Time to UnMute | Understanding Forced Marriage in Hong Kong

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About the Zubin Foundation

The Zubin Mahtani Gidumal Foundation, also known as The Zubin Foundation (TZF) is a charity committed to improving the lives of Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities by reducing suffering and providing opportunities. For more information, please visit: www.zubinfoundation.org.

Acknowledgements

The Zubin Foundation is grateful to all the ethnic minority women who were interviewed in the research for giving their time and sharing their stories.

The Zubin Foundation thanks the following representatives for contributing their time and sharing their insights: Dr Arfeen Bibi, Azan Marwah, Chief Imam, Former Judge Sharon Melloy, Kay K.W. Chan, Patricia Ho, Puja Kapai, Dr Rizwan Ullah, Shalini Mahtani, and Swamini Supriyanda.

Authors: Sala Sihombing and Shalini Mahtani

Editor: Alka Datwani | Global Brand & Communications

Reviewer: Vibha P. Karnik | The Zubin Foundation

Cover Design: Gagandeep Singh | The Zubin Foundation

Disclaimer

All information in this document is provided for general information only and is not in the nature of advice. It should not be relied upon for any purpose and The Zubin Mahtani Gidumal Foundation Limited (TZF) makes no warranty or representation and gives no assurance as to its accuracy, completeness or suitability for any purpose. Inclusion of information about a company, programme or individual in this publication does not indicate TZF’s endorsement. Where cited, you should refer to the primary sources for more information. TZF reserves the right to make alterations to any of its documents without notice. The information and ideas herein are the confidential, proprietary, sole, and exclusive property of The Zubin Mahtani Gidumal Foundation Limited. The Zubin Mahtani Gidumal Foundation Limited reserves the right to make alterations to any of its documents without notice.

Intellectual Property Rights

© 2024 The Zubin Mahtani Gidumal Foundation Limited. All rights reserved. Reproduction and dissemination of this document (in whole or in part) is not allowed without prior written permission of The Zubin Mahtani Gidumal Foundation Limited and due acknowledgment of authorship. If use of this document (in whole or in part) will generate income for the license, prior written permission to that effect must be obtained from The Zubin Mahtani Gidumal Foundation Limited. To obtain permission, write to info@zubinfoundation.org.

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About the Authors

Improving

Sala Sihombing, author

Sala works full-time as a mediator focusing on families in Hong Kong. She is an accredited mediator (Australia NMAS) (USA FINRA) (Hong Kong HKMAAL/HKIAC) (UK CEDR) and Family Mediation Supervisor (HKMAAL). Since 2013, she has taught as an adjunct lecturer at HKU in the LLM ADR Programme.

Having originally qualified as a solicitor in the UK (1995); and Hong Kong (1996) she worked as a criminal and civil litigator. She left private practice to work as in-house counsel at Peregrine and Crédit Agricole Indosuez and later joined Morgan Stanley in the Institutional Equity Division.

In 2011, Sala attended the Straus Institute (Pepperdine University, USA) to receive her LLM in Dispute Resolution. Her LLB (Hons) is from the University of Bristol, UK.

Shalini is the Founder and CEO of The Zubin Foundation (TZF), a charity that improves the lives of Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities by reducing suffering and providing opportunities. TZF works directly in the community through its outreach work and enhances awareness of Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities and race through its Institute of Racial Equality.

Shalini has authored and co-authored work on ethnic minorities in Hong Kong including, but not limited to ethnic minority children with special needs, mental health and youth aspirations. Her research informs public policy recommendations as well as corporate training on race and culture.

Shalini is a member of the Commission for Children of the Hong Kong Government and is the Convenor for its Working Group for Children with Specific Needs. She has a Medal of Honour from the HKSAR Government, an MBE and other accolades. Shalini is from Hong Kong, married and has 3 children.

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Shalini Mahtani, co-author of The Zubin Foundation Section and Recommendations
THE ZUBIN FOUNDATION Improving the lives of Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities by reducing suffering and providing opportunities © 2024 The Zubin Mahtani Gidumal Foundation Limited (registered charity in Hong Kong - IR 91/12344). All rights reserved. Table of Contents Foreword 4 Executive Summary............................................................................................................................................................... 6 Introduction........................................................................................................................................................................ 12 1.1 Introduction .............................................................................................................................................................................. 12 1.2 What is forced marriage?.......................................................................................................................................................... 12 1.3 What are some myths about forced marriage? 14 Interview Findings 20 2.1 Introduction 20 2.2 What is the demographic composition of the group? 20 2.3 What are their views on early and forced marriage? ............................................................................................................... 21 2.4 When did they know that a marriage was planned?................................................................................................................ 24 2.5 How did they respond? 26 2.6 What was the nature of the coercion? 26 2.7 Why do the interviewees believe forced marriage happens? 29 2.8 What sustains them? ................................................................................................................................................................ 31 2.9 What would they wish to say to their families? ....................................................................................................................... 32 2.10 What advice would they give to someone who is being pressured to marry? 33 2.11 What do they wish for their own daughters in relation to marriage? 36 2.12 Common Themes 38 Context............................................................................................................................................................................... 41 3.1 What is the global context? ...................................................................................................................................................... 41 3.2 What is the Hong Kong demographic context? ........................................................................................................................ 43 3.3 What is the Hong Kong social / cultural context? 44 3.4 What is the Hong Kong legal context? 45 3.5 Why do forced marriages continue to occur? 47 Religious Leaders ................................................................................................................................................................ 50 Hong Kong Perspectives ...................................................................................................................................................... 52 Global Responses 62 6.1 Introduction 62 6.2 Forced marriage is a criminal offence: Australia 63 6.3 Immigration legislation: Denmark 66 6.4 Civil Remedies: United Kingdom............................................................................................................................................... 69 6.5 Community-based response and social change: India ............................................................................................................. 74 6.6 Reflections 76 Recommendations .............................................................................................................................................................. 79 7. Introduction 79 Stage 1: Understand 81 Stage 2: Safety and Support....................................................................................................................................................... 82 Stage 3: Mindsets 84 Stage 4: Legislation 89

Foreword

It was in 2018 that The Zubin Foundation was faced with our first case of forced marriage. The young woman had finished a year in a Hong Kong community college and was volunteering with The Zubin Foundation. I am going to call her Amari, not her real name. She told me that after the summer holidays, she was getting married. She was scared and she had wanted to delay the marriage to her first cousin by a couple of years, but her parents had disagreed. She did not want to marry her cousin in Pakistan but the cost of not doing so was too great for her sisters to bear – her parents threatened to withdraw all of them from school in Hong Kong and send them to Pakistan, if she did not agree to the marriage. She told me this practice of forced marriage was common in Hong Kong. Amari is a Hong Kong born young woman, educated in Hong Kong schools and spoke perfect Cantonese. Her case had a profound impact on me.

Was Amari’s case a one-off? We were not sure, so we decided at The Zubin Foundation to better understand the dreams and aspirations of Hong Kong Pakistani children. Was it true, what Amari said? Was forced marriage “common” in Hong Kong in her community? In 2019, together with Puja Kapai at The University of Hong Kong we explored the dreams of twenty-five Hong Kong Pakistani children and youth aged 14 to 22 years old in our report, Dreams of Pakistani Children. In that report, amongst the research sample, we noted early engagement and marriage among Pakistani girls was prevalent. Some brought up the term “forced marriage” and the struggles they were facing.

According to the Chief Imam of Hong Kong, Mufti Muhammad Arshad, at our 2021 conference titled “What is the Status of Hong Kong’s Ethnic Minorities?” forced marriage is not permitted in Islam and consent from a woman is required for a marriage to be valid. So, why does this practice take place? There are so many reasons, but mostly it’s about culture, honour and ‘face’.

In Hong Kong, we do not have official numbers of forced marriage cases and for this report “Time to UnMute | Understanding Forced Marriage in Hong Kong” we contacted seventeen Hong Kong women who were forced to marry, and all known to The Zubin Foundation. Eleven of them agreed to participate. There are four overarching messages of this report:

1. Local and Global Problem: Forced marriage is a Hong Kong problem and is also a global issue that can also affect men. Over history, forced marriage has been practised in many parts of the world, where parents chose the husbands and wives for their children, who have no say.

2. Culture not Religion: All our women interviewees who face forced marriages in Hong Kong faced cultural issues, and we do not call this a religious issue. Most of our interviewees are practising Muslims and have deep faith in their religion.

3. Children are Abused: Forced marriage impacts Hong Kong’s children. Five of the women were under eleven when the ‘engagement’ took place. The girls were contracted to marry the chosen spouse often without their awareness, and two were under 18 when they were married. This is unacceptable and the Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse Law must ensure forced marriage is understood by mandatory reporters and does not go undetected.

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4. Forced Marriage Starts Young: Forced marriage cannot be thought of as a single point in a girl’s life but a continuum of expectations that are set, and gendered child rearing that starts when children are young.

5. Lacking Support: Hong Kong needs to better support forced marriage victims. As an immediate need, a contact list of services to help forced marriage victims access help is imperative.

A massive thank you goes to Sala Sihombing, the author of this report. Sala approached me at a Hong Kong Family Lawyers Association seminar I gave on Forced Marriage in 2023. She was surprised forced marriage existed in Hong Kong, as many are, and wanted to better understand the problem. She has delved deep in the subject and this report represents a fraction of what she has learned.

Most of all, immense gratitude goes to all the women who agreed to be interviewed for this report. To each of you, I appreciate the trust you placed in us to tell your stories. This report is dedicated to you, and we have called it “Time to UnMute”, because it’s time your voices are heard.

As always, I welcome your comments and views.

Warmly,

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Executive Summary

This report highlights the reality that forced marriage occurs in Hong Kong. Eleven women were courageous and generous enough to share their experiences and perspectives on early and forced marriage.

Part 1

The introduction to this report defines forced marriage. If a party to the marriage does not wish to marry, then a marriage may become a forced marriage. Whilst a person of any gender can be subjected to a forced marriage, it remains a highly gendered practice.

There are powerful myths which surround forced marriage. The primary myth being that this doesn't happen in Hong Kong.

Part 2

The heart of this report are the responses from interviews which share the words of the interviewees. These women are Hong Kong women. These are Hong Kong stories.

The women were clear about the delineation in their view between an arranged marriage in which the consent of both parties is required and a forced marriage in which a person is coerced into marriage. All shared their subjective viewpoints. In listening to their stories, it was clear from their words that pressure / coercion had been applied to several of the women, even if they did not see themselves as being forced.

This is also a context surrounding forced marriage. Rushing a young person to marry as soon as possible or bringing a marriage forward in time, can pressure someone, especially when the reality is that no other options are permitted. For example, options to marry later, not marry, or to marry a third party are not allowed

Characteristics of the interviewees

Of the eleven women interviewed, their characteristics were as follows:

● Five were engaged as children and often only found out as adolescents about the contracted marriage - merely awaiting the formal marriage ceremony. Two were married as children. Forced marriage impacts children in Hong Kong, emotionally and physically.

● One was of Indian ethnic origin and ten were of Pakistani ethnic origin.

● Seven of the women were born in Hong Kong and the remainder came to Hong Kong as children.

● All eleven were educated in the Hong Kong educational system and all, apart from one, were able to complete their secondary education.

● Most of the women have either completed or are in the process of completing tertiary education.

● Eight of the women felt pressured to marry and six of them felt they were forced to marry.

● Eight of the women were still married at the time of the interview, one was divorced and two were single having been able to escape the forced marriage.

● Six of the women were married to a cousin.

● Two of the women had mothers with no formal education; six women had mothers with a primary education only; two women had mothers with a secondary education only and one woman had a mother with a tertiary education.

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● One woman had a father with no formal education; four women had fathers with a primary education only; three women had fathers with a secondary education only and three women had fathers with a tertiary education.

It is key to understand forced marriage is a process which often begins in childhood. Some of the women knew as children that a husband had been chosen for them. Typically, the women found out as teenagers or were told from a young age that the engagement had already been concluded. As a result, they grew up with the knowledge that their life partner had been chosen. This reduces their life options as from childhood they know the expectations of their family are for them to marry this specific person.

In terms of the coercion applied, the methods included:

● emotional and psychological pressure, including verbal abuse. For example, being told her father wished she was dead.

● physical abuse

● coercive control.

● confinement For example, one woman was locked in a room in Pakistan for a month and a half before escaping.

● threats against their siblings. For example, one woman explained she was sustained by having younger sisters. Knowing that if she gave in and consented, they would also be required to marry, perhaps against their will, strengthened her resolve.

Why do they think forced marriage happens?

When discussing the reasons for the forced marriage, many of the women referred to tradition and custom in marriage as opposed to religion. They were clear that their religion does not permit forced marriage, however, they referred to custom and tradition which perpetuates these practices. In fact, all the Muslim women described themselves as devout. For one woman, her faith in Allah meant she needed to resist forced marriage. For some this faith leads them to decide to commit the sin of disobedience and even suicide rather than for their parents to sin by forcing their daughter into marriage.

What are some of the choices they made?

For one woman, her experience was made much worse by the fact that her father had been supportive of her dreams, and she notes it seemed as if her father was as surprised and confused by his behaviour as she was. She tried to engage with him, by comparing her being forced to her father’s situation as he had not chosen who to marry, however this made matters worse. The situation became extreme, and she attempted suicide. She withdrew from her family and Hong Kong.

One woman made the decision to run away when she was 16 years old. She was lucky and found support from the Hong Kong Police Force and the Social Welfare Department. She was able to escape the marriage; however, she has struggled to proceed with her plans given the interruption to her education.

What would they say to their families?

Asking the women what they would wish to say to their families, if they could speak freely elicited strong responses. They had advice for those in similar situations, including seeking ways to communicate with the parents, e.g. talk to your parents in a way they don't feel you're opposing them; try speaking to your mum or a family friend first and get them to convince your dad. However, one explained that if you are being forced, then 'run away please'.

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There are women who also expressed that even if they felt it was too early to marry, it was also important not to lose the chance of a good match. The value placed on the good match was high amongst the interviewees. Although for some of the women, someone from Pakistan from a village who has experienced a very different life to Hong Kong, would not be a good match. There was concern that such a spouse would struggle to adapt to Hong Kong.

Several of the women knew the chosen husbands as they were cousins, and they may have interacted with them as children. However, most of the interviewees shared they had not had any contact with the chosen husband prior to the marriage. They expressed how difficult this was for them to accept. Unusually one woman had been able to communicate freely by texts prior to the marriage. She used this as an opportunity to see if her husband-to-be had similar thoughts about the future.

What do they all have in common?

The importance of their personal educational goals was apparent as eight of the women asked for the marriage to be delayed, to enable them to complete a part of their education. All of them discussed their education and plans for future employment to support their family and themselves.

The sense I received from speaking with these women was of their resilience and their sense of self-belief. These are extraordinary women. Rather than focus on the wrongs that occurred, their focus was on the future and their belief in their ability to make a better future through their own efforts. For women who could be seen as victims, as a group they were all working to fulfil their own potential. Their capacity for understanding and forgiveness is exemplary.

Part 3

The next part of the report considers the context for forced marriage - from the global context to the specific Hong Kong context. Understanding the demographic, social and cultural context in which the interviewees exist is helpful to frame their words. The last sections consider the Hong Kong legal context and a question of why forced marriage continues to occur. Understanding the hold of tradition even on young Hong Kong women can be surprising, e.g. the extent of consanguineous marriages designed to maintain connections with family overseas.

Part 4

Insights from religious leaders are shared to provide religious context to the report. As noted, whilst religion may be claimed as a justification for forced marriage, this is not accepted by the religious leaders who shared their words.

The Chief Imam explained that marriage should be with mutual consent of both, there is no room for forced marriage.

Swamini Supriyanda says that from a religious standpoint, marriage is clearly understood as the union of two equal individuals for the purpose that they may support each other in their responsibilities, in the pursuit of knowledge, and pleasure, and in the combined growth in age as well as emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually. Valuing our daughters is not only valuing our future but increasing our strength even in the present.

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Part 5

Hong Kong has an active civil society and several civil society leaders from Hong Kong were able to share their perspectives on forced marriage in Hong Kong.

Some shared their experience of working with girls and women in Hong Kong. They described the use of emotional blackmail and referred to the ‘family’s honour’ and that in the end girls can feel there are no choices for them.

One perspective highlighted that Islam is ‘very beautiful and I feel it’s so misrepresented'. This echoes some of the observations from the interviewees.

Part 6

Hong Kong exists within a global context and the next section considers the global response to forced marriage. This ranges from criminalisation to community engagement. There are several tools used globally to address forced marriage, and often used in conjunction with each other:

● Forced marriage has been criminalised in several countries including Australia. In Australia, the offence also covers taking a victim overseas which may constitute trafficking. The Police note the challenge for victims in working to prosecute their family members. The criminalisation was part of a series of government and civil society initiatives which formed a landscape with civil protection, support services, education, and awareness.

● Immigration legislation such as in Denmark. In 2003, Denmark introduced a raft of immigration legislation that required each spouse must be at least 24 years old before they can apply for family reunification based on marriage and other requirements. The most significant change could be the introduction of the supposition rule i.e. that a cousin marriage is a forced marriage.

● Civil protection such as the Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPOs) in the UK. An FMPO is an injunction which can help to protect a potential victim of forced marriage e.g. by ordering another person to stop harassing a victim. Approximately 200-250 FMPOs have been granted each year between 2014 and 2021. Other initiatives in the UK include the Children Missing from Education ('CME') initiative, as girls may be removed from school to travel overseas for the purposes of marriage.

● Community engagement and empowerment such as in India. UNICEF has acknowledged the progress towards ending child marriage which has been made in India in the last two decades. The significant declines have been associated with improvements in female education, a reduction in poverty and fertility, the promotion of positive gender norms, and the strengthened capacity of social service, justice, and enforcement systems, among other factors.

Part 7

Involving policy and legislation with family life and intimate decisions about marriage is challenging. What is clear is that interventions need to be considered and responsive to the needs of the individuals and the community. The Zubin Foundation proposes that there is a continuum of actions under four broad categories:

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Improving the lives of Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities by reducing suffering and providing opportunities

● Stage 1: understand - the first step on this journey is understanding the issue which means understanding forced marriage is a process which often starts in childhood and may be child abuse and that mandatory reporters understand this. Putting together a Forced Marriage Assistance List and collecting data on forced marriage is crucial.

● Stage 2: safety - focus on the support systems that ensure safety to victims and potential victims of forced marriage, in the short-term, medium-term and long-term.

● Stage 3: mindset - address the mindsets which enable forced marriage to occur - provide education and awareness training to frontline responders, religious and community leaders, youth and parents.

● Stage 4: legislation - introduce specific civil protection and criminal offences. Consider collection of data about spousal sponsorship visas.

