Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Push to criminalize forced marriage in Finland

Forced marriage is often presented as a third world problem - a grave injustice in distant lands across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. But, in reality, it is a global phenomenon that negatively impacts young girls and women across the globe, including in developed countries like the United States and Finland. In February 2017 the Washington Post reported, for example, that thousands of American children are wed annually. The case of an 11-year-old forced to marry her rapist in Florida was revealed by the New York Times in an opinion piece by Nicolas Kristof. Regardless of where forced marriage prevails it should be outlawed. Those living in forced marriages or those at risk of being forced into marriage should have appropriate legal protection from the harmful practice. In Finland, the Finnish League for Human Rights, known nationally as Ihmisoikeusliitto is leading the charge to criminalize forced marriage in the Nordic country.

The Finnish League for Human Rights is running a petition (in Finnish) to criminalize forced marriage in Finland. The organization defines forced marriage as marriage that is entered into without the full consent of one or both parties, and into which they or any of them is forced or pressured. According to the organization forced marriage in Finland takes many forms. The practice was brought to light by studies by the Finnish League of Human Rights and the Ministry of Justice in 2016 and 2017 respectively but present legislation is not enough to intervene. The government of Finland has to send a clear message that it does not approve forced marriage, according to the Finnish League for Human Rights. The organization urges its supporters and supporters of the campaign to outlaw forced marriage to sign the petition, which is addressed to Minister of Justice Antti Häkkänen.

The Finnish League for Human rights states in the petition, among other things, that forced marriage has been designated a violation of human rights in many international human rights agreements such as the United Nations convention on women's rights and the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, also known as the Istanbul Convention -- which Finland ratified in 2015. The Convention  is legally binding on Member States, and demands, among other thing, the criminalization of forced marriage. The practice is outlawed by many countries in Europe such as Norway, Denmark and Sweden.

My Take

I signed the petition to criminalize forced marriage in Finland. No one should be forced into marriage. Marriage should be entered into freely by both parties - without any form of coercion whatsoever. And, in addition, marriage must be between consenting adults. This explains why child marriage, in my view, is forced marriage since minors - like adults under duresss - cannot give consent.

Finland's current legislation does not go far enough to address forced marriage. According to the Finnish League for Human Rights the practice could be punished under the Finnish Penal Code as aggravated human trafficking or coercion but present legislation does not cover every coercion. In addition, coercion is currently an injured party crime whereupon it is the victim's responsibility to initiate criminal proceedings. This is problematic, in my view, because victims of forced marriage, usually children, cannot be reasonably expected to initiative criminal proceedings against their parents. Forced marriage is a practice rooted in harmful cultural norms and traditions, including patriarchy. Young girls and children, more often than not, cannot challenge long-standing cultural norms within their families and communities by, for example, making police reports against their fathers or family members who force them into marriage. Challenging the norm or tradition could be seen as bringing "dishonor" to the family, and could lead to disownment -- or even death in some cases.

Ala Saeed, vice-chairperson of the Iraqi Women's Association, told the Finnish League for Human Rights that girls go into forced marriages because they do not want to lose their families. I think, in the same vein, victims would not initiate criminal proceedings for the same reason. Victims of forced marriage cannot protect themselves; they need the authorities to protect them. They need civil society to remind the authorities of their obligation to protect them. In order to adequately protect victims of forced marriage the authorities, including police and prosecutors should be able to initiative investigations and legal proceedings on their own initiative. Onus should be on the authorities, not victims. The only way this can happen is by criminalizing forced marriage, and taking it off the "injured party crime" category.

The petition to criminalize forced marriage will be submitted to the Minister of Justice on April 5, 2018. Sign the petition now. When I signed the petition it had garnered 4591 signatures, including mine. As of today, one day before it is delivered to the Minister of Justice, 5468 people have signed it.

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