewise violated. This is a human rights issue that must not be restricted to the question of equality between men and women.
7. The report could therefore usefully be supplemented by an approach specifically geared to the problem of boys and young men. The committee suggests amending paragraph 2.3 of the draft recommendation accordingly.
8. In paragraph 14.3 of the draft resolution, it is recommended that coercive sexual relations undergone by victims of forced marriages and child marriages be regarded as rape. While it agrees in principle with this proposal, the committee sees a number of difficulties in defining and applying such a concept in domestic law. A forced marriage often has two victims, the boy and the girl. Neither of the two wants to marry, but obedience to their parents prevails. The parents demand that the marriage go ahead and want to have grandchildren. Such a situation is common and it is very difficult to establish who is raping whom. The committee believes this paragraph should be deleted.
9. The issue of forced marriage should not be played down. It could certainly usefully be taken out of the "women's issues" ghetto. It is not only a matter that concerns women. It is a question of human rights and one that also concerns immigration and social cohesion policies. Indeed, very often the families' motive is to prevent their children from becoming independent and from possibly making mixed marriages. Nor is it unknown for a forced marriage to take place in order to obtain papers for the husband or wife and enable him or her to live in the host country.
10. The issue also concerns member states' development aid policies towards third countries. Respect for human rights and children's rights should be a prerequisite for the granting of subsidies and aid of various kinds to developing countries. Offering future generations better conditions, wherever possible, particularly in the field of education, is the only way out of the cycle of poverty and under-development. But this aspect goes beyond the scope of this report. It is, however, appropriate to highlight the harmful consequences of child marriages, particularly for young girls in developing countries. Such marriages often deprive them of all primary education and their health is endangered (through pregnancy, Aids, other sexually transmitted diseases, etc).
III. Proposed amendments to the draft resolution and draft recommendation in Doc. 10590
Proposed amendment No 1
Amend the title of the report as follows: "Forced marriages, including child marriages".
Proposed amendment No 2
In the draft resolution, add the following sentence at the end of paragraph 8: "Often an obstacle to school attendance, child marriages may be prejudicial to children's access to education and their intellectual and social development, in that they restrict their horizon to the family circle".
Proposed amendment No 3
In the draft resolution, delete paragraph 14.3..
Proposed amendment No 4
In the draft recommendation, paragraph 2.3, first line, replace "young women and girls liable to be forcibly married" by "people liable to be forcibly married".
Reporting committee : Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men
Committee for opinion : Social, Health and Family Affairs Committee
Reference to committee : Doc; 9966, Ref; No. 2891 of 25 November 2003
Opinion approved by the Committee on 16 September 2005
Secretaries to the Committee : Mr Mezei, Mrs Nollinger, Mrs Meunier
1 See Doc. 10590 tabled by the Committee on Equal Opportunities for Women and Men