Overview

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Chart 1: Forced Marriage in Action Flowchart

Improving the lives of Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities

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reducing suffering and
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Chart 2: Who are the interviewees? Chart 3: What can we do in Hong Kong?

Introduction

1.1 Introduction

‘My voice was never heard by my parents.’

- words from an interviewee

The objective of this report is to amplify the voices of Hong Kong women, their views and their experience of forced (and early) marriage. Their voices were requested as a series of interviews. These interviews constitute the heart of this report.

Forced marriage is a complex and global issue. Hong Kong is not exempt from this practice. This project is inspired by the experience of The Zubin Foundation. During the last few years, The Zubin Foundation has been receiving requests for assistance and guidance from girls and women, in relation to forced marriage through calls to the Call Mira helpline or through their outreach in counselling and educational sponsorship. The Call Mira helpline received calls related to forced marriage and had contact from girls and women during the COVID-19 pandemic. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) noted that the disruption and hardship caused by COVID-19 in this period ‘exacerbated the underlying drivers of all forms of modern slavery, including forced marriage’1

The Zubin Foundation connected with women who were willing to be interviewed about forced (and early) marriage. Some of the women who shared their thoughts have personal experience of early and/or forced marriage. They wanted to share their understanding about these practices. There were also other women who had faced forced marriages who did not want to be interviewed, mostly due to the fear of being identified and the dangers that may come with it.

Findings from the interviews led to a desire to ensure the voices of the interviewees and their perspectives can be heard. It was also important to understand the wider perspective of forced marriage from religious leaders and civil society leaders, and their views have been included too.

The final part of this report is a section containing recommendations based on considering global experience and the Hong Kong context. This section is written jointly with Shalini Mahtani, The Zubin Foundation’s Founder and CEO. It is hoped that these recommendations can stimulate further discussion, education, and implementation of support for forced marriage victims in Hong Kong.

1.2 What is forced marriage?

A marriage may be planned and desired by immediate and extended family members. They may have a variety of reasons for seeking the marriage including family relations, finances, property and traditions. If a party to the marriage does not wish to marry, then a marriage may become a forced marriage.

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Improving

A forced marriage is a marriage where coercion has ‘destroy[ed] the reality of consent and overbears the will of the individual’2. These words contain a myriad of possibilities for the pressure that may be applied, from physical abuse to emotional coercion and duress. The simplicity of these words belies the complex interactions and nuanced reality of forced marriage.

Chart 4: Forced Marriage in Action Flowchart

Forced marriage can also be seen as a process rather than an event3. Chantler et al. noted in their work interviewing professionals:

Forced marriage is a ‘process’ which is rooted in gender-based violence, synonymous to ‘grooming where someone is being prepared for a marriage and that over a period of time their ability to consent, or rather withdraw consent, is compromised’ (Case Study Area 4, Third Sector Organisation 4B)4

As a child grows up in a culture they are exposed to the values, beliefs, traditions and norms of their culture and family culture. This can include attitudes towards expectations for marriage, their future opportunities, and their obligations to their family and community. They may have been aware since childhood that their marriage has been planned.

A person may indicate they do not consent either actively or passively. This lack of consent for the marriage may be demonstrated as a direct refusal or it may be silent resignation. A refusal to marry the chosen person may be seen as more than a mere rejection of the marriage and constitute a direct affront to the authority of someone’s immediate and extended family. It may also be interpreted as a rejection of cultural norms.

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minorities

Whilst a person of any gender can be subjected to a forced marriage, it remains a highly gendered practice, and mostly applies to girls and women. The ILO estimates that in 2021, 22 million people (over two thirds being girls and women) were living in situations of forced marriage5. This represents a 6.6 million increase from the previous estimate in 20166 As the ILO notes, forced marriage is a ‘highly-gendered practice…[which]…is often underpinned by patriarchal norms’7. The coercion is usually applied by immediate and extended family members8. It may also be endorsed and supported by the community and community leaders.

Although both women and men may be subjected to a forced marriage and may suffer from the same treatment if they resist the marriage or go through with the marriage, the consequences can be very different:

It is important to note that while men comprise a small percentage of victims (approximately 15 %) (HAC 2008, Ev 447), research indicates that far more women experience forced marriage than men, and that the practice has more serious consequences for women (Ouattara et al. 1998; Gangoli et al. 2006; Anitha and Gill 2009; Gangoli and Chantler 2009, 269). In addition to the denial of a choice of marriage partner, the harms of forced marriage can include: rape, forced pregnancy, lack of control of the number and spacing of children, interruption to or denial of education, physical violence and beatings, kidnapping or imprisonment (sometimes abroad), murder, lack of freedom of sexuality (especially if a victim is gay or lesbian), and psychological stress which can result in threatened suicide, mental breakdowns, eating disorders and self-harm (Ouattara et al. 1998; Beckett and Macey 2001; Sanghera 2007; Brandon and Hafez 2008; HAC 2008; Macey 2009)9 .

For those working within this space, a commonly used acronym is CEFM which stands for Child, Early and Forced Marriage. There is certainly often an overlap between forced marriage and marriage with children, i.e. those under 18 years in Hong Kong and earlier i.e. may be considered someone between 18 and 24 years who could still be in full-time education.

1.3 What are some myths about forced marriage?

There are some common myths about forced marriage which continue to persist:

● Forced marriage is the same as arranged marriage.

● Forced marriage is condoned by religion.

● Forced marriage means only physical violence.

● Forced marriage only happens to girls.

● Forced marriage does not happen in Hong Kong.

● Forced marriage only takes place within South Asian communities.

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The words ‘forced marriage’ can provoke extreme reactions from denial to activism. Myths about forced marriage obscure the reality of this practice. The myths make it harder for people to find ways to deal with challenges and find the resources they need. The acceptance of myths can lead to ignorance and prejudice. This report aims to bring awareness to the practice, specifically in relation to Hong Kong people.

Myth 1: Forced marriage is the same as arranged marriage

An arranged marriage will typically involve parents and/or extended families seeking to arrange a marriage between the parties, however the marriage will occur with the consent of both parties. Whilst the bride and groom may have limited or no contact prior to the wedding, the bride and groom retain their ability to refuse the marriage.

Arranged marriages are not synonymous with forced marriages, however an arranged marriage can become a forced marriage. In an arranged marriage, the desire of family and relatives for an arranged marriage to occur can cross the line and become a situation of a forced marriage. Forced marriages and arranged marriages exist on a continuum10

Lam found that in Hong Kong:

Forced marriage is the worst from my informants’ perspective. Arranged marriage, on the other hand, is a marriage based on an agreement of both sides’ parents. The man’s side proposes to the woman’s side, and her parents decide whether to accept or reject the proposal. My informants told me that for arranged marriages parents usually ask for children’s consent and preferences in the Pakistani community in Hong Kong. They accept the approach only when it meets the requirement of their children11

Myth 2: Forced marriage is condoned by religion

There exists a belief that forced marriage is condoned by religion. As shared by religious leaders in this report from Islam and Hinduism that belief is not correct. These leaders highlighted that there is no place for coercion in relation to marriage.

Whilst most of the women in this report who experienced forced marriage are Muslim, Islam does not condone forced marriage.

Islam doesn’t appreciate pressurising in any aspect of life, even in the affair of marriage. Islam emphasises knowing the willingness of a man and woman to choose his/her life partner and, therefore, disallows forced marriage. The Muslim woman has the right of refusal and acceptance of the proposal of marriage, even against her parents’ will12 .

Despite this clarity, Muzaffar et al. explained that although Islam prohibits forced marriage, elders in communities and families will ignore these prohibitions as ‘choice or opinion of the girl about her marriage

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is deemed as improper in the context of family honour’13. Therefore, individual or community beliefs and attitudes prevail.

Although, “Many Pakistani marriages are arranged, brokered by the family elders” (Evason et al., 2016, para.11), in Islam “the right to choose a husband were understood as rights given to women by Islam” (Khurshid, 2018, p. 92)14 .

Myth 3: Forced marriage means only physical violence

The myth that forced marriage always involves the use of physical violence is persistent. Although physical violence can be part of the coercion used to compel a forced marriage, it may not be used at all.

Forced marriage is a form of family violence, and thus the process is ‘often similar to the forms of abuse and control utilised by perpetrators in abusive intimate partner and family relationships’15

As with the approach to family violence, in some respects there has been an evolution of understanding. Although concerns are still expressed that:

Issues of physical and sexual violence are frequently privileged over emotional pressure and coercion. In particular, the term ‘force’ was not thought to adequately cover issues of subtle pressure where a young person may not realise what is taking place until it is too late or may not themselves identify the marriage as ‘forced’ as no physical violence occurred. Concerns were expressed by participants that the term ‘forced marriage’ as conceptualised now was limited and often did not express the range of experiences that women and men went through16 .

These experiences can include the threatened loss of connection and community. Anitha et al. highlight the coercive power of the ‘potential loss of family, and thus community’17. Ethnic minority women may have or perceive few options for social capital.

None of us exist in a vacuum and the reality is that for girls and women with few resources, obedience to parents and families coupled with social norms can make the concept of free will elusive. Girls and women in the South Asian community in Hong Kong may feel that they have limited options to resist a marriage when the alternative can be exclusion and isolation. If a woman were to reject a forced marriage, then she may lose her family and her community.

Globally, there is support for the idea that for young women maintaining familial and societal bonds is so important they may submit to marry as required.

Indeed, research on the marriage practices of South Asian women in the UK also indicates that the sanctions that underpin the dominant moral codes of their society are very apparent to the young women, and play a significant role in the exercise of their agency. As one woman said: ‘‘If a girl says

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no, it’s considered a bad thing’’, and ‘‘if you didn’t [go along with the marriage] there would be hell to pay from your parents and all your relatives18

...In this light, any test to determine whether or not coercion has taken place that focuses on the extent of the pressure (physical or emotional) that has actively been brought to bear on the victim might not reveal what Feinberg (1986) calls the ‘‘total burden of coercion’’ that the victim experiences. The ‘‘total burden’’ reflects the experiences of the individual, so that any decision about whether or not coercion has taken place is forced to acknowledge how pervasive, frightful, unwelcome and/or intense any pressure is, in order to determine whether or not the proposal coerces19

Myth 4: Forced marriage only happens to girls

Forced marriage can also happen to boys and men. This report did not have the opportunity to interview any Hong Kong men about their experience of forced marriage because The Zubin Foundation has not (yet) been confronted by this in Hong Kong. In the UK the evidence suggests the main reason for males being forced to marry20 is because marriage is seen as ‘an antidote’21 for homosexual behaviour. As noted by Samad:

Although oversimplification needs to be avoided, these fall into three broad categories. One category encompassed family and peer group pressure to ensure, for example, that land remained within the family, or that a carer was provided for a disabled family member. A second concerned sexuality and independent behaviour. For example, a forced marriage might be pursued in order to control unwanted behaviour, criminal activity, sexuality (particularly gay relationships) and ‘unsuitable’ heterosexual relationships. The third category concerned protecting family honour or long-standing family commitments and perceived cultural or religious ideals (Abigail, 2007)22

Additionally, families may see marriage for men who suffer from a disability as a way of providing support for their care23. This highlights another group who may be vulnerable to forced marriage, i.e. individuals with physical or mental disability. A family may have genuine concerns for the care of their child and decide that a spouse will either be able to provide financially or otherwise.

The concern in these cases, particularly if there is a mental disability, is whether the individual has the capacity to give a valid consent to the marriage. In addition, an individual with a disability may have even less access to resources and a greater dependence on the family. Their position may be more precarious and make them more vulnerable to the risks of coercion.

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Families of people with severe mental illness or intellectual disability may not see that the marriage they are organising is ‘forced’ because of cultural beliefs or lack of awareness of human rights in the UK. They may see themselves as protecting their children’s future care or financial requirements, building stronger family ties, upholding long-standing commitments, or protecting or preserving perceived cultural / religious ideals and traditions (often misguided)24 .

Myth 5: Forced marriage does not happen in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is not immune to forced marriage. The personal experiences shared by some of the women in their interviews highlight that forced marriage occurs in Hong Kong, to Hong Kong girls and women. These interviews also demonstrated that the coercion used by family members can range from emotional and psychological pressure to physical violence and confinement

In a guidebook prepared by The Chinese University of Hong Kong, it states that ‘forced marriage is the most common emanation of [honour-based violence] in Hong Kong’25. This concept of honour-based violence links the perpetuation of domestic violence with perceptions and beliefs about honour and shame. As expressed by Idriss:

While ‘honour’ is related to the chastity of women, it is also considered by the patriarchy to be far too important to be entrusted to women alone. This is an overt demonstration of patriarchy since it is centred upon controlling women’s sexual and reproductive powers by claiming the female body as ‘man’s territory’26

The attitudes and beliefs which inform these ideas about control, honour and shame do exist in Hong Kong. This may lead to milder forms of parental control over behaviour and opportunities. Although within the experience of the interviewees, some of them shared stories of physical abuse. Within the Pakistani community in Hong Kong, Lam found that:

Aysha’s parents tried to preserve what they know as Pakistani culture when they immigrated to Hong Kong. So, Aysha’s understanding of Pakistani culture was according to traditional Islamic concepts. However, when Aysha went to Pakistan for an extended stay, she realised that what her family taught her was not what was actually in Pakistan. Pakistani culture is not that traditional and not that Islamic27

The challenge of seeking to maintain connection with culture and tradition is a common theme in diasporas. As noted by one of the women in her interview, her family sought to impose what she considered to be foreign and outdated concepts in relation to her marriage. Research conducted in Hong Kong notes that:

They imagine the Islamic community through “long-distance nationalism.” This explains Pakistani families’ emphasis on Islam and “traditional Pakistani culture,” preserving it even better than people

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Improving

in Pakistan. They relate those Islamic practices and values to Pakistani ethnicity because it helps them form a sense of ethnic belonging and solidarity in Hong Kong not merely because they feel “homesick” but also their need for belonging (Erni & Leung, 2014). Pakistani immigrants’ life in Hong Kong constructs the style of “Pakistani culture” to my informants. So, Aysha felt distanced when she realised how Pakistan had changed. She wanted to uphold “traditional Pakistani culture” in her mind for her identity28 .

Myth 6: Forced Marriage only takes place within South Asian communities

Although this report focuses on the experience of Hong Kong women who are South Asian by ethnicity, not only is forced marriage an issue that occurs globally, it is also not limited to South Asian communities. As noted by Chantler et al. (2009)29 forced marriages in the UK, occur in other religious and ethnic minority communities, e.g. African, Middle Eastern, Latin American, Caucasian, Muslim, Eastern European, Albanian, Chinese, Jewish, Mormon, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Greek Orthodox.

Forced marriage also exists in China. Given the 'traditional practice of concubines and bride price in a normal marriage' some rural people have patriarchal views and 'a woman is still considered the property of her father before marriage and of her husband afterward'30 .

Examples of forced marriage in China from the archive demonstrate how women, with no right to refuse, are bought and sold to men for the purpose of marriage, most often in this typology by traffickers unknown to them, but also by members of their own family31 .

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Interview Findings

2.1 Introduction

The genesis of this report was a series of interviews with women who were married as young women. These women were generous with their time and were gracious to share their personal stories about marriage. They shared their perspective on what young women in Hong Kong experience as they transition from childhood to adulthood. These are Hong Kong stories.

In speaking with these women, it became clear that no story is the same. There is no singular experience and there is no one way in which these women frame their experiences. This section presents their stories as examples of the diversity experienced by young women in Hong Kong. The stories ranged from women who felt supported by their family and tradition and those who felt forced to marry against their expressed will. Some of the women are still married and some have left the relationship. Some expressed concerns and were heard, and some were ignored by their families.

The responses have been disaggregated to protect the identity of the individual women. Here are the perspectives of the women who were willing to share their personal experience and where possible in their own words.

2.2 What is the demographic composition of the group?

This is a group of women with dreams for their future. The Zubin Foundation invited seventeen women to participate in interviews. Some of the women were fearful that giving the interview would expose them to negative consequences. The interviews were conducted in person, on zoom, on the phone and in one case on social media chat. Of the eleven women interviewed for this section, there were some common characteristics:

● Children: Two of the women were married below 18 years of age. Five of the women were contracted to marry or engaged to be married as children and most were not informed until adolescence.

● Ethnicity: Ten of the women were of Pakistani ethnic origin and one was of Indian ethnic origin.

● Born in Hong Kong: Seven of the eleven women were born in Hong Kong and the remaining women arrived in Hong Kong as children.

● Education: Five of the women are currently attending tertiary education; five of the women have completed some level of tertiary education and one has partially completed secondary school.

● Family size: One woman had only one sibling; the other ten women had four or more siblings.

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● Mother’s education: Two of the women had mothers with no formal education; six women had mothers with primary education only; two women had mothers with secondary education only and one woman had a mother with tertiary education.

● Father’s education: One woman had a father with no formal education; four women’s fathers had primary education only; three women had fathers with secondary education only and three women had fathers with tertiary education.

● Parents consanguineous marriage: Six of the women had parents who were cousins and five had parents who were not related.

● Asked for marriage to be delayed: Eight of the women asked for the marriage to be delayed.

● Felt pressured to marry: Eight of the women felt pressured to marry.

● Felt forced to marry: Six of the women felt forced to marry.

● Emotional abuse: Six of the women described emotional abuse.

● Physical abuse: Two of the women described physical abuse.

● Related to husband: Six of the women were related to the chosen husband.

2.3 What are their views on early and forced marriage?

In general, the women were clear about the delineation in their view between an arranged marriage in which the consent of both parties is required and a forced marriage in which a person is coerced into marriage.

As one woman noted that she was:

‘Against forced marriage…in our religion it says a girl should have a say. If she agrees on marriage, then she should marry but if she says no then shouldn’t marry.’

In her view, early marriage means 10 or 11 years old. She is ‘super against that’ and noted that ‘in the past people had a different mentality’. She felt that at 17 she was ‘mature enough’ although she noted that ‘some girls may need more time to mature’.

Interviewees also differentiated between early and forced marriage. Early marriage typically refers to cases where the person is aged between 18 and 24, denoting someone who may still be in full-time education. Despite the experiences of some of the interviewees which included pressure, a few of them did not define their marriage as forced. This may be because although there was clearly strong pressure to marry by their parents, they did not see it that way. A young woman who is currently in tertiary education explained the difference for her between early and forced marriage and also her view that this practice of forced marriage no longer exists. In her opinion a woman is forced if she does not consent, and has less to do with any pressure she may have received to consent:

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‘For me early marriage and forced marriage are two different things. So long as it’s consensual it’s fine. But forced marriage I’m personally against as well. You shouldn’t be forced to marry at a certain age or with a specific person. You should have the freedom to choose when you want to get married or at least be asked about it. Early marriage, I’m not sure. For me, 21 is quite early. But then my parents asked me about it and after talking around and getting advice…and then we eventually decided to go for it.

For forced marriage I don’t think I heard it from any of my friends or relatives for years. When I was little, I would hear ‘she didn’t want to get married and her parents forced her’ but then now I don’t think I heard it for years.’

Another woman noted forced marriage is still happening although she said that ‘even though they are forced it can still be good’. She noted some girls are forced to marry much older men or when they are too young and this was ‘not right’. In her view her marriage at 23 was young for marriage in a Hong Kong context but she added that ‘23 is not early if it’s the right age’.

She also noted that early and forced marriage are different. In her view 18 is:

‘…not right – especially in Hong Kong [as] that means you are still in college, or you just graduated and that is too early for a Hong Kong person.’

Another young woman explained that in her opinion, 17 or 18 years old can be okay to marry, if the girl is ‘mentally capable of maintaining a relationship…are they physically and mentally prepared for that relationship’. However, she also advises girls ‘don’t quit everything and just go for marriage’.

This woman was able to communicate with her husband before marriage even though he is not a relative and she did not know him prior to the proposal. She explained that they were able to text each other to discuss what they wanted in their future life over the course of several months. This is rare for the interviewees most of whom had no direct or even indirect contact prior to the marriage ceremony with their husbands unless they had known them as children.

‘I just wish they would allow two people who if they want to spend their lives together to talk together to get to know about each other because the basic questions they want to know to remove the insecurities and stuff.’

As she further explained, after observing the older generation in her family having conflict and issues in their consanguineous marriages; she had concerns about marrying a family member. She described this as:

‘All of [my aunts] [my grandmother] got them married in such a hurry there’s always something about their partner – they’re not always really happy…it’s more like being compromised – compromising their life.’

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If she could speak freely to anyone, she said she would want to ask her grandmother:

‘Why are you rushing everything? Let the girls decide. They’re always saying my daughter never said ‘no’ to me…but I’m like this is our life – [do] you want us to be happy or not?’

She observed ‘it’s not really good to always listen to your parents…let the children consider’. As she explained it, she will ‘have to live this life’.

Another young woman explained, she strongly feels that:

‘Marriage is a big step…should be their own choice. People should never be forced to marry at an early age. You haven’t explored the world yet. Your whole life depends on that decision…hard to tell at an early age, hard enough to know yourself.

[girls] shouldn’t get pressured because this is a big decision. They should have the right to say yes or no. [there should be] no pressure from anywhere. For early marriage, I wouldn’t say it’s not good, as marriages I have seen have turned [out] in a good way. Just that forced marriage should stop…I have seen so many cases, he will make sure the girl marries him even if she doesn’t want to. No one gives priority to a girl’s decision. They could be developing their careers…people should listen to their daughters because it’s their whole life.’

A woman whose marriage had been arranged at 15, was told that her father in Pakistan was ill and that he was at risk if she did not return to Pakistan and complete the marriage when told to. When discussing early marriage, she commented:

‘I hate early marriages – hate, hate, hate it. If I can change one thing about my life I would be going back and telling my mother I don’t care who dies or who has the heart attack, whether it’s you or my father. I’m not going.’

There were also positive views on their marriage expressed by some of the women. In terms of her beliefs around marriage, one woman shared that she had always thought getting married earlier ‘actually is good’. She referenced that:

‘In our religion you’re not allowed to have boyfriends or stuff like that…so if you want to be married and if you know that you want to be married to this person then, why don’t you get married sooner so that you will avoid the bad?’

She also believes getting married at an earlier age means that ‘you have a bit more time to understand each other…you two are growing at the same time’. This woman was unusual for the high level of commitment from her parents to her education. Even after her marriage, they continue to support her and her young family to ensure that she can complete her education.

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For one woman who married at 17, she shared that her husband and father are both supportive of her education. She noted that:

‘It is usual in our country that men wouldn’t agree with girls studying. It is very unusual for a girl to continue studying after marriage. I feel very lucky that I can study and pursue my career.’

In family decisions, she said that everyone would give their opinion and then her father would make the decision.

Although in Hong Kong, one woman noted that, ‘in Hong Kong if you know your rights and you’re not using them it doesn’t make sense’. Although she also highlighted that that:

‘If you’re being forced and don’t want to get married then you say no, in some places your no isn’t worth anything.’

One woman who felt forced to marry noted that early marriage occurs when girls are ‘not prepared for it’ and are ‘handed over to men we don’t know’. She sees forced marriage as an ‘abuse of the rights of a person’ and a ‘loss of freedom and more’.

2.4 When did they know that a marriage was planned?

There is some variety in the experience of the women as to when they found out about the marital plans. Some of the women knew as children that a husband had been chosen for them. Typically, the women found out or were told from a young age that the engagement had already been concluded and then at a later stage this was confirmed to them as merely requiring their acquiescence. This accords with a view of forced marriage as a process which begins in childhood when the girls are contracted to marry at an early age (e.g. 9 or 10 years) and then informed as they approach the end of secondary school (e.g. 15 or 16 years) about the identity of their intended husband. The girls are acculturated to accept this and some of the women did not challenge that they were not consulted or asked to consent before the engagement.

There were few examples where the women were consulted as to their thoughts about the engagement, regardless of their age.

‘So, you know in my country once you’ve said yes then it’s over for you. I asked [my father] ‘did you ask me before you said yes?’ ‘Did you even seek my consent?’ and he said ‘why do I have to take your consent? I am your father’. I said this is my life. I am the one who is going to keep him. I’m the one who’s going to feed him. I’m the one who’s going to provide for him and bring him here [to live in Hong Kong]. I’m the one who’s going to sleep with him and have his kids.’

For example, one woman said that she had chosen her husband, however she also explained that her parents and the groom's parents had decided 'when [she] was small' that they would marry. It may well be

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that since she was a young child that she knew that her husband had been chosen for her and therefore growing up with this knowledge may have let her feel that this was her choice.

For another woman, at the time of the marriage contract, she thought of the marriage as a love marriage. Her mother had told her that she could not marry outside of the family, so she tried to find someone within the family. Her parents agreed to the marriage when she was 15.

‘I think I kind of experienced forced marriage because – there’s two steps – the contract and then going back to your husband’s house. I only did the first step. Then after one year I said a lot of times, I don’t want to marry this person. There were so many problems. I said I don’t want to take any more steps – at least I can complete my [education]. My mother said, ‘your father will have a heart attack’. [the interviewee married before completing her education].’

Unusually one of the women felt she was consulted prior to the marriage contract:

‘Even when he [her father] was getting me married – he asked me before that – he got my opinion first before committing to marriage.’

Although she did not refuse the marriage, she did not think there would have been consequences if she had said no.

‘Even if I [had] said no, I would have been convinced [by my father to marry the person chosen for me]. If I said no, it would have been a loss for me. At that time, we knew what our parents wanted for us – is the best for us. I knew this person [her husband was her cousin].’

Her faith in her parents’ choice is clear. As she notes, even if she had said no, she ‘would have been convinced’.

Sometimes parents present the husband they have chosen and then inform the girl that the only choice she has is whether she chooses to delay the wedding, usually to complete an educational stage. One woman was told by her father when she was 17 that she would be married to his friend.

“ ‘They asked me ‘we like this boy from this place of this man’s son, are you willing to get married?’. I said no. My mother said ‘you had better take him, otherwise you have no men left, and it’s not like the marriage is happening now. All girls are engaged by now, you’re the only one left’. They kept saying this over and over again, I was stressed.’

She was told by her father that it would just be an engagement and if she wanted to delay then the marriage would happen when she said she was ready.

“ ‘I only said yes because they pressured me into it. I was young and didn’t know what the consequences would be later. I thought when it’s time to actually get married, we’ll see.’

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As she notes, at 17 years old she didn’t know what the consequences of this decision would be. She had thought that there would be an option to refuse to marry, however as she learnt there was no option.

Another woman explained in relation to the marriage:

‘It’s something that was agreed upon when I was really young. In Pakistan there’s a tradition, your parents make these decisions for you. They choose the person. For me, I don’t mind them choosing, but you need to tell me how that [chosen] person is. If I know him or not. For me, he was a friend that I knew from childhood.

I was in Form 5 when I found out. I didn't hear it from my parents, I heard it from someone else and I was so shocked. I went to my parents and asked them…and then they explained. When I was 18 they told me…

I think I would really like it if they didn’t choose the person at such an early age, because you don’t know how the person will be when he grows up. How will he be as a man? You don’t know what he wants from his future? So, if you decide when he’s just 15 or 16 then you don’t really understand or know that person that deeply. So, for this situation, I hope that if they consider the person, even consider marriage, when me and my sisters are at least 18. They should stop talking when we are at a young age.’

2.5 How did they respond?

Delay was a common reaction from most of the women. One woman said that she had wanted to marry and that it was a long process. In the beginning she was not positive about the marriage proposal; however, she described her father as understanding. She explained to her parents:

“ ‘I’m studying something really [challenging]…they know it’s like a tough thing…so they wouldn’t force me… So, in a way I would make that as an excuse to tell them in a joking way – but some truth in it.’

As she explained it, requesting a delay because of education was a common tactic. Some women would try to negotiate for a delay to complete secondary or even tertiary education before completing the marriage.

2.6 What was the nature of the coercion?

Many of the women spoke about the challenge of being pressured by their immediate family to agree to the marriage:

‘At the time there was constant pressure. They informed all of my relatives and friends to convince me of the marriage. In our culture, in my family, they are really conservative. If I was married at a young age, I couldn’t even understand what was going on in my life…it is like forced marriage. They wanted me to marry at any cost. I tried to show and say to my parents that I was worried, and they tried to convince me in every possible way.’

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This woman explained that throughout her childhood, her mother was verbally abusive, and her father was both verbally and emotionally abusive. When she tried to convince her parents, they refused to listen, and she believes ‘they were worried I would become more capable and independent, and the fear was I wouldn’t listen to them’.

For some of the women, who had enjoyed a positive relationship with their father, the coercion was particularly heart-breaking as their trusted parent changed:

‘When it came to marriage, I don’t know what happened to him. He just changed to another person, so it was a big shock for me. It was heart-breaking. He was out of control. It wasn’t my father that I used to know because he would listen to us, listen to our mother – he would ask her opinion more than anyone. Then suddenly he would not listen – not even tiny.’

The women described being subject to emotional and psychological duress. Usually this was from parents, however it could also come from siblings and from extended family. One woman noted the pressure she was under from her extended family who repeatedly taunted her with her delay in marrying and making her father wait.

‘[I] was really glad that I had friends I could share stuff with…just to vent it out…because the stress inside building those things – the thoughts – what will happen? Oh my God –this leads to too much going on – and just makes you…like a robot...constantly one part is doing things.’

In addition, the impact on their siblings could be seen as adding to the coercive burden or giving them strength to resist. A woman noted that the hardest part for her about this situation was that she has younger sisters who witnessed everything. Her sisters said to her ‘if you don’t stand up, he will do the same with us’.

Although pressure applied to the women was typically emotional and psychological, some were also subjected to physical abuse and confinement to convince them to submit. According to one woman, her parents were not ‘extremely physical’ because she was working, and they were worried that someone would see marks on her. She was worried for her physical safety and moved out of the family home to escape the pressure and emotional abuse.

‘I ended up losing more than anything else. I ended up losing them, I ended up losing my parents. I ended up losing so much more than I could have imagined.’

For some girls, the dislocation from family is about survival. For one of the women after months of emotional and physical abuse, matters reached a crisis, and her father told her that ‘you either have to follow or are no more my daughter and you have to leave the home’. This young woman did leave the home and was able to support herself financially. There were many more discussions with her parents and at one stage she was confined in her own home in Hong Kong by the family and beaten overnight. The words of her father continue to impact her. She shared that he had on occasion told her that he wished she was dead or that it was ‘better to have a dog than a daughter like you. They will obey but not you’.

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Another woman who married at 16, had found out when she was in Form 3 that she was engaged to be married. Her older sister was already married, and she was to be married to the younger brother. Due to concerns from her brother-in-law about young people in Hong Kong being too rebellious, the decision was made by her parents that she would marry. She was under pressure from her mother and elder sister:

‘[My mum] said your elder sister is already there. We don’t want anything to happen to her…My mum tried to convince me. My dad was supportive because I was only in Form 4. Then they took us to Pakistan and got me and my elder sister married right away. I was forced. I wasn’t ready.’

As she notes, the duress was not only applied to her situation but also the risks for her sister were highlighted to her:

‘My sister was in his house. He had all the controls. He convinced my mum and then my dad, also my sister. My sister told me that if I don’t get married and now, she has to go to Pakistan with them, she would have a hard time.’

The application of pressure from extended family members and even the groom's family is a common theme amongst the women's experiences.

‘The woman who was the mother of the guy and the family members of the guy kept coming to ask me to marry him. Their son wants to go abroad…they don’t even question if I say no, they just want it to happen. They said that if the parents agree no one else can do anything.’

A common element of coercion is trickery. This can be in the form of using a trick to ensure a woman will travel to the family's country of origin or will return home. One woman explained that having lived apart from her family, at some stage her family told her that her father was ill and that she should go home to see him. When she arrived at the family home in Hong Kong, she was locked in a room for two days and the pressure escalated. She was able to escape when she came up with an excuse to leave the room and she took her chance and ran.

Sometime later her parents told her that they had accepted her decision. Due to her first marriage ending in divorce, she had to return to Pakistan to complete the divorce formalities and believing that things had calmed down she went with her family to Pakistan. She was able to find Pakistani lawyers to assist her with the divorce and was in contact with them.

At first everything was fine, however after a week, her father said she should give him her identity documents / passport for safekeeping. Later she realised her father was not going to return her identity documents. When she raised the need to return to work her parents escalated. They locked her up and abused her emotionally for a month and half and refused to take her to the doctor when she was unwell. Her health deteriorated, and yet she said:

‘I couldn’t even die. Because I didn’t want to die because I have a lot to live for and I don’t want to die because of them. They were of course wishing me death [because] it was better for me to die than for me not listening to them and marrying someone else not of their choosing.’

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During this time in Pakistan, her parents continued to prepare for the wedding. She decided she needed to escape and return to Hong Kong. With the assistance of third parties, she was able to return to Hong Kong. When asked about who these third parties were, she did not want to disclose this information as they remain in Pakistan and continue to assist girls and women.

One woman warned that it is difficult to help girls who are being pressured as their parents will take their daughters out of Hong Kong for various reasons:

‘Then they pretend to be some kind of characters. ‘Father is unwell’ [or] ‘or mother is dying’. We need to do this. They know marriage without the daughter’s consent is invalid in Islam. So, they make the daughter say somehow ‘yes’.

Financial reasons can also lead to marriages earlier than the girls wish. One woman was expecting to marry one year later in line with the completion of her studies, however her parents asked her if she would marry a year early.

‘I have a lot of siblings. My parents were like ‘we cannot afford to have you married one by one, so it was like, it’s going to cost a lot. They asked me because my sister was getting married, if it’s okay to move the date from next year to this year instead…at first, I was confused because I’m studying, and I was like will that affect my studies?’

She did consider saying no due to her shock at the changed date. However, she noted that she discussed this with her father and eventually agreed to marry earlier than planned.

2.7 Why do the interviewees believe forced marriage happens?

Many of the women referred to tradition and custom in marriage as opposed to religion. The women agreed that their religion required consent from both parties. However, custom was seen as having very different standards. As one woman said that she didn’t agree with her parents who had brought her ‘to a foreign country and [brought] their own rules to this place from [their] hometown’.

One woman whose parents attempted to force her into marriage through emotional, psychological, and physical abuse, felt that her ‘parents [were] being forced by elders but parents don’t realise the damage they’re doing’. Her observation is that:

‘It’s about the system they created, and they wanted us to grow up in the system they created. I do think they were very afraid that the biggest reason is because [children] will go out of control but some people have hopes and dreams…other kids want to party and…then get married and have a traditional life. We were like no, we want to get out of poverty, and we wanted to create a different lifestyle and we wanted to give our parents a better life than we had…even today we still hope to bring them out of that whole poverty lifestyle.’

Her hope is that eventually her parents will understand that her resistance was not due to her being irresponsible or badly behaved, instead she wished for an education and career that would lift her and her parents out of poverty.

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For a woman who was required to marry a friend of her father’s:

‘It felt strange to marry somebody who I didn’t know. My parents had told me about this person, but he had no education, unstable job and I wasn’t in love with him.’

She feels that her father:

‘Thought he was agreeing to his elders’ ideas about the boy and was happy to make others happy by ‘giving’ his daughter…[but] isn’t it natural to love your own children more than other [people’s] kids? He also knew I was the weak one emotionally, my sisters were not put up for this – only I was.’

Many of the women referenced traditional views of obedience to parents and in particular, fathers. One woman sought to explain to her father her thoughts:

‘What I believe – what is my faith – our religion doesn’t support that and no matter –early, or you’re an adult, you shouldn’t force anyone to get married.’

However, she said that her father responded that this was not about religion anymore, ‘it’s about our Pakistani culture, so we need to follow’. She acknowledged that she feels her father was as shocked as she was by his attitudes and behaviour. Their relationship had previously been supportive, and she acknowledges that it seemed as if even he could not understand his own reactions. She tried to explain to her father:

‘I cannot [marry]. I cannot risk my life. It’s about 40/50 years. If I have children with him, I need to make sure he will be a good father like you…I don’t want you to do this sin. I rather that God hates me [because] I disobey you, but I don’t want him…there will be a judgement day and you will say it’s a sin – why did you do that to your own daughter? I don’t want to see that day.’

She tried to compare her experience of being forced to her father’s experience as he had not chosen who to marry, however this made matters worse. The situation became extreme, and she attempted suicide twice.

‘I don’t want him to commit the sin, I don’t want people to look down on him. So, I think my dying will make his honour. Keep his honour then why not? I don’t want to give up on my life partner option. So, this will be better.’’

Her situation worsened after the attempts. She withdrew from her family and Hong Kong, although she has since returned. She continued to seek news and connection about her family. Her parents decided that her sister would marry the man chosen for her.

Although she had misgivings about the man, she decided not to say anything to her sister. Sadly, this marriage was abusive, and her sister faced a difficult time. By this stage her father had relented and was speaking with her. Her father’s instinct was to arrange a divorce for her sister; however, she asked him to support her sister:

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Improving

‘Please don’t do the same mistake. I know you want to support her [the sister] but if she wants to get divorced, then you support her. But don’t make the decision for her.’

Another woman who was interviewed, she explained that:

‘They wanted to get rid of me so they wouldn’t have to spend money on me or my education. They wanted to concentrate on my brother. They saw it as they had finished their responsibility to me, and it was better she goes to her own home and is her husband’s responsibility.’

She spoke of her dreams as a very academic child. However, she explained that ‘my voice was never heard by my parents’.

2.8 What sustains them?

These women are extraordinary. Their capacity for understanding and forgiveness is exemplary. For some they were clear that their faith has sustained them. As one woman explained she sought guidance from Allah and in prayer to endure the pressure and to sustain herself.

As one woman who was held in Pakistan for a month and a half and subjected to emotional and physical abuse explained:

‘I’d rather be on my own and go through this on my own … because I was dying everyday with their words. I was having panic attacks, and I knew I will be dying. I said I’d rather die on my own than to die with them. Tomorrow God will question me [and say] ‘I gave you so many options, so many paths, you still didn’t take action’.’

Her faith in Allah meant that she believed she needed to resist forced marriage. For some this faith leads them to choose committing the sin of disobedience and even suicide rather than for their parents to sin by forcing them into marriage. She was also sustained by the reality of having younger sisters. Their potential future plight reinforced her will to reject the marriage. Knowing that if she gave in and consented that they would also be required to marry, perhaps against their will, strengthened her resolve.

For one young woman who was forced into marriage when she was 16, she made the decision to run away. On her return to Hong Kong from Pakistan after the marriage, her husband’s family wanted her to apply for a visa for her husband, however this did not happen as she had run away. She acknowledges if she had applied for the visa, ‘life would have been different’.

She was ‘scared about the consequences’ however she had help from her mother and younger sister to stay away from her extended family member who was trying to enforce the marriage. According to her ‘they were searching for me everywhere’.

She noted the help and support she received from the Hong Kong Police. She said the Police told her to go somewhere safe while they arranged a shelter and a social worker. Within the week she had moved into a

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shelter and had a social worker assisting her. Despite this assistance, she noted that life in the shelter was ‘not easy’ as there was no ‘privacy’ and it was very lonely and difficult. At the age of 16 she was isolated from her family, her home, her community and her school environment.

Unusually in this case the pressure was not coming from her parents but from her husband’s family and this was echoed by the community who also made this difficult for her and her parents. After she ran away, she emphasised the importance of the support she felt from her mother and father.

“ So many people were pointing fingers. That’s why I had to stop studying…in our own society so many people were pointing fingers at me…even in my school… [my parents] fought with everyone to forgive me – all they wanted was for me to be happy.’

2.9 What would they wish to say to their families?

This question elicited strong responses from some of the women. For the young woman who had managed to escape being held in Pakistan, she wanted to ask her parents:

‘Why did you do this to me? I was always there whenever you needed me – physically, psychologically, financially I was the one who was providing for you. Why me? I think there’s also a lack of understanding between their mindset and my mindset. They always keep telling me your choice is wrong. So, if my choice is invalid, what about my feelings? If I ever get the chance to sit down and tell them, I will apologise. Maybe my steps are wrong, but I just had no options. I just choose myself over them.’

Reflecting on her own experience in marriage, one woman said:

‘Some things the mother has to teach their own child. Because they will be very harsh on their wives. I can’t change the things that are already there. What can I change? I can change my kids or focus on him [my husband]. I rather focus on my kids than focus on him. Some things – sometimes I just cry. I am doing so many things at the same time. Sometimes I really want to get good sleep, and no one touches me during sleep. No one wakes me up…I just want a break.’

For this woman, she has struggled to complete her tertiary education after being convinced to marry early due to family illness. She was told that a senior family member was ill, and that the marriage had to happen earlier so that they could be present.

For a woman who felt forced to marry, she explained that when she married, she experienced lots of changes and was disturbed.

‘I couldn’t sleep for a year. I was engaged for a year because my husband wasn’t ready. That year was very tough thinking about how will I adjust to this person? It took me almost 6-8 years to get him to understand. Since he came to Hong Kong, I’ve seen many changes in him. By seeing the environment, he’s really changed.’

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However, she still feels that her voice and her thoughts and feelings were never heard or acknowledged by her parents.

For a young woman who married at 17, if she could speak freely to her father, in relation to her sisters, she would like to say:

‘They need to be more broadminded and think more faraway. They should look for a good match. Sometimes parents are committed from a very early age. Not in our family, I am glad my father is different from others…in my family we think we should marry amongst our cousins and if there is a future problem then the elders can help. My father thinks his family is best…even my mother’s relatives has good guys.’

Her wish is that her father could expand the circle of possible grooms outside his own nephews to those of her mother’s side of the family.

2.10 What advice would they give to someone who is being pressured to marry?

The personal experiences of each woman influenced the advice she thought would be helpful to other women who are being pressured to marry. For a woman who was financially independent and had been able to resist the marriage, she focused on personal responsibility:

‘I would really tell them that everyone is responsible for their own decision – so let them [your daughters] make their own decision...first try to convince your parents and explain...and if no, then you need to make a decision for yourself…I cannot tell you – I’m here for any decision you make, but I won’t make a decision for you.’

Another woman whose parents and husband are supportive of her education, highlighted rights. For girls who are being pressured to marry, she advised them to ‘hold up your rights…don’t just let them go’. She gave examples of women who are married not being given money by their husbands for themselves, ‘that is their right to have some earning from the husband for themselves’ and if they are being beaten, they should use their rights.

In terms of advice for someone who is being pressured into a forced marriage, one young woman had several ideas about how to approach this.

● ‘Writing it down can help you to construct thoughts and in a spiritual way talk to God, to Allah, he listens. Use this private reflection… to construct [your] thoughts.’

● ‘When you grow older you know how to communicate with [your parents], you know your parents more than they know us.’

● ‘Go talk to your parents in a manner that they don’t think you are opposing them, but you’re telling them the all the stuff – pros and cons…let your parents know you are mature enough, like what you’re saying is true because if you say things in anger, they just think you’re being disrespectful.’

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Improving

● ‘Sometimes parents are stuck in their culture bubble, you have to break through that. It’s really hard.’

● ‘It’s not easy to change people’s mindset…so you have to try and buy time. Through your daily [behaviour] show them that you have a lot to do in your life…why you don’t want to be forced.’

● ‘It may be necessary to convince your mum and then your mum can convince your dad. You can convince someone even if your dad is forcing you – then ask someone who is close to him to convince him. Someone he will listen to. You have to find a loophole…like in a patriarchal family, the dad will listen to the son.’

For a young woman whose marriage was accelerated, her advice to someone who is being pressured to marry is:

‘Don’t get married early – enjoy your life. Because…if you get a child, it’s hard to travel or pursue studies. When my [child] was born, I couldn’t take holidays from college and…it was a struggle to take the exams.’

If she hadn’t married, she had planned to complete her further education and establish a career and then to marry. If her family member had not been ill and accelerated the plans, then she would have been able to complete these plans. Further, she said that if a girl doesn’t want to marry then:

“ ‘I would suggest a girl should talk to their parents and see what they can do for her. She should stand up for herself, try to convince them to not ask her to marry.’

Another woman who had been able to establish her financial independence had thoughts about what a young person who is being pressured should consider:

‘You need to evaluate a few things in your life. Are you financially stable? If not, what are you willing to do to be able to become financially stable? Number two, do you have someone who you can trust that you can speak to? That better not be family members...I would highly recommend social workers – go to the hospital. Number three if you’re willing to leave your parents do you have a safe place to go? But are they mentally strong enough to take responsibility for their actions? Because a lot of times…people cannot come out of this bad relationship or bad environment and after some time they start missing their family and they go back…I think you have to realise –are you mentally strong enough? And once you’re strong enough you need to be strong. No matter what they do, don’t go back.’

If someone is being pressured to marry, a young woman who ran away at 16 years old advises them:

‘Don’t get married under pressure. At the end of the day, it won’t come with a good result. If you are forced, then mentally you’re not ready – run away please.’

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Not all the women were able to provide advice to another person. When asked if there was any advice, she would give to someone who is being pressured, one woman responded:

‘I can’t think about this. I could never handle this question. I’m not sure how people handle this. Some parents might understand and support their children. Not sure how many parents in reality do that. Communication is the key. I was abused so was never able to do so.’

For a young woman who saw her marriage in a positive light, she said:

‘If it’s a good match, then don’t lose this chance. If not the right person, not a good guy, then try to convince the parents because no-one else can do that. Parents want the best for their children. If being pressured there may be a reason behind that. Talk to your husband before marrying if you want to continue studying, he might support you… the mentality is changing, some girls want to make their career and marriage is the last priority.’

She reiterated her parents had made a good decision for her and in her case, her parents thought about the type of person that would suit her and then selected one of her father’s nephews. As noted by her, if a girl has concerns about being able to continue studying then she should speak to her future husband. Although this ability to communicate freely prior to marriage was unusual amongst the women interviewed; and there was no advice if the future husband was negative about a woman’s need to complete her education.

For someone who is being pressured to marry, another woman suggested:

‘I think the first advice is to talk to your parents. Because they are the person who [kind of like] decides for you. They are the people you can consult. If they’re pressuring you to get married, then talk to them about your perspective, why you don’t want to get married. You don’t just say no, I’m not doing it. You have to tell them your perspective and tell them you understand their perspective as well. That you hope they listen to you as well as to what you want to do…if you feel like they’re not listening to you then talk to someone who is elder in the family. Because if they’re not listening, you can talk to your grandparents because they may have different views, or they may be able to talk to your parents and explain what you want.’

Another woman referenced Islam in her thoughts for anyone who is being pressured to marry, she advised:

‘I would tell them to receive help from the government if they are in Hong Kong. If they are outside Hong Kong, forced marriages are not even legal for a Muslim man or woman. In Islam, if a person is forced into marriage, the nikkah [the marriage contract] is not accepted by God. They are legally not allowed to live with each other. In Islam, consent between two people is very important. So, whatever the parents say makes no difference, and if they threaten to kill, we might as well just die.’

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2.11 What do they wish for their own daughters in relation to marriage?

This query led to interesting conversations. Although framed as what would they wish for their own daughters in relation to marriage, several of the women reframed the question as what they would wish for their children, including their sons.

Some had simple wishes for their daughters:

‘I only wish for her to be happy. I would never give her away for the sake of an elder or any other reasons. She has the right to choose. And if after choosing it doesn’t work out well, I will never close my doors on her. She’s welcome to come back to me.’

For her own children, another woman expects that:

‘I would really like to be more open. Let her decide when she wants to do it. For me because of the financial situation there was the timing. For my daughter I will be more financially independent, and I will let her decide. And I will let her choose the person as long as we can talk about who the person really is – is he suitable or not. I think I’ll be more open towards that.’

A young woman whose parents arranged her marriage, expressed that:

‘When the right age, we will get her married to a good match. Arranged marriages are the best for me. My peers don’t have arranged marriages. Before that we have a long time to complete her secondary education and then after that arrange her marriage.’

For her own daughters, another woman says that:

‘She can choose her own husband and make her own life decisions. Don’t give too much importance to marriage. Should be her sole decision. She should focus on her career. If living independently happily on her own then, if mentally and physically [ready] then she can be happy to marry.’

Tradition remains strong. If she had a daughter, one woman said her daughter ‘can choose when to get married and who to marry’. She noted that she had not discussed this with her husband, however:

‘I will wish that she can have her own choice and he should be a good person and from our own side, like from – related – from the family.’

If she had a daughter, a young woman who felt supported by her family said that she would let her daughter choose a partner for herself but that it was important that her daughter ‘choose the right one’. She saw this as her responsibility as a parent to ‘show them what is right’. Her advice would be to have qualifications so that you can always work and that:

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Improving

‘If you don’t have qualifications and you want to work and some bad times come and then you want to work you won’t have any choice.’

For the young woman who experienced emotional and physical abuse, she will tell her daughters:

‘I want her to be confident...happy in marriage because I cannot do anything. If she’s happy then she’s happy. If not, then make your own decisions.’

For those who expressed wishes for all their children, the wish can be simple. For her own children, a woman wished that they would ‘enjoy their life, marry a nice person, be educated and independent’. However, for a young woman who was pressured due to family illness to marry earlier than she wished her thoughts were clear:

‘I need a bachelor’s degree and two years of income in a bank account. Don’t care where the money goes…for every kid it’s the same two years income and a bachelor’s degree. As long as I have two years of bank statements and a bachelor’s degree then you can marry. For boys…when you’re able to say sorry to your wife without any reason then you’re good to marry. Because if you can’t afford a wife, do not get a wife.’

For another young woman who was pressured and suffered emotional and physical abuse from her family, her priorities for her children were expressed as follows:

‘My number one rule is always to have an open gate for my kids to come to me. Whatever conversation they’re having because I want them to tell me what’s going on rather than tell someone else.

And when it comes to marriage, they’re more than welcome to tell me their choice and if they don’t have a choice, I’ll help look for one, but their choice is my number one priority. It’s my duty to tell them, he’s wrong or right for them, but even after whatever I say they still want to marry him then they’re more than welcome to go ahead because you’re responsible for your own choices.

I should be the first person they should listen to and speak to. I have some parents who are doing this and they’re South Asian as well. I promise you their kids are so... such a beautiful relationship with their father and I want the same thing as well, whether I like it or not.’

For her own children in future, a woman who was pressured to marry said that she would want the best for them regardless of whether they are boys or girls. She said that what is important is to:

‘Build the trust. I wouldn’t force anything on my children because of this pressure or stress, it really eats you. I don’t want that for anyone.’

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2.12 Common Themes

Improving

Most of the women are Hong Kong born with the remainder arriving in Hong Kong as children. Whilst growing up in their family culture, these women have also attended Hong Kong schools and grown up in a different cultural environment i.e. Hong Kong, to that of most of their parents i.e. Pakistan.

Chart 5: Family Characteristics

A few of the women noted that there was a generational gap between the way their parents interpreted culture and their views. One gap some of the women commented on is that young South Asian people are delaying marriage or arranged love marriages or being an active participant in their arranged marriage. These changes in communities in countries of origin may not be reflected in the community in Hong Kong.

One commonality for this group was that these young women have hopes for their future education and career. Most of the women were in tertiary education and had plans to work or were already working outside the home. Some of them noted the difference in their experience from their mothers’ experiences in which education and work outside the home was not an option. One noted that her mother was supportive of her children’s education, specifically because she had no formal education herself and did not want her children to struggle as she had.

The importance of their personal educational goals was apparent as eight of the women asked for the marriage to be delayed, to enable them to complete a part of their education. In many cases these requests were not accepted by the parents and the women felt pressured to marry and then in some cases, the pressure escalated to being forced to marry. The concern for all these women was that if they married, then they would not be able to complete their education: either because their new husband would not allow this or because they would be pregnant and unable to complete their education.

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Six of the women described emotional abuse and two described physical abuse. In some cases, the women explained that their parents were worried that if they injured their daughter physically in Hong Kong, this physical abuse would be obvious (through bruises or cuts) and therefore they restrained themselves or limited the physical abuse to areas which cannot be easily seen in public. In addition, some of the women described being held hostage in Hong Kong against their will and being prevented from leaving their family home or even their own flat until they agreed to the marriage. Two of the women were locked in rooms in Hong Kong, one in the family flat and one in her own flat.

The descriptions of emotional and physical abuse were told without rancour or bitterness. It was as if the women anticipated that this may be the reaction to their refusals and resistance. None of the women expressed ill-feeling towards their parents, even for their part in the abuse.

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Chart 6: Education

All the women of Pakistani ethnic origin were practising Muslims and expressed their awareness of the potential for them to be seen as disobedient to their parents, which is a severe sin in Islam. For some of the women, their religion proved to be a source of strength to continue to resist. In the case of one young woman, at a moment of despair, she felt that her prayers were answered and that she was guided to resist the marriage.

The overwhelming sense I received from speaking with these women was of their resilience and their sense of self-belief. These are extraordinary women. Rather than focus on the wrongs that occurred, their focus was on the future and their belief in their ability to make a better future through their own efforts. For women who could be seen as victims, as a group they were all working to fulfil their own potential and exercise agency.

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Chart 7: Women’s Experiences of Pressure and Coercion

Context

3.1 What is the global context?

UNICEF estimates that 640 million girls and women alive today were married in childhood32. A child marriage is a forced marriage (United Nations33).

To end the practice globally, progress must be significantly accelerated and sustained. Without further acceleration, more than 120 million additional girls will marry before their 18th birthday by 203034

In 2015, the Human Rights Council of the United Nations recognised that:

…child, early and forced marriage constitutes a violation, abuse or impairment of human rights and a harmful practice that prevents individuals from living their lives free from all forms of violence, and that it has wide-ranging and adverse consequences for the enjoyment of human rights, such as the right to education and the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual and reproductive health35

There is an overarching international architecture of treaties and conventions which seek to give legal weight to human rights and obligations for states to act and protect these rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) (“UDHR”) provides that ‘marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses’36. The UDHR is supported by two further instruments - the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which together constitute part of the International Bill of Human Rights37 .

The ICCPR echoes the UDHR and notes that:

No marriage shall be entered into without the full and free consent of the intending spouses38

This right was further clarified specifically in relation to women in the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (“CEDAW”):

1. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations and in particular shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women:

(e) The same rights to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children

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and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights;39

The United Nations has adopted the definition of gender-based violence (“GBV”) issues by the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (a humanitarian coordination forum within the UN):

[GBV] is an umbrella term for any harmful act that is perpetrated against a person’s will and that is based on socially ascribed (i.e. gender) differences between males and females. It includes acts that inflict physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion, and other deprivation of liberty. These acts can occur in public or private40

The IASC includes forced marriage and early marriage as forms of GBV41. Further, given that forced marriage may also impact boys and men, the IASC notes that some have used GBV to designate forms of violence ‘with the explicit purpose of reinforcing prevailing gender-inequitable norms of masculinity and/or norms of gender identity’42 .

In 2015, the United Nations released Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including SDG 5, which seeks to ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’43. All 193-member countries signed the SDGs44. The SDGs are intended to provide a roadmap for addressing various inequalities.

5.1 End all forms of discrimination against women and girls everywhere.

5.2 Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation.

5.3 Eliminate all harmful practices such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation45

The progress on the goals been slow and the United Nations notes that:

At the current rate, it will take an estimated 300 years to end child marriage, 286 years to close gaps in legal protection and remove discriminatory laws…

…worldwide, nearly half of married women lack decision-making power over their sexual and reproductive health and rights. 35 per cent of women between 15-49 years of age have experienced physical and/ or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence46

Progress towards SDG5 and especially forced marriage, is not moving quickly enough to realistically be able to achieve the SDGs by 2030 and further:

Target 5.1: Based on data collected in 2022 in 119 countries, 55% of the countries lacked laws that prohibit direct and indirect discrimination against women; …60% of the countries failed to have laws

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defining rape based on the principle of consent; …almost a quarter of countries did not grant women equal rights with men to enter into marriage and initiate divorce; and close to threequarters of countries failed to stipulate 18 years as the minimum age of marriage for women and men, with no exceptions.

Target 5.3: One in five young women worldwide (19%) were married in childhood in 2022. Globally, the prevalence of child marriage has declined from 21% in 2016. However, the profound effects of COVID-19 are threatening this progress, with up to 10 million additional girls at risk of child marriage over the course of a decade from the onset of the pandemic47

3.2 What is the Hong Kong demographic context?

Forced marriage can happen in any country and within any ethnicity, however as this report focuses on the experience of the South Asian community in Hong Kong that is the demographic focus of this report.

In Hong Kong, the census conducted in 2021 (the "2021 Census") showed that ethnic minorities (i.e. not identifying as Chinese) constitute 8.4% (619,568 people) of the total population of which 101,969 people were South Asians (i.e. Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalese, Bangladeshis, and Sri-Lankans) 48. In relation to South Asians as an ethnic group49:

● 34.7% over the age of 5 were able to speak Cantonese.

● 39.2% had post-secondary education.

● 78.7% of the male population / 55.2% of the female population was participating in the labour force.

● The median monthly income from employment for males was HKD 21,810 and for females was HKD 13,000.

The number of South Asians in Hong Kong had increased from 65,621 in 2011 to the latest census numbers of 101,96950. In the period from 2011 to 2021, the three largest groups of South Asians51:

● the Indian population increased from 28,616 to 42,569

● the Nepalese population increased from 16,518 to 29,701

● the Pakistani population increased from 18,042 to 24,385

In terms of educational attainment, the 2021 Census showed that for people aged 15 years or above52:

● 2.5% of Indians had no schooling or only pre-primary / 4.5% had completed primary / 8.7% had completed lower-secondary / 26.2% had completed upper secondary / 58.1% had completed post-secondary

● 7.2% of Nepalese had no schooling or only pre-primary / 8.7% had completed primary / 12.2% had completed lower-secondary / 49.6% had completed upper secondary / 22.2% had completed post-secondary

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● 8.8% of Pakistanis had no schooling or only pre-primary / 14% had completed primary / 13.4% had completed lower-secondary / 38.7% had completed upper secondary / 25.1% had completed post-secondary

3.3 What is the Hong Kong social / cultural context?

The latest statistics from the 2021 Census which showed that South Asian ethnic minorities had more limited Cantonese language ability, less labour participation and lower levels of educational attainment, are consistent with the picture drawn by research previously conducted by The Zubin Foundation in partnership with Plan International Hong Kong and the CCPL (the “Dreams Report”)53. The Dreams Report highlighted some of the challenges for the Pakistani and Nepalese community in particular in Hong Kong54:

● Relatively higher rate of unemployment

● Poor educational attainment and low skills set

● Direct or indirect racial discrimination

● Lack of proficiency in Chinese language skills

● Pakistani women only comprised 19.0% of the labour force and their participation declines as their age increases which is likely due to the significant number who are housewives55

As summarised by the Dreams Report, the context for Pakistani children in Hong Kong includes:

● ‘live in large, single-income households where mothers tend to be housewives’56

● ‘given the prevalence of early engagement and marriage among Pakistani girls, education beyond Form 4 or 5 is typically constrained, with prospects for university education being virtually non-existent for most’57

● ‘Pakistani children are conditioned to believe and accept that their parents will choose their spouses’… ‘for the girls, it was very important that their partners would allow them to work after marriage’58

The Dreams Report described ‘a fairly limited role for Pakistani children to choose their life partners’ with variation in different families59. This reflects the experience shared by most of the interviewees in this report. Further, the Dreams Report expressed that although a young person may be asked to consent to the marriage, some said ‘that there was only an illusion of consent’60 . The consequences of rejecting a proposal were seen as bringing disgrace onto the family and even long-term disputes61

If the marriage proceeds, the Dreams Report highlighted some of the challenges:

[For] Pakistani girls in Hong Kong marrying Pakistani men from Pakistan…the level of orthodoxy will depend where in Pakistan the husband comes from, city or village. Likewise, when a Hong Kong Pakistani male marries a woman from Pakistan…however, typically, values of the male head of household tend to prevail62

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These findings are consistent with the views and concerns of most of the interviewees in the narrative section of this report.

RainLily conducted research in 2018 to consider the experience of South Asian girls in Hong Kong in relation to gender-based violence (“GBV”) (the "RainLily Survey")63. The RainLily Survey conducted research amongst three ethnic minority groups, Indian, Nepalese and Pakistani64 which found that

● '85.1% of the respondents had experienced one or more circumstances of GBV (i.e. GBV refers to any harmful act that is done against a person’s will and that is based on socially ascribed gender differences between males and females)'65

● 'most of the respondents did not have a strong view on whether arranged marriage was a kind of GBV or not' although RainLily notes that the concept of consent is complicated66

● 'only 53% of the respondents had asked someone for help'67 after experiencing GBV

As explained by RainLily, in relation to marriage:

People's choices are limited by structural, social or cultural constraints. It may not be easy for a girl to negotiate with their parents, as disobedience would result in social sanction and pressure. There may be a lack of social support for a girl to take an alternative choice68

It is also notable that for young people from ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, this struggle to establish and maintain an identity is one they share with the older generations. Elders may have come to Hong Kong as adults and feel a dislocation from the society they live within and the memories from home.

3.4 What is the Hong Kong legal context?

China is a signatory to various international treaties which apply to Hong Kong69, including:

● UNDR

● ICCPR

● CEDAW

● Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages (1962)

In Hong Kong there is no specific offence of forced marriage. The basic element of a forced marriage, i.e. the absence of consent, is contained in the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance (Cap. 383) which implements the ICCPR and provides that:

Article 19(3)

No marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses70

This statement provides that for anyone in Hong Kong, they have the right to give free and full consent to a marriage, however ensuring this right is protected is more challenging. The elements of duress and coercion

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which overwhelm the consent of the relevant person may include:

● Emotional and psychological abuse.

● Harassment.

● Financial abuse – restriction of access to money.

● Physical abuse which can include physical and sexual abuse.

● Confining someone against their will.

The behaviour relating to physical / sexual abuse and forcible detention may fall within existing criminal offences under the Offences against the Person Ordinance (Cap. 212) or the Crimes Ordinance (Cap. 200). If the confinement does not constitute forcible detention (s. 42 Offences against the Person Ordinance Cap. 212) then it may still constitute the common law offence of false imprisonment in which someone unlawfully restrains another’s freedom of movement71 .

In addition, in Hong Kong it is possible to seek civil remedies if someone has been molested by a relative which could include an injunction from the court to restrain an offender from using violence against the applicant or to exclude an offender from a designated property under the Domestic and Cohabitation Relationships Violence Ordinance (Cap. 189)72. The injunction granted can:73

● restrain a person from using violence against the person applying for protection or exclude the offender from a certain area, and

● include a power of arrest can be attached to the injunction which means that the police can arrest the offender if they are in breach of the injunction.

As noted in P v C:

…molestation may take place without the threat or use of physical violence and still be serious and inimical to mental and physical health…it applies to any conduct which can properly be described as such a degree of harassment as to call for the intervention of the court…molest is a wide, plain word which I would be reluctant to define or paraphrase. In addition, there usually has to be a form of intent. Harassment, it has to be said, of course, includes within it an element of intent, intent to cause distress or harm74

The other action which is often a component of forced marriage is transporting people out of Hong Kong to the country where the marriage will occur. For minors (i.e. under the age of 18), it may be possible for the Social Welfare Department to make an order to prevent the removal of a child from Hong Kong.

For adults who are being transported for the purposes of marriage, they may be subject to duress or deception e.g. the trip is for a relative’s wedding. There is no specific legal provision which addresses the transportation of adults.

The provisions above deal primarily with the situation prior to the marriage occurring. Once the marriage has occurred, the focus becomes exit from the marriage. In Hong Kong, a lack of valid consent is a ground for annulment of the marriage, ‘whether that is due to duress, mistake, unsoundness of mind or otherwise’75 .

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Although the annulment provision exists it has been difficult in practice for parties to seek annulment on this ground if the marriage was officiated as a Muslim marriage as the Hong Kong court’s jurisdiction is limited to monogamous marriages76. The view was that Muslim marriages were potentially polygamous and therefore the Hong Kong court did not have jurisdiction77

In the recent reported case of RM v AY78, the Hong Kong court accepted jurisdiction to annul the marriage in 2023. Further the judge accepted the petitioner’s evidence of the coercion and duress which forced her to marry. As the judge noted:

I accept [her] evidence and find her credible…I also accept that her fear has pervaded from the time when this assault took place…until the time of the wedding…I also accept that she has lived in fear of continuous violence from her father79

There are some protections available to people being forced to marry, however, none of these routes is easy. Each path requires courage and determination from the person seeking protection from being forced to marry or in securing an exit from the forced marriage.

3.5 Why do forced marriages continue to occur?

As with any practice, forced marriages continue because they continue to meet specific needs. These can range from:

● ‘cultural codes designed to maintain hierarchies of power, pool resources and direct wealth’80. This may mean an endogamous marriage i.e. ‘keeping family property (land)…Islam provides woman right to inherit property from her father so in feudal families they prefer to cousin marriages or marriage in the close family member, in this way the property will remain in the family custody and will not alienate out of the family’81

● ‘maintaining values of personal and family honour’82 which may relate to seeking to control the behaviour of young people and prevent them from dishonouring the family e.g. inappropriate sexual relationships / behaviour. ‘The idea concerning honour (izat) of a man is connected to the sexual conduct of a woman. Her sexuality is viewed as an expected danger to family’s honour’83 .

● Poverty, for example girls may be seen as an economic burden to the family ‘in some tribes and territories, making expenses on girls is deemed useless because ultimately they would be married away to live and work for some other household…such mindset believes that girls are economic burden’84 and it has been shown that ‘where poverty is acute, there is a higher risk of child marriage…[and] dowry also serves as an incentive for poor families’85

● seeking to provide financial or other support for a person with a disability.

● a ‘strategy to culturally rejuvenate children brought up’ outside the desired culture86

● providing immigration opportunities for the spouse to come to Hong Kong or another country e.g. in the UK, one study found that ‘about a third of the women and men who contacted [the Forced

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Marriage Unit] were ‘reluctant sponsors’ who had been forced into a marriage abroad and were being made to sign sponsorship forms for their new spouse’s visa’87

● a servile marriage where the spouse is intended to provide labour for the family and the marriage is a pretext.

● forced conversions, for example, in Pakistan young girls and women from religious minorities have been abducted, forcibly converted to Islam and married to their abductors88 .

● a campaign of sexual violence as part of an armed conflict89

In Hong Kong, based on the interviews the motivations for forced marriages were typically limited to three main reasons:

● Firstly, women were told that they needed to obey their parents or family’s wishes as this accorded with cultural beliefs about honour and obedience. The resistance to the marriage was framed as a betrayal of their family obligations and even their religion. Disobedience is considered a sin in Islam and most of the interviewees are devout Muslims, and they were aware of the challenges of refusing to comply with their family’s wishes. Several of the interviewees mentioned the implications for their family's honour of a refusal.

● Next, the forced marriage was often consanguineous and was designed to maintain connections with family. There are various reasons why these marriages are encouraged, it can come from a desire to keep strong links with family in the country of origin, or it can be to demonstrate compliance with family elders. None of the interviewees mentioned a financial rationale for a cousin marriage, although the literature would suggest that securing property within a family is often a key consideration. Another reason for consanguineous marriages, is that some of the women explained that as everyone is in the same family, there was believed to be a higher chance of help from elders in the event of any future problems.

● Lastly, interviewees were explicit that a rationale for some of these marriages was to secure immigration status for the incoming spouse. Having the right to live and work in Hong Kong is seen as valuable to the foreign spouse and their family. This can be a strong motivation for encouraging marriage

There also remains a group of parents who believe in their right to make these decisions for their children, regardless of their child’s views. For those from Pakistan now living in Hong Kong, some beliefs may also be misleading:

There is a common misconception among parents in Pakistan that marrying children without their consent is permissible under Sharia, mainly using the parental authority as guardians and custodians. Various narratives exist among different sections of Pakistani society that (sic) which defend forced marriages based on their own interpretations of the rules from the Holy Quran and Sunnah…by those made among rigid and conservative section (sic) of the Pakistani religion (sic). This

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kind of beliefs (sic) arise due to intermingling of the social and cultural practices with Sharia values. This confusion results in favouring the conducting of forced marriage of their children…considering forced marriages as purely Islamic…and allowing children marrying with their own choice as Western concept90

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Religious Leaders

Introduction

Improving the

In preparation for this report, religious leaders in Hong Kong were asked, ‘what does your religion say about forced and child marriage?’. Religious leaders from Islam and Hinduism were engaged to share their thoughts as our interviewees came from these religions. Their responses are as below.

Islam is a religion which believes in a strong foundation of family relationships. Marriage is the first unit of society, it must be based on love and mutual understanding between couples. Islam encourages its followers to have a marriage and instructs them to choose the one you love. The Holy Book Quran say in Chapter 4 verse No 3

“So, marry whatever pleases you”

Islam also asks that marriage should be with mutual consent of both, there is no room for forced marriage, the parents can advise and guide but their will cannot impose on them for their future decision about the marriage.

In the saying of Holy Prophet Muhammad PBUH

Narrated Abu Huraira:

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, "A matron should not be given in marriage except after consulting her; and a virgin should not be given in marriage except after her permission." The people asked, "O Allah's Messenger (ﷺ)! How can we know her permission?" He said, "Her silence (indicates her permission).

In Islamic Jurisprudence the marriage is given the name “contract”. The contract can never be completed without consent of both. In an Islamic Marriage the husband is asked at the time of marriage ceremony whether he accepts the proposed girl as his wife and the girl is asked whether she accepts her fiancée as her husband, if both agree then the marriage is completed.

From a religious standpoint, marriage is clearly understood as the union of 2 equal individuals for the purpose that they may support each other in their responsibilities, in the pursuit of knowledge, and pleasure, and in the combined growth in age as well as emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.

Scriptures divide our lifespan into 4 stages: student, household, retirement and renunciation. Marriage marks the beginning of the second stage of life as a householder.

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Swamini Supriyanada Chinmaya Mission Hong Kong Muhammad Arshad Chief Imam Hong Kong Kowloon Mosque and Islamic Centre

In this stage, both partners share the responsibility to look after the parents as they age, the young children they have, and people dedicated to spiritual work, such as monks. In the marriage stage of life, pleasure, wealth, power, and status can be pursued within the limits of righteousness.

In sections of the Ramayana and Mahabharata, advice is shared as to how to conduct oneself as a wife, or husband. For instance, it imparts to us the importance of having respect for the spouse and never criticising them in public. Rather, if something unpleasant has to be said, it may be done in private in a gentle way. But, beyond this, religion has not more to add to the topic of marriage.

Marriages are more influenced by culture, rather than by religion, even though there is a tendency that most families want their children to marry within the religion. In the past, there has been a more maledominant culture in both the East and the West. Accordingly, women were seen to be married off with little choice. To some extent, a girl was seen as a burden for she would continue in the family and would take wealth with her as she was wedded. Those with this perspective sometimes failed to educate the girls thinking there was no value in doing so and tended to want to marry them off quickly to be done with their responsibility.

Changing times have shown that educating girls improves the quality of intelligence of both genders of the next generation, as mothers have a huge influence over young minds. The mental health and self-esteem of the mother also have very significant effects on the next generation. Amid times of war and, more recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, daughters were relied upon to do things that would be considered more male responsibility – and it has been seen they rise to the occasion. These testing times prove more that the strength of women really does determine the strength of the family and the community. Valuing our daughters is not only valuing our future, but increasing our strength even in the present.

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Hong Kong Perspectives

Introduction

Several participants from Hong Kong civil society were asked for their thoughts about forced marriage in relation to two queries:

● What is your experience of forced marriage in Hong Kong?

● What are your recommendations to address forced marriage in Hong Kong?

The ideas and views shared below are from the perspectives shared by the individuals below. Where noted the words used are direct quotations.

The Zubin Foundation

Hong Kong

How does The Zubin Foundation come across forced marriage cases?

The Zubin Foundation has come across victims of forced marriage since 2018. Women have come to us either directly in search of assistance on forced marriage or indirectly through our other programmes, their siblings, or educational institute.

What is the profile of victims of forced marriage in Hong Kong?

There are two main profiles of forced marriage victims in Hong Kong:

● Older women, who came to Hong Kong a while ago, sometimes have lived in Hong Kong for decades. They are mostly ethnically Pakistani. They have had children in Hong Kong and mostly have many children, a family with 4 to 6 children is not uncommon. They would mostly contact The Zubin Foundation, not about their forced marriage, but about another issue, for example, applying for food because of poverty, domestic violence, wanting to seek legal information on divorce upon learning about a husband’s extramarital affair or another marriage, wishing to attend a life skills women’s empowerment project or in some other way. We learn that they are victims of forced marriage, many having married under the age of 18 to Hong Kong Pakistani men. They have lived with a forced marriage and have seemed to accept it.

● Younger women, who this report focuses on. Some come to us:

o Directly: A young woman is being confined at home, literally locked in a room because she refuses to marry. Or they want to escape because they know in a few days, weeks, they will be taken to Pakistan to marry, even if they have said they don’t want to. Or, they have decided to go ahead with the forced marriage because the coercion they face is great and real, the threat of removing all their siblings from school in Hong Kong or divorcing their mother.

o Indirectly: Through our various programmes at The Zubin Foundation.

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What are the conflicts that women face?

Our experience has been that young women struggle emotionally when confronted with forced marriage. They want to make their parents happy, and they do not want to cause pain to their family, but they also want to fulfil their own dreams. Their dreams may seem reasonable to many, but in their cultural context, these dreams may be seen as lofty and unreasonable by their parents:

● To receive a university education

● To work and be financially independent

● To enter a loving marriage, where their parents choose the husband and give consent, but not forced

Most of these women face both intergenerational conflicts, and intercultural conflicts. Their parents are of an older generation and are often far more attached to the ancestral homeland, bearing values from that time. The children tend to have more contemporary values. The traditional values of their parents are in direct conflict with their own.

How does The Zubin Foundation help women victims of forced marriage?

Every woman is different, and it is our policy to not tell a woman what she should do. We believe that if she is over 18, she must make decisions for herself. We know that forced marriage situations can be complex.

Our job is to offer her a listening ear and support should she want it. Our support to victims has included providing counselling support, engaging emergency services or safe homes, and offering support during family mediation.

Observations:

● There is hope: Tertiary Education levels amongst girls are increasing.

Over the last four years, The Zubin Foundation has seen a significant rise in the number of young ethnic minority females seeking tertiary education in Hong Kong. This demonstrates that marriage is being delayed and we are unsure how this may impact forced marriage going forward.

● Obtaining Hong Kong Residence is a key driver.

Immigration to Hong Kong is one of the key reasons that forced marriages take place, according to women we have worked with. Obtaining Hong Kong residence for a close relative (who becomes the husband) also tightens familial relationships in the ancestral village.

● Fear of men.

Fear is prevalent in the lives of these women; they tend to fear their father and then their husband.

● Lack of close friendships and support.

We have found that young women do not tend to speak about their impending forced marriage with their friends, according to the “Dreams of Pakistani Children” Report, 2019. This is because they feel embarrassed and humiliated to admit that they will have a forced marriage. As a result, they are unable to support each other.

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● One woman, two forced marriages?

In one forced marriage case we have worked on, the parents were supportive that the couple should get divorced. However, after the divorce, they began to pressure their daughter to enter another forced marriage.

Arfeen shared her thoughts as an educator who has worked with girls who have been forced into marriage. One of her observations was that girls who lack aspirations for their future are particularly vulnerable to being forced to marry. They may be ‘very easy going, they’re not self-directed, they do not have goals set for them’. She has seen cases where girls are taken to their parents’ hometown [in Pakistan] with the excuse that they are attending a family wedding and when they arrive, they are told that they will be married.

‘When they’re in that situation, they’re trapped because they do not know who to go to…in order to get out of the situation they had to agree to the marriage.’

In one case, upon return to Hong Kong the girl was supposed to apply for a dependent visa for the husband, however she did not do so and ‘her family severed ties with her’. In these situations, the family may use ‘emotional blackmail’ and refer to the ‘family’s honour’ or even that this is the ‘best partner that you can get’. In the end girls can feel that there are no choices for them.

Another challenge with forced marriage, is that the cultural gap between girls raised and educated in Hong Kong and boys from Pakistan can be significant.

“ ‘The girl raised in Hong Kong, she cannot get accustomed to their way of life…it works both ways. They both cannot get used to each other’s way of life and it ends in tragedy…it ends in divorce, separation, or some other problem. So, if the girl is not financially independent, [the parents] will ask her to stay in this toxic relationship.’

She was concerned that some parents ‘get their daughters married because they see them as a burden’. A financial burden ‘and they want to pass it on to someone’. In addition, ‘some [parents] might even come under the influence of their own relatives because the relatives want to send their son out to Hong Kong’.

Arfeen explained that this attitude may also be supported by the bias against divorce in society. There is an unwillingness to speak on these issues.

Arfeen also highlighted that Islam is “very beautiful and I feel it’s so misrepresented.” “there is a lot of prejudice, bigotry about Islam…but actually [we need to] look at culture and actually look at religion as a support for people”.

As an educator, Arfeen had several recommendations:

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● Empowerment of young children – boys and girls – ‘I completely believe that it’s important to empower girls from a young age. A lot of time we just focus on the girls. In the patriarchal structure boys can also be victims as well as girls’… ‘assisting girls with building and nurturing their aspirations, I think this is the biggest thing a school can do. School has a very major role to play’

● Invest in educating parents – ‘this is about what are the opportunities for your children in Hong Kong. What are the educational opportunities so you kind of get them in love with that idea and then the course of marriage may be that piece that goes away…invite [parents] to talks. Have talks for them, even maybe you can have talks for mothers in their own language? You can ask the girls to bring their mothers…talk to them about why education is so important Why not cite cases of girls who ended up in bad marriages, and [also] what about the success cases? Who was able to put themselves together, get a job, be independent? The parents are the key to achieving something better or just to push [the children] into a kind of life that you probably did not envision for yourself. So, they have to think about whether they are making the right choice for their child?’

● Role models within the community - ‘role models are important, so important because they give hope to young people. It helps them to build their aspirations because then you see that there is a possibility and you start envisioning for yourself. A lot of our youth cannot find that within their own family, so if they can see within the community that is very important’

● Importance of community leaders to speak up about difficult issues – ‘preach for the betterment of the community. A lot of family problems are never addressed…you need to destigmatize things. You don’t need to do an hour conversation…but [if you talk about issues] then we can talk about this. [Then] it’s not taboo…normalising things so that people can have a conversation’

● Deepening understanding of religion – ‘understanding religion is so important. …I have said to my students ‘have you tried to go to the sources? The books? To read yourself?’ Because that’s what I do. I went to the sources, I read about it, I tried to understand and I came to all these conclusions myself. You need to educate yourself, you can’t just rely on other people’s interpretation. You’ve got to interpret for yourself. A lot of times we blindly follow traditions…we tend to substantiate or justify cultural practices with religious references. Islam tells you, encourages us to question, think, reflect’

Kay explained that he intersects with forced marriage when he is approached for legal advice on procedural remedies or formulating an action plan. Based on his experience he had some observations about the cases he has seen:

“ The girls are young, Hong Kong educated, all of South Asian origin…I used to expect the pressure will be from fathers, but my experience has shown me that it’s not just men. Sometimes the women are the worst culprit, elders…the emotional trauma that…I hear about is very much practised by the mothers…you would expect women to be helping women, but it turns out that things will be done to pressurise the girls from the mothers... The good thing is that the people who usually step up to help will be the women, the sisters or the cousins.’

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Kay said that in addition to the emotional pressure and aggression, financial pressure is another method used to pressure his clients. Either they ‘cut off the client’s financial resources or they threaten to cut off other people’s financial resources if they don’t’ return to the family, or ‘the aggressor will create a situation where other families would suffer to get the client to go back’ to the family. In the cases he has worked on ‘physical violence is quite, quite normal’.

In his view, ‘forced marriage to a lot of police officers is alien, a very alien idea’. Given that there is no specific criminal offence, Kay explained that you need to frame what has happened in a criminal offence, a narrative that the police can engage with e.g. assault, underage.

For recommendations, Kay suggested:

● Education for social welfare / police / immigration – ‘so that if the police are called to a home, they have a context for what’s happening, at least they’re alert’ to the risk of forced marriage. And for the Immigration Department they ‘should be trained to look at the data…should there be a red flag? All that is needed [at the airport] is just for someone to raise an alarm’

● Revolution of thinking – ‘it took Hong Kong 50 years to change the culture or practice of arranged marriage’ [following the Matrimonial Causes Ordinance (1967)] ‘you also take a revolution of thinking of a generation’

● Legislation – ‘if the underlying acts to create that situation [of forced marriage] should be criminalised. I think it should…when you look at a problem that is a minority problem…attention goes where there’s scale and yes for these cases they might be terrible [but]…it’s not affecting tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong. If you can find one case you can dominate the narrative

● Education for lawyers – ‘should there be more people to do the helpline stuff? Yes, lawyers, solicitors, barristers, should be able to do more pro bono work. Get yourself familiar with different areas of work so that you can advise on these cases. Because forced marriage is not just criminal, it launches a family case. There’s a lot of different areas that come together. Law schools should be teaching students’

Due to Patricia’s work on drafting the Modern Slavery Bill91 in around 2016 she has focused on the problem of human trafficking in general. ‘People from the South Asian legal community…suggested that I should look into forced marriage as well’. Patricia (Patsy) comments that despite having worked in the human rights space for around 10 years by that time, she had not been aware of forced marriage in Hong Kong ‘because the cases weren’t coming forward’.

Then a client approached her from an NGO who was seeking assistance as to what she could do to exit the forced marriage. This case resulted in an annulment of the marriage and was reported92 .

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‘And we were surprised to find a lot of hurdles as soon as we started…because it was a Muslim marriage there was a huge question around the courts’ jurisdiction because the marriage, in theory, was potentially polygamous, and there were views that the judiciary wouldn’t deal with it…more surprising to us was how extremely difficult the entire process was.’

Patsy noted that the client and her firm were exposed to threats from male members of the client’s family.

‘The case went to court very promptly and it became quite obvious that this case would be dealt with by the judiciary…so they tried to threaten us [and then] they realised that it wasn’t going to go anywhere. And then after all those threatening attacks failed, they actually started to negotiate…we could take some parts of the process ex parte [without notice to the other side] and I think that offered some security.’

Patsy noted that although the Chief Imam in Hong Kong is clear about forced marriage being “un-Islamic”, the threats would include sentiments that the actions being taken by her client attacks their religion. ‘It was surprising how ugly it all was at the time’. Patsy notes that for law firms this is another factor to consider when doing the work.

The client needs to be supported in more ways than a typical family law client. This additional level of work and support allows the client to trust us. ‘You know we were quite open with each other about how difficult the matter was, so for the girl I think she felt like we were a team’. Patsy also highlighted that:

‘The critical path for her was that she had very loyal, wonderful friends who walked with her through the entire process. From the first time she came into the office to every single time she came to us. I don’t know if she would have been able to do all of that without them.’

This extraordinary level of emotional support is not available to everyone. Patsy notes that they have worked with other clients who do not have this level of support and who may seek advice but ‘when they start understanding what the process might be, it’s too daunting’.

‘Shame for the family hangs over everything they do and quite a lot of them are prepared to sacrifice themselves rather than bring shame to the family…when I see them they will come across as being fairly independent, strong-minded, modern, clearly well-educated. Their concepts of rights and freedoms are not dissimilar to any other women or local girls you come across. But they will go away and then something happens and I think their other cultural obligations will overshadow these thoughts… it’s so much deeper – but it’s very much about their personal identity and their personal worth that comes into the whole thing. [The cultural obligations are] just too significant…they’ll go to the extent of running away from home, going to safe houses, coming to talk to us, realising everything is quite severe but yet not take anything further.’

In relation to the case, Patsy explained that when it was clear that the family would either agree to have the marriage annulled or the court would order annulment, the family said:

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“ ‘Come back home and we will do whatever you want. You’re shaming the family, tell her she’s shaming the family. It’s shameful and above all it’s against religion. Come back home and then we will treat her well. We’ll deal with everything privately.’

Patsy noted that for solicitors working in this area there are several challenges:

● Difficult legal questions – ‘[the client] had to be reassured by what the law can do to protect her every step of the way otherwise she would succumb’.

● Novel challenges for law firms working in this area – ‘as a law firm, you learn all of this on the ground’.

● Working with Legal Aid – Legal Aid deals with standard family law cases and is not designed to cover the extra level of support and engagement work that was necessary.

In terms of recommendations, Patsy noted that the Modern Slavery Bill specifically creates a definition of forced marriage and an offence of ‘causing another person to enter a forced marriage and being a party to (but not the victim of) a forced marriage’. As Patsy notes cases may ‘come to light before they’re forcibly married’ so there is a need for preventative orders e.g. stop people being removed from the jurisdiction, injunctions, etc.

Puja is currently conducting a research study on forced marriage to be published in early 2024.

In Puja’s experience, requests for urgent assistance usually coincide with the long holidays. She may act as the conduit to set up resources to facilitate the journey of forced marriage victims, not always leading to a break with the family or community, but providing ‘room to think’, as she says ‘the fundamental challenge is about choice’. Puja noted that in the short term there are resources, however, in Hong Kong there is ‘no viability for long term options.’

Puja explained that she has found that girls / women who approached her ‘knew about their rights’ and that ‘most of them have done their research.’ They needed her to be their ‘sounding board’:

‘I think I can relate to where they’re coming from. You know on paper you have rights, but you’re stuck in a space between loyalty and betrayal; good versus dishonourable women; choosing oneself or choosing family and community. You have an intellectual understanding of your rights and what you are entitled to. At the same time, you also have an emotional understanding of how your life is organised, your needs and how these connect or conflict with your loved ones’ desires, dreams and expectations.’

If someone decides to leave their family, then there needs to be ‘a life cycle approach’ to address their evolving needs depending on the situation.

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‘When you leave, all your avenues of familiarity are gone and you’re traversing that terrain of isolation. For many women in the community, their sense of identity is derived from who they are in relation to their community. Without community, they cannot make sense of their lives. That vacuum is all consuming and can’t be filled with money, or by people saying ‘You’re a champion! You’re so brave to have left…’

…sometimes after you connect women to resources there may be opportunities for reconciliation with family – however, there’s so much acrimony and service providers or social workers can feel aggrieved with the women and girls for trying to reconcile with the ‘oppressor’ despite their hard work to ‘save them’…[they] don’t respect the women, don’t recognise the need for the women to reconnect. This pressure to live up to yet another set of paternalistic expectations inhibits women’s autonomy and capacity to exercise choice.’

Puja advised that we need ‘personalised and contextualised responses’ from professionals – in circumstances where a woman does want to reconnect with her family, professionals need to think about ‘how do I set things up in a way that doesn’t compromise on safety...they need to safely and meaningfully help women rationalise whatever their decision is, assess consequences and risks, and empower them to exercise their choices effectively’.

Azan shared his experience of representing victims of forced marriage in Hong Kong.

Azan explained that ‘there were real concerns about [girls] finishing school, [having] a place to live’ and such girls ‘[want] to have contact with [their] famil[ies] which is of course a little bit dangerous’. As Azan described it:

‘I remember [one] father – he said – send her home – because she needs to be safe. He said, I’m the one to keep her safe, but [he] beat her…this is the perspective of the fathers…they believe that what they’re doing is in the best interests of their children.’

Given these experiences, Azan had several ideas for how to address forced marriage:

● There needs to be a clear criminal offence for forced marriage – ‘the way these problems resolve is by social change and part of that is having declaratory standards of conduct that people can become familiar with’.

● Ensuring girls / women can complete their education – ‘girls who finish university are…almost never trafficked…and those who finish university are at much less risk than those who are married beforehand’.

● Address poverty – ‘there are two kinds of poverty, there’s financial poverty and there’s social poverty. For women like [that]…they need their society. Their society is their capital and to be turned away from – to turn away from a forced marriage or an enforced arranged proposal – is

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actually to deny your family and result in being expelled from your family. And that is so costly that you…most people would say it’s not worth it…poverty is definitely an enemy; social isolation is definitely an enemy. Forced marriages are simply a symptom of those larger problems.’

● ‘Nudge people to choose the right thing’ – ‘[at] a seminar… [a father] shared his testimony…and how he basically pushed his daughter into an arranged marriage…He described the aftermath and basically said “I ruined my daughter’s life” and I found that very powerful. For people to know that 1) this is not acceptable and 2) to know what the probable outcome is, the increased exposure to domestic violence, the increased risk that your daughter will have fewer long-term options, then people will choose an alternative’.

● Guidance from religious leaders – ‘in the mediaeval period when Mohammed introduced the Muslim marriage rules, when that happened, they were revolutionary compared to any society; European, African, Arab – revolutionary to say women must consent to their marriage. People don’t choose this as a matter of religion, it’s not their religion, it’s a social norm amongst certain groups’.

● Practical support for victims – ‘they need to have housing, they need to make sure that they have an option to finish their education (effectively CSSA or social assistance) …they need to have a comprehensive system to provide people with a society community support so when they leave [the crisis] refuge they are not alone’.

● Education for first responders – ‘the people who should be responding whether that’s lawyers, social workers, doctors, refugee housing, these other groups who come into contact, they need to be educated about the legal solutions and also educated about the support that is there’.

Former Judge (FJ) Sharon Melloy

Former Judge, Hong Kong

In 2023, the first forced marriage case was reported (RM v AY [2023] HKFC 59) however, FJ Melloy notes that in her experience there were other cases which are relevant to this discussion which were filed in the Family Court during her tenure. They did not present ‘forced marriage’ cases, ‘they were just presenting their stories’. This included cases which may have been described as a false marriage seeking divorce, rather than referring to the concept of forced marriage.

FJ Melloy described a few cases which echo the international experience of forced marriage impacting women, men, and those with disabilities. None of these cases was reported:

● A young man was sent to Hong Kong to marry from Pakistan. However, when he arrived his passport was taken away and he worked. ‘I don’t think he had relations with the woman’. He had applied for divorce.

● A young Hong Kong man who was mentally disabled had an arranged marriage with a woman from Lebanon and he was seeking a divorce

● A young woman from Pakistan who was illiterate and was unable to speak English or Cantonese was brought to Hong Kong to marry. On arrival she was treated as a servant in a three generational

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family. She was ill-treated and she was beaten. She had one child…then they took the son away from her and she had no contact…she went out to the market and then didn’t go home…maybe she went to the mosque for assistance, but it was a distant relative who helped her. Provided her with some form of accommodation and helped her to go to Legal Aid…she was petrified because she believed that she would be killed if she was sent back to Pakistan…she just wanted to have a relationship with her son…it wasn’t reported because it wasn’t a fully contested case’.

In terms of facilitating family law solutions such as annulment or divorce, FJ Melloy noted that ‘legislative change within the family sphere generally takes such a long time to become effective.’

Rizwan noted that it is important to differentiate between forced and arranged marriage as two distinct terms. As he explains, Islam says:

‘…children, the son or the daughter have the say as well, whether or not they are happy with these arrangements. Of course, time has changed and parents do listen to their kids whether they are okay with marriage arrangements or if they [the parents] have some advice and then they make their choices…’

For situations of forced marriage, which can also happen to boys as well as girls, Rizwan says:

‘And these kids don't know what they can say no to and then they don’t know how to bring this up and seek help. Partly this can be attributed to whether the family and the kid themselves, do they have a good rapport for honest dialogue – a channel where they can talk about different things.’

A key difference for the experience of boys and girls, is that boys have mobility and ‘they can walk away from it, but for the female, it might be a little more difficult to get out of the situation’.

As advice, Rizwan had some ideas for how to approach this issue:

● Change the focus of parental attention to a good mental upbringing of their kids with a priority on education, putting the priority on their whole person development.

● Hong Kong is a very competitive society – we have to equip our children for all of these challenges.

● If your kids are determined to have a career pathway and they seek your blessing and they seek your support who would be talking about getting married?

● Reconciling the differences is key so if I want to make parents think differently, then affect their thinking – public education and awareness are the things – use real life stories as powerful messages.

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Global Responses

6.1 Introduction

As a global issue, forced marriage has seen a range of responses from different countries. Interventions occur from prior to the forced marriage i.e. education, prohibitions on travel, to interventions which address the aftermath of forced marriage i.e. exit mechanisms, support for victims.

The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (“FECCA”) conducted a literature review (“FECCA Review”) and considered the different underlying theoretical typology for forced marriage as leading to different approaches93:

● Gender-based family violence – ‘Forced Marriage is a manifestation of gender-based violence and family violence’ and responses include a ‘push for civil reforms…such as protection orders for adults…also calls for criminalisation based on domestic violence’.

● Honour Based Violence – ‘Forced Marriage is a product of a cultural norm of maintaining ‘honour’. While linked to gender-based violence, it is linked to the desire to preserve cultural practices and values within new migrant communities’ which means that ‘criminalisation is important as it clearly outlines what is not acceptable in [relevant jurisdiction]’.

● Vulnerabilities / intersectionality approach – ‘Key vulnerability indicators include gender, age, migration / visa status, disability, position in the community, conservatism of family and the community etc.’ and therefore the focus is ‘addressing the underlying vulnerabilities and structural disadvantages leading to [forced marriage] and …requires change from within communities’.

● Human trafficking / slavery – ‘Forced Marriage is linked to human trafficking and slavery. It must be addressed through specific criminal legislation and migration provisions. Criminal intervention [is] needed to bring perpetrators to justice and a civil response to enable protected movement of people’.

The theoretical bases for forced marriage are not exclusive and as a complex issue there can be difficulty in separating the strands that lead a family or a community to support this practice. As is shown by the FECCA review, the beliefs around the causes of forced marriage have led to a variety of responses globally such as:

● Criminalisation of forced marriage: some states have created specific criminal offences regarding forced marriage e.g. Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Austria, Norway, several US states, Australia, Canada, Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Rwanda, etc.

● Immigration legislation: for example, the United Kingdom has increased the age for sponsorship of a spousal visa from 18 to 21, or Denmark ‘requiring that couples with one person living outside of Denmark must be 24 years of age to reunify’94 .

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● Civil remedies: ‘the UK in particular has adopted Forced Marriage Protection Orders, whereby victims are able to obtain a protection order through family courts in a way similar to those used in situations of domestic violence’95

● Community-based response and social change: ‘(1) promoting the education and economic empowerment of girls, (2) awareness and engagement with local communities, and (3) building capacity of services and support for victims’96 .

6.2 Forced marriage is a criminal offence: Australia

Australia has a federal criminal offence of forced marriage. The Australian Government ‘prioritised a punitive approach (criminalisation), over protective legislation (civil protection order to those at risk of forced marriage)’ as part of the National Plan to Combat Human Trafficking and Slavery97. In 2013, Australia introduced a specific federal criminal offence for forced marriage98. These offences were later included as conduct which would constitute modern slavery under the Modern Slavery Act 201899. The components of the offence include:

● ‘One party to the marriage (the victim) entered into the marriage without freely and fully consenting…because of the use of coercion, threat or deception, or because the party was incapable of understanding the nature and effect of the marriage ceremony; or, either party to the marriage (the victim) was under 16’ (s. 270.7A(1))

● A marriage conducted in Australia or overseas (s. 270.7A(2))

● ‘A person under 16 years of age is presumed, unless the contrary is proved, to be incapable of understanding the nature and effect of a marriage ceremony’ (s. 270.7A (4))

● Penalties for forced marriage range from 7 to 9 years imprisonment (s. 270.7B)

● Further if a victim is under the age of 18 and is taken overseas for the purpose of forced marriage this may constitute a trafficking in children offence, with a penalty of up to 25 years imprisonment100

Since 2013, the Australian Federal Police (“AFP”) have not had a single conviction for the offence of forced marriage. Some cases do proceed through the criminal process although these have not resulted in convictions. As noted by Commander Hilda Sirec who leads an AFP team that investigates child trafficking, the unit struggles to prosecute offenders as many victims do not want to speak out against their families who are the perpetrators101 They have received reports of forced marriage as set out below:

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Chart 7: Australian Federal Police, Reports Received on Forced Marriages Source: Human trafficking reports received by the AFP102

One key challenge may be the ‘reluctance of victims to expose family members to prosecution, and the fact that most reports to the AFP concern circumstances where, because the marriage has not yet occurred, ‘an offence against Australian law may not have been committed’103. A 2020 case led to two hung juries, for a defendant who was alleged to have forced an asylum seeker to marry his 15-year-old daughter104

The reporting numbers remain low, and the AFP commented that:

We know that human trafficking is an under-reported crime type. Many victims feel ashamed or confused about what’s happened to them and those feelings are leveraged by offenders to maintain their silence. We hope that with an increase in public awareness, people who would have otherwise remained silent now feel empowered to report their experiences to the AFP105

In order to address the lack of awareness about forced marriage within law enforcement, the AFP launched an initiative called the Look-a-Little-Deeper (‘LALD’) program to raise awareness about human trafficking including forced marriage; the indicators of human trafficking and how to report suspected cases106. The LALD program is estimated to have been delivered to more than 140,000 members of state, territory, and Commonwealth agencies over four years107

There have been several high-profile cases in Australia in which women have been killed by their husbands following forced marriages. In 2021, Mohammad Ali Halimi (aged 26) was convicted of murder and sentenced to 19 years imprisonment after murdering Ruqia Haidari (aged 21), his wife of six weeks

108 . Halimi had paid a dowry of AUD15,000 to Ms Haidari’s family109. Halimi told the police that he knew Ms. Haidari had been forced into the marriage and that she was pushed by her parents110 .

This case is revealing as although many of the reported cases concern children below the age of 16, in this case the victim was 21 at the time of the marriage. This reflects the experience of the Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights:

…young women between the ages of 16 and 25 are most commonly at risk of forced marriage and often lack the maturity to fully understand the meaning and impact of entering a marriage111

The Australian Government has created specialised teams to investigate forced marriage within the AFP who work in conjunction with State and Territory police112. The AFP can refer victims to a Support Program run by the Red Cross and funded by the Department of Social Services113 .

The Support Program provides victims with 200 days of intensive and holistic support without a requirement for them to participate in the criminal justice system114. In addition, victims in Australia may also seek assistance from MyBlueSky.org.au which is a national forced marriage service run by Anti-Slavery Australia at the University of Technology Sydney which was established with seed funding from the Australian Government and continued funding through the Department of Social Services115

The criminalisation of forced marriage led to a range of government and civil society initiatives including: ‘awareness-raising activities in communities, workshops for young people within schools and a dedicated website for accessing information and legal advice’116 . The increase in numbers, reported to the AFP since

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criminalisation, has been attributed to the awareness raising of these different initiatives although it is difficult to determine the scale of the issue due to the unknown number of unreported cases117

The decoupling of engagement with the criminal law to access the Support Program has provided victims with support, however the referral to the Support Program must still come from the AFP and, if assistance is required beyond the 200 days, then the victim must engage with the criminal process118

The Red Cross conducted research on forced marriage in Australia to evaluate the interventions through the Support Program and their key findings were:

● appropriateness in addressing client needs: ‘a broad range of client needs are addressed in an appropriate manner within the limits of the current program…types of assistance included: financial support, referrals for legal advice, information and referrals to address their health and wellbeing and emotional and social support’119

● effectiveness in achieving the evaluation objectives: ‘partial delinking from the criminal justice system is a positive step that reduced client stress and fear of engaging with police; however there remains strong support for expanding referral pathway options’120

● impact: ‘The [forced marriage] Trial has been operating for a year and 15 clients have exited to date. This is a small group…however, it is having a meaningful and welcome impact in client’s lives…this includes: a) increased confidence, b) improved mental health and wellbeing, c) greater knowledge of options around their rights, and d) improved awareness of how to access and navigate support during and beyond the program’121

● connectedness: ‘maintaining family and community connections was integral to clients’ lives…and had a strong influence on decisions that clients make about their situation, even in the face of serious conflict’122

● equity, diversity and its importance for clients: ‘A diverse range of cultural groups are accessing the program and participating in the [forced marriage] Trial. The majority of clients have been females so it is difficult to ascertain equity of access to and service responses for makes. Concerns were raised about a lack of awareness in both the wider community and services sector of what forced marriage is, how it is treated under Australian law, the existence of the [program]…who can access the [program], and ways of overcoming stigma and judgement about seeking support’123

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In addition, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (‘DFAT’) provides guidance and emergency consular support to Australians who are overseas and vulnerable to forced marriage. The Australian Border Force (‘ABF’) has specialist Human Trafficking Contact Officers:

who are onshore specialist officers…[who] are responsible for the Department of Home Affairs and

ABF’s operational responses to modern slavery (including forced marriage) identified onshore, including by managing all referrals to the Australian Federal Police and liaising with the Human Trafficking Unit in the Department of Home Affairs124

As part of their work, DFAT works with NGOs and other government partners outside Australia to assist Australians who are victims of forced marriage or attempted forced marriage overseas125. According to DFAT, ‘Australian consular officials take a victim-centred approach’ which means considering what assistance is in the best interests of the Australian citizen e.g. repatriation, confidential communication126 .

6.3 Immigration legislation: Denmark

Denmark uses immigration measures to address forced marriage, by setting criteria for spouses to enter Denmark.

In 2003, Denmark passed a law that required each spouse must be at least 24 years old before they can apply for family reunification on the basis of marriage127. Additionally, Denmark requires that sponsors of a foreign spouse must be able to provide financially for the spouse, must provide a bank guarantee, demonstrate strong affiliation with Denmark and demonstrate suitable housing; and no social assistance in cash transfers are available until the individual has lived in Denmark for 7 years128 .

These rules have been controversial and have been criticised by the UN Commissions for Refugees and the Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner on the basis that they ‘violate the fundamental right to family life’129. These changes were introduced in the context of a public debate which focused on two aspects:

● humanism: ‘national media coverage of a number of cases in which young women revealed that their immigrant parents had forced them into transnational marriages against their will…within the discourse of humanism any legal measures that could help young people (mostly women) from being forced into marriage were considered reasonable’130

● nationalism: ‘parallel to the growing concerns for the safety and well-being of young immigrant women was a discourse of nationalism…this discourse stressed the need to tighten the state borders in order to protect the Danish nation from the influx of immigrants, perceived as undermining not only the Danish economy and social cohesion but also national security’131

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The immigration reforms also impact native Danes who marry a foreign partner, and one consequence has been an increase in the number of ‘Danes who have foreign spouses …moving to southern Sweden and …commuting from there to Copenhagen… findings suggest that Danish immigration legislation has deterred some Danes in international marriages from returning to Denmark132

As part of the package of changes in 2003, the Danish Government also introduced the ‘rule of supposition’ (or ‘presupposition rule’):

Leave to remain . . . cannot be granted, if it can be deemed questionable whether the marriage has been contracted, or the cohabitation has been established, according to the wishes of both spouses. . .. If the marriage has been contracted between closely related, or otherwise closer related relatives, it is considered questionable – unless specific reasons mandate otherwise – if the marriage has been contracted according to the wishes of both parties. (Aliens Act § 9, stk. 8, pkt. 2)133

This particular change is seen on having had an impact on the number of marriages:

In the year 2000, 22 percent of young women aged 18 to 23 whose parents came from non-Western families were married to a non-Western immigrant who had immigrated to Denmark after the age of 15. In the year 2007, this was the case for only 3 percent…the 24 year-rule reduced considerably the fraction of young immigrant women who were married to a recent immigrant134

Critiques of these changes have often focused on the presupposition rule and have characterised these immigration policies as a tool ‘to safeguard dominant norms of a modern and liberal society from the threats of imported and problematic practices’ which were seen as non-participation in the labour market, socio-economic marginalization and illiberal family practices e.g. forced marriages, honour killings, female genital mutilation135. However, the Council of Europe criticised the rule as being ‘an apparently neutral rule disadvantaging a person or a group sharing the same characteristics’136 being ‘ethnic groups for whom marrying near relatives is part of the culture’137 .

The UNHCR did propose mitigating the indirect discrimination by allowing for a joint affidavit by the spouses, however this was not implemented138. The Danish Institute for Human Rights and the Danish Council for Ethnic Minorities highlighted their concerns that ‘the presupposition rule might amount to indirect discrimination…and that the proportionality of the adopted means to the aim of the rule is questionable’139. The Danish Government rejected these criticisms on the basis that the presupposition is proportional and rebuttable, there is no international guarantee of family reunification and that the presupposition addressed loopholes which were found to leave young women vulnerable to forced marriage140. However, the concern remains that:

the Danish state’s conflation of forced marriages with transnational, arranged married between relatives may place ethnic minorities in situations where the bureaucratic system ignores their personal understandings of their marriages and forces them to rescind their future aspirations141

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In addition to international conventions, Denmark is part of Europe and there are various European instruments which intersect with forced marriage142. Critically, Denmark has ratified the Istanbul Convention, which provides that:

1. Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that the intentional conduct of forcing an adult or a child to enter into marriage is criminalised.

2. Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that the intentional conduct of luring an adult or a child to the territory of a Party or State other than the one she or he resides in with the purpose of forcing this adult or child to enter into a marriage is criminalised.143

As part of its obligations pursuant to the Istanbul Convention, Denmark has criminalised forced marriage in the Act on Contracting and Dissolution of Marriage (Act No. 771 of 7. April 2019) with a sentence of up to 4 years144 .

The immigration rules and criminalisation form only part of the Danish response to forced marriage. The Danes have also introduced a form of mediation (tværkulturel konfliktmægling) known as cross-cultural transformative mediation (‘CCTM’) which is designed to:

avoid the drastic choice of either leaving one’s family or accepting the imposition, since daughters that escape ‘in most cases’ come back to the family of origin as they are not able to live without the family145

Modern mediation is a form of facilitated negotiation with underlying principles which include, party selfdetermination, neutrality of the mediator and informed decision-making. Within this umbrella there are many forms of mediation which allow the process to flex to address distinct concerns. The CCTM model was intended to address some of the human realities with criminalisation which focused on an ‘exit-centred state initiative’ including146:

● ‘Those at risk are reluctant to leave abusive families.’

● ‘Few if any want to initiate criminal or civil proceedings against family members.’

● ‘Young people are faced with no choice other than to leave their families to avoid a forced marriage.’

● Coercion leading to forced marriage is ‘done in secret, resulting in the young person experiencing higher levels of threat and violence without a safety net or awareness by a support structure.’

The CCTM model is described as using a dialogue model which includes four phases:

● Investigative phase – a psychological assessment prior to mediation to ensure the safety of the person being forced147. The involvement of social services and the police in CCTM is critical to

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ensure the safety of the young person148. Young people can request assistance to set up this form of mediated assistance through a dedicated helpline149. It is also possible for the case to be referred through teachers, social workers or the police150. A typical CCTM may occur when the young person is living in a shelter and may also address other issues of family conflict151

● Mediation and dialogue phase – everyone can express their views; however, the forced person does not meet the family directly at this stage and the family meet with the mediator to establish contact152. The mediation team comprises ‘the mediator, social workers, welfare officers, policemen, lawyers and other competent figures that meet previously to plan the intervention’153 .

● Reconciliation phase - based on the outcomes from the previous phase – this stage requires parties to demonstrate commitment to the arrangements made154. This includes guidelines for following up the situation, e.g. how often can the family be contacted to make sure that the contract is fulfilled, safe ways for the daughters to contact helping bodies when in need, etc.155

● Evaluation and follow-up phase – a statutory agency may be involved to ensure follow-up. Any issues can be raised and returned to mediation.

There have been concerns raised generally about using mediation processes in relation to victims of domestic violence. These critiques generally focus on the safety of the victim and concerns about their ability to self-determine in a process with their abuser and these issues are just as relevant where the offence is coercion in relation to forced marriage156. Work to resolve family conflict may be seen as necessary in a country as small as Denmark157

6.4 Civil Remedies: United Kingdom

The UK uses civil protection mechanisms to deal with forced marriage.

Forced Marriage Protection Orders (‘FMPOs’) are an injunction which is a civil remedy and not a criminal remedy. In this context, an injunction could be made by a court ordering the family of a potential victim to stop harassing her, or to return her passport. An FMPO will be unique to each case with the injunction being designed to stop the relevant behaviour that is being used to coerce the potential victim into marriage158 .

FMPOs were introduced in 2007 as part of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007159. Approximately 200-250 FMPOs have been granted each year between 2014 and 2021160 FMPOs may form part of ‘care proceedings in the Family Court…[with] domestic and sexual violence, and physical abuse of children … commonly raised in the proceedings’161 .

Legal Aid remains available for FMPOs in the UK and such applications can be made ex parte which means without notice to the other party162. The applicant can include details of the protection they are seeking e.g. prevent a person from being taken abroad for the forced marriage163. Further the police can apply for an FMPO even in the absence of consent from the victim164 .

The number of applications and orders made for forced marriage protection orders (FMPOs) is very small. Consequently, numbers fluctuate each quarter but overall, there has been a long-term upward trend from their introduction in November 2008 until the end of 2019 with a less pronounced increase thereafter.

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In July to September 2023, there were 85 applications, the highest level since Q1 2020, of which 72% of applications were for people aged 17 and under. Over the same period, there were 136 orders made, up 43% since the same period from the previous year and the highest in the time series.165

In order to secure an FMPO, the applicant must prove their case that they are subject to coercion on the balance of probabilities (the civil standard of proof). There are concerns about the lens through which consent is viewed by the courts because:

● Judges may not seek affirmative consent to marry, unlike in sexual consent cases where affirmative consent i.e. ‘the defendant must prove that they acted to secure consent’166

● Judges may not be aware of ‘the gendered, socio-cultural norms and expectations that may overwhelm’ a victim’s will, which may not overwhelm the will of a highly individualistic person167

● The high cost of loss of family and community may not be perceived as significant although’ it is ‘surely perceived as inherently coercive by women…the option of exit from their family and (often) thereby, their community is to ‘escape’ into a racist society’168

● The timeframe for the coercion can be long i.e. the marriage may be contracted ‘years in advance of the marriage date, courts should be empowered to examine the totality of a respondent’s conduct over time when assessing whether it amounts to ‘force’’169

● There has been and may continue in some cases to be a definition of coercion which focused on physical coercion and abuse rather than on the emotional / psychological aspects of coercion170. In the case of Hirani v Hirani ([1983] 4 FLR 232), the ‘judgement marks a definite shift in legal rhetoric, from a restrictive definition of duress centred upon threats of physical violence’ to other forms of coercion171 In particular, ‘forms of violence co-occur’ and a victim may have been subject to other forms of family violence e.g. coercive control172

● The applicant needs to present themselves and their case to the judge in a way which is compelling and if the testimony is ‘arguably unclear, fragmented and/or changeable’ they may be seen as unreliable or untruthful, a judge may perceive ‘female witnesses as angry or hostile, even when anger was a reasonable response (i.e. in situations of neglect or abuse by a relative)’173

One of the continuing themes is the need for education and awareness of the dynamics and process of forced marriage. The cultural context in which victims exist is critical to understanding coercion and force:

The preoccupation with ‘free will’ that informs the legal discourse ignores the fact that consent itself is constructed in the context of power imbalances and gendered norms, and – crucially – often in the absence of explicit threats: simply put, many coercive forces go undetected174

Key to understanding the challenges is the extreme cost to an individual of the loss of their family and culture. In their 2023 report, Anitha and Gill interviewed victims and professionals in relation to their experience of the forced marriage regime in the UK. In relation to FMPOs, the police obtained an FMPO without the consent of a young woman who was in a women’s shelter following repatriation from Pakistan

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after a failed attempt to deceive her into marriage175. Noting the emotional distress at leaving her siblings and mother vulnerable to her father’s frustrations and her feelings of isolation, this young woman returned home:

Although she was consistent in maintaining that she had been coerced to marry and was clear about the very real risk of suffering ongoing violence from her father and even feared that he might kill her, she was unable to reconcile life away from her family and seemed to have been worn down by the direct emotional pressure applied by her family as well as the weight of social expectations and gender norms, guilt at damaging her family’s honour, as well as loneliness176

FMPOs are a civil mechanism and a breach can be dealt with in the family court, however the breach of an FMPO can also be dealt with in the criminal court177. If treated as a criminal offence the maximum penalty is 5 years imprisonment178. Alternatively, it is possible to apply to the family court for an arrest warrant and the court will make further orders, up to a finding that the breach is a contempt of court and send the offender to prison for up to 2 years179 .

FMPOs are only a part of the landscape in the UK to address forced marriage. The Community Liaison Office was set up in 2000 within the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (‘FCO’) (renamed the Forced Marriage Unit (‘FMU’) in 2005)180 and is now a joint FCO and Home Office unit181. Shariff notes that:

Our principal task was to improve consular assistance. By the end of the first year if someone approached the Unit to say that they were in a rural village facing a forced marriage somewhere in Pakistan, India or Bangladesh, there was a good chance we could locate them and have a member of the consular staff, often accompanied by the police, visit them. If they wanted to leave, we could take them to a safe house in the city and arrange for their repatriation to the UK182

Shariff explains that in addition to repatriation cases up to a third of the men and women contacting the FMU had contracted a forced marriage and were being forced to sponsor a spousal visa183. These individuals sought denial of the visa without disclosing their request as a means of effectively exiting the forced marriage184. At the time this was not possible unless there were other grounds for refusal, although ‘government thinking on the immigration aspects of forced marriage changed after 2005’185

The FMU provides information and support to anyone who may be a victim of forced marriage and overseas the FMU may be able to assist British nationals to reach a place of safety and repatriation186. The FMU also helps those who have already been forced to marry, ‘including assisting those who are being forced to sponsor a spouse’s visa for settlement in the UK’187. The FMU has worked with 1200 – 1400 forced marriage victims and people at risk each year between 2011-2019, although this may well be an underestimate of the size of this issue in the UK188. During COVID (2020-2022), the numbers ranged from 302 to 759189. In 2022, the statistics for the FMU were190:

● Focus country: Pakistan 147 cases (49%), Bangladesh 41 cases (14%), India 20 cases (7%), Afghanistan 9 cases (3%), Iraq 7 cases (2%), Somalia 5 cases (2%)

● Victims present in the UK when case referred to FMU: 78%

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● Case breakdown: 28 cases related to a ‘reluctant sponsor’ of a spousal visa; 5 cases where the victim or potential victim was overseas, and 62 cases related to mental capacity concerns

● Source of referrals/contact: 72 cases (24%) by social services; 49 cases (16%) the Home Office; 46 cases (15%) by the police; 37 cases (12%) direct from victims and 28 cases (9%) by education officials – the remaining cases (13%) were referrals from friends, colleagues, partners, colleagues, anonymous callers, etc.

● Sex of victims: 78% female and 22% male – noting that men were particularly represented in cases where the victim had mental capacity concerns

● Age of victims: 14% aged 15 and under; 16% aged 16 or 17, 26% aged 18 to 21; 15% aged 26 to 30 and 12% aged 31 and over; 4% of cases the age was unknown

In addition to FMPOs and the FMU, the UK criminalised forced marriage in 2013. Prior to criminalisation in the UK, there was consensus about the importance of retaining FMPOs:

Proponents for and against criminalisation agree that the civil remedies should remain in place. This recognises that allowing the family courts to issue FMPOs to prevent forced marriages from taking place has provided protection to those facing forced marriage. Indeed, opponents of criminalisation have pointed to the increasing number of FMPO applications as evidence that the existing legislative response is effective191

The arguments against criminalisation included: a) criminalisation might make victims less likely to come forward as they do not want their family to be criminalised, b) criminalisation might increase the risk of victims being transported overseas to perform the marriage, c) creating a specific offence could be seen as focusing on particular ethnic groups, and d) the resources devoted to creating legislation could be better spent on non-legislative measures192 .

There were a significant number of responses from practitioners who were against criminalisation. There was a concern that the distinction between an arranged marriage and forced marriage is still not as clear-cut as is generally perceived. It was felt that there was a grey area where no actual force was applied and, in such cases, it would be extremely difficult to define whether the threshold for forced marriages has been reached. There was also the overriding concern that criminal proceedings could deter victims, which would then lead to fewer civil or criminal sanctions, and ultimately result in forced marriage being driven further underground193

The arguments for criminalisation included the possibility that ‘specific legislation would transmit a strong message of disapproval…and could therefore act as a catalyst to change and shape public opinion’ and that it could assist public sector employees to clarify their responsibilities194. Also:

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Many responses highlighted that forced marriage is not a subject victim feel able to openly speak about unless they fully understand that they have a right to choose their marriage partner195

The offence of forced marriage was introduced in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (2014) (the “2014 Act”). An offence is committed if a person:

(a) uses violence, threats or any other form of coercion for the purpose of causing another person to enter into a marriage, and

(b) believes, or ought reasonably to believe, that the conduct may cause the other person to enter into the marriage without free and full consent196

Further, if a victim lacks mental capacity to consent to marriage, the offence can be ‘committed by any conduct carried out for the purpose of causing the victim to enter into a marriage' (s. 121(2) 2014 Act). An offence is also committed if a person ‘practices any form of deception’ to cause another person to leave the UK, and they intend that the other person will be subjected to coercion to force a marriage outside the UK (as in s.121 (1) 2014 Act).

Since 27 February 2023, the definitions of forcing a child to marry and forcing an adult to marry are different197 .

Everything which would count as forced marriage in relation to an adult victim still counts as forced marriage in relation to a child victim, but…it is now an offence to carry out any conduct for the purpose of causing a child to marry before their eighteenth birthday, even if violence, threats or another form of coercion are not used. In other words, causing a child to marry, in any circumstances, is a crime198

The change for children was intended to reflect the specific challenges for children in relation to consent i.e. they may not be aware that they can make choices about their life; they are less likely than an adult to understand marriage including intimacy; and they typically have less ability to resist demands placed on them199

In the UK, one helpful intervention for children has been the Children Missing from Education (CME) initiatives:

…which involved communicating to parents the importance of education and the school’s disapproval of students missing classes…this could have a direct impact on the risk of [forced marriage], as such general messages could persuade parents to postpone marriage plans200

There were three forced marriage convictions in 2018 with a further conviction in 2020201. A recent conviction in 2023 involved a man who married a woman to be able to remain in the UK and then subjected

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her to physical, verbal, and emotional abuse202. The defendant was found guilty of forced marriage, coercive control and controlling behaviour, three counts of common assault and two counts of intentional strangulation and sentenced to four years and six months203 .

Several factors shaped the police’s decision not to pursue a criminal prosecution. These included the wishes of the victim / survivor, the need to prevent their disengagement, the lack of an evidential basis for prosecution without the cooperation of the victim / survivor, an assessment about the realistic prospect of conviction and whether or not prosecution was in the public interest204

In the 2023 case, the domestic abuse team, at Bedfordshire Police, worked closely with friends of the victim until she was ready to flee and provided her with support throughout the criminal process:

The victim was left incredibly scared and alone, and I cannot commend her bravery enough for coming forward and speaking out in such difficult circumstances…there are a number of specialists trained officers who can support you through any criminal proceedings with respect and care, and we work with a number of partner organisations who can offer guidance and stepping stones to rebuilding your future205

(Detective Constable Chloe Plowman, who led the investigation)

The FMU can make referrals to the police and social services to assist victims with safeguarding or assist them to find a refuge206. For example, if a victim thinks that their family may be looking for them or report them as missing to the police, the victim can inform the police of their reasons for leaving and the police will then tell the family that the victim is safe and well but will not reveal the location207. If a victim is overseas and their passport has been taken, the consular officials can assist with emergency travel documents and funding options to pay for repatriation208

6.5 Community-based response and social change: India

India has a multipronged approach to addressing child marriage, including civil society engagement and a criminal offence of forced marriage in the Indian Penal Code. UNICEF has acknowledged the ‘remarkable progress towards ending child marriage’ in India with steep declines in the last two decades209. These declines have been ‘associated with improvements in female education, a reduction in poverty and fertility, the promotion of positive gender norms, and the strengthened capacity of social service, justice, and enforcement systems, among other factors’210 .

The Indian Government started addressing child, early and forced marriage through the National Action Plan which included training law enforcement agents, seeking to change mindsets, empowering adolescents, providing cash incentives and awareness raising211. Although implementation and resources remain uneven across India212 .

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There is a long tradition of volunteerism and civic engagement in India213 Plan India works in 15 states and where programmes are implemented, Plan India forms, trains, and empowers child and youth groups to undertake advocacy activities in the community214. Young people are supported to prioritise concerns in their community with child, early and forced marriage as one of the most common themes215

In general, when initiatives focus on CEFM [child, early or forced marriage], the activities include advocacy, awareness raising and reporting / follow up through relevant institutions…the types of initiatives encompass street plays, songs, peer-to-peer education, public protests, and dialogue with village representatives and local political leaders216

Plan India gives the example of a 15-year-old boy who was being pressured to marry by his parents217. He was a youth group leader and after discussing it with the group, they decided to approach his parents to discuss this with the parents218. After a series of discussions, the parents decided not to force him to marry, and the story was a lesson for all the villagers and those in the district219 .

The village environment is where actual and potential victims of CEFM live and where face-to-face interactions shape power relations among CEFM-related actors. At this level, with adequate support, achievements are feasible and realistic, particularly when youth groups manage to involve the entire community and mobilise internal resources in a united endeavour [to] eliminate CEFM220

Another NGO is Akshara Centre, a women’s rights organisation which believes in changing society by empowering women and girls’ through a program called ‘Empowering Dreams Project’ which enhances the skills and confidence of girls221 .

The underlying philosophy for this approach to the Empowering Dreams Project is that ‘young women have agency to break the cycle of violence and poverty in their lives…they know what is best for them and are ‘experts’ in balancing, juggling, and negotiating for opportunities in the face of opposing values and forces’222. This reality is important to retain when considering any intervention. The young women who navigate these power dynamics have wisdom to share about how to advance their own interests.

In terms of self, the Empowering Dreams Project focused on assisting the young women to negotiate within their family as ‘it is a mark of empowerment to see young women negotiate and try to get their way within the family’223. Akshara referred to a series of strategies deployed by the young women such as: coming up with alternatives; barter tactics; delaying tactics and rehearsing a roadmap224. According to the evaluation by participants, the project enabled the young women to ‘grow significantly in self-confidence, and their own voices verify this achievement’225 .

Girls Not Brides is a global network of civil society organisations from over 100 countries committed to ending child marriage226. They have highlighted a case study of an Indian NGO, Population Foundation of India who conducted ‘a multi-media edutainment initiative called Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon’ (i.e. I, a Woman, Can Achieve Anything)227. The initiative sought to enhance knowledge of social issues including child marriage and to challenge discriminatory social norms228

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The key part of the edutainment was a soap opera which followed a young woman working as a doctor in Mumbai and the show was broadcast on national television229. The show was watched by 58 million viewers in the primetime slot of Saturday and Sunday night230. In addition to the broadcast, the ‘Population Foundation of India adopted a 360-degree behaviour change communication approach’ by using different media and was successful in increasing the awareness about child marriage231 .

India has criminalised marriage by force under the Indian Penal Code and has separate legislation to prohibit child marriage, the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006232. Despite these legal protections, the estimate is that 30,000 women and girls are forced into marriage every year233

In part this is because, ‘various courts continue to uphold the customary practices and personal laws of different religious communities’234. Another practice which is often viewed as obstructive is that there is no compulsory registration of marriages across India235. This means that if a child marriage is registered, the perceived validity of the marriage is reinforced236

6.6 Reflections

The variety of responses to forced marriage demonstrates the inherent complexity of the issue. Governments and NGOs have struggled with the multiple causes of forced marriage and the deeply personal impact on the victims involved. There is general agreement that forced marriage is a breach of human rights and an abuse of the rights of the individual. Although, there are themes which echo within the global response there is clearly no one solution which has been found to end forced marriage.

There is diversity of opinion about the efficacy or even appropriateness of some of these measures. Shariff characterised and critiqued the ‘three possible approaches – regulation, exit and community engagement with most states favouring the first and second of these’237 .

● “Regulation, often framed as protecting vulnerable individuals, sets minority cultural practices against the ‘universal principles’ of human rights…this approach has been found to harbour a racist and exclusionary narrative and one that demonises cultural minorities and essentialises culture as ‘backward’ or oppressive”238

● “The second approach, exit, seeks to enable the individual, as free agents, who are unable to realise their own preferences within a culture to leave that group. The right to agency through exit has, however, been found to be meaningless for women of culture, as it forces women to choose between their culture and their freedom and fails to understand the connection between culture and identity”239

● “The third approach, community engagement, and it’s theoretical companion inter-cultural dialogue, is largely dismissed by states and in the literature as risky – potentially endorsing cultural

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hegemonic power hierarchies through the privilege of self-designated spokespersons – and buying into a false representation of cultural groups as homogenous”240

These issues are undoubtedly sensitive. Involving policy and legislation with family life and the intimate decision about marriage is challenging. As Shariff expresses it, the use of regulation (i.e. criminalisation / immigration law) puts into opposition a human rights analysis with specific cultural practices. The concern is that this can empower racism in relation to ethnic groups by labelling cultures as antithetical to human rights, as opposed to practices and behaviours.

This is part of the challenge of work in this area, the intimacy of the subject matter and the delicacy of examining behaviours which are often situated within minority communities. What is clear is that interventions need to be considered and responsive to the needs of the individuals and the community.

When engaging and informing a community, a range of approaches can be used, preferably in a complementary manner. Focusing on the damaging aspects and the harm caused by a practice can motivate a change in attitude; while measures such as criminalisation, prosecution, child protection intervention and other deterrents, can enforce a behaviour shift. While this is a practical and potent approach, it also can be beneficial to focus on the future an affected community can build by abandoning harmful practices. Such an approach frames the shift as a positive investment that the community can make and aims to enable and promote a behavioural change within the community with their active participation and affirmation241

Another challenge is the nature of forced marriage itself. Forced marriage is often seen as a crisis or an event at a point in time, however, the conditions for forced marriage are constructed over time, as an individual is denied agency or with inculcation from a young age that their marriage has been contracted.

The problem is that the preoccupation with ‘free will’ that informs the legal discourse ignores the fact that consent itself is constructed in the context of power imbalances and gendered norms…the legal subject as an autonomous agent who is able to choose and act freely is not a gender-less, raceless being; this notion of the free self is predicated on the normative experiences of a white man242

It is important to recognise that free and full consent does not exist within a vacuum and is a construct which is necessarily impacted by the reality within which the victim exists. This means that interventions need to be nuanced and multipronged. For example, there has been criticism of the Australian criminalisation strategy in that it focuses on the event of the forced marriage, rather than on the process of coercion243. As a Scottish professional explained forced marriage, ‘is rooted in gender-based violence [and is] … synonymous to “grooming.’’’244

Shariff described community engagement as ‘largely dismissed’. Much of the community engagement which exists focuses on empowering girls and women. Designing interventions which are impactful and respectful

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to communities is key to shifting beliefs. Whilst empowering women and girls is part of the equation, real change will require shifting mindsets and perspectives of communities as whole.

While education efforts are typically geared towards children and young adults, older generations can also benefit…equipping adults with a solid and critical understanding of the harm caused by these practices, and their opportunities to build a more positive future for themselves, their children and their community, is a further contributor to the shifting attitudes and the building of new social and cultural behaviours and norms. Equally, when done in tandem with the efforts to inspire intergenerational dialogue, families can come together to end these harmful practices in a supportive, collective and collaborative manner245

If you reject the human rights analysis that forced marriage is an issue which needs to be combatted, there remain practical reasons to end this practice including the risks of domestic violence and health implications e.g. ‘forced pregnancy, lack of control of the number and spacing of children’, etc.246

To this can be added the loss of opportunity for what these women could contribute to the societies in which they live. A forced marriage usually leads to cessation of their education and typically of their ability to engage with society outside the home. What has been lost to all communities from the energy, wisdom and abilities of these women is another reason to find ways to end forced marriage. Reframing forced marriage as a loss of opportunity for girls and women and their communities is one way in which to engage with parents and communities.

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Recommendations

7. Introduction

We suggest there are four key areas in which our recommendations fall for Hong Kong: 1) understand forced marriage, 2) provide safety and support, 3) support mindset change and 4) consider enacting laws and policies. Consideration of these stages will lead to a range of options set out in the table below and described in more detail in this section. These stages are not mutually exclusive and can both build on each other and coexist to address this issue. For example, understanding is a prerequisite to some actions and also an ongoing journey.

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Chart 8: Forced Marriage in Action Flowchart

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Recommendations need to be formulated which are cognisant of the needs, resources, and context of the community in which they are made. Hong Kong is subject to obligations in relation to international law and domestic protections for victims of forced marriage. However, as can be seen from the interviews, forced marriage is a problem that occurs in Hong Kong. As such what are the recommendations which could address this issue?

The ILO in reviewing forced marriage has advised that when creating change, it is critical that we ‘put those vulnerable to forced marriage, especially women and girls, at the centre…as women and girls are disproportionately affected, legislative and policy responses should have a gendered lens’247 .

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Chart 9: Forced Marriage- Areas of Intervention Framework Chart 10: Types of Interventions Available to Hong Kong

STAGE 1: UNDERSTAND

Recommendation 1:

Understand that Forced Marriage affects Hong Kong children physically, emotionally and sometimes sexually and ensure that the upcoming Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse law, its training guidelines and other resources, makes clear that forced marriage to those under age 18 constitutes child abuse.

Recommendation 2:

Create a Forced Marriage Assistance List to help victims and civil society organisations navigate the various services required to assist forced marriage victims. This is an immediate need and will be even more important when Hong Kong enacts its law on Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse.

Recommendation 3:

Collate and collect data on the incidence of forced marriage in Hong Kong to enable resources to be deployed appropriately and meaningfully. Ensure that any data collected is publicly available to ensure public awareness and accessibility