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Children and Families

Study finds thousands of forced marriages in Germany

The German Family Ministry has for the first time published a study of forced marriage in Germany. The report is based on the findings of hundreds of consultation centers across the country.

A woman sits with her hands bound in her lap

The study shed light on forced marriage in Germany

Until now there has been little properly researched information about the issue of forced marriage in Germany. That's why the federal Ministry of Family Affairs, senior citizens, women and youth commissioned a new study on the subject. The findings were presented in Berlin on Wednesday.

Kristina Schröder

Schröder says forced marriage is complex

For the first time, the report presents and evaluates findings from counseling centers for people who are threatened by or affected by forced marriages.

"Forced marriages are a statutory offense in Germany, and despite that, the reality is more complicated than a flick through the law book may lead one to believe," Family Minister Kristina Schröder said when she handed the study over to Maria Böhmer, who's responsible for integration in the German government.

The study includes information from some 830 counseling centers in Germany. It was conducted by the women's rights organization Terre des Femmes and the Hamburg-based Lawaetz Foundation.

In 2008, the counseling centers registered 3,443 forced marriages. Schröder emphasized that it is important to be aware that "only the brave" actually seek help. Those who are threatened with forced marriage risk being isolated from their own family if they try to resist. The real number of people who are intimidated into marriage is much higher but it's impossible to accurately quantify the scale of the issue.

Migrant majority

Most of those affected are from immigrant background: 23 percent were born in Turkey, 8 percent in Serbia, Kosovo or Montenegro, 6 percent from Iraq, 6 percent from Afghanistan, 5 percent from Syria, 3 percent from Morocco, and 2 percent from Albania, Lebanon and Pakistan

A woman with a sheet of paper bearing the seal of Germany

German citizenship does not necessarily safeguard against forced marriage

Of the victims, 32 percent were born in Germany, and 44 percent have German nationality. But, says the study, having a German passport gives little protection against the archaic structures of one's own family.

According to the report, 83.4 percent of the parents are Muslims. Almost a third of the victims of attempts at forced marriage, whether successful or unsuccessful, are 17 years old or younger. Forty percent are between 18 and 21 years old.

Muslim involvement

Muslim community leaders should be more closely involved in the issue, according to Schröder. "We should argue less about whether Islam is part of the problem; rather we should ask ourselves more seriously whether it can be part of the solution," she said.

That's why Muslim authorities in Germany have to take a greater role in denouncing forced marriages and intervening when necessary, she added.

Böhmer said that the immigrant's countries of origin also had to be part of the solution. She said they had already taken up contact with the Turkish Women's Ministry. A law against violence in the family is apparently due to be introduced shortly in Turkey.

Making schools aware of the problem

A group of girls sits in a circle

Increasing awareness in schools is part of the government's solution

Böhmer, who described forced marriage as a serious infringement of human rights, pointed to the fact that, where forced marriages take place, it usually also implies breaking off education or training. She therefore demanded that schools should be made aware of the issue:

"The topic of forced marriage needs to find its way into the curriculum," she said. "It also needs to be anchored in teacher training."

According to the report, two thirds of schools do not deal with the issue.

Language is key

Young immigrants with poor German language ability who are still in school are especially likely only to find help after they've been given a tip by someone else.

Maria Böhmer

Böhmer calls forced marriage a human rights violation

"Learning the German language is the key for a self-confident, freely-chosen life, independent of parents," said Böhmer.

Böhmer says the study justifies the move by the German parliament to make forced marriage a statutory offense and to allow a ten-year right of return to immigrants who are forced to marry abroad.

Family violence and forced marriage

Two-thirds of people threatened or affected by forced marriage experienced violence in the family when they were growing up. Family Minister Schröder describes the relationship between family violence and forced marriage as alarming.

That's one reason a national telephone hotline is being introduced for women who are victims of violence or forced marriage. However, the hotline is not expected to be ready for use until the end of 2012.

Members of the opposition in parliament see some of these measures as pure symbolic gestures in the fight against forced marriage. They say guidelines for schools, an online information center and a hotline that won't be available for over a year are not going to help those who are affected.

Author: Sabine Ripperger / ji, mz
Editor: Michael Lawton

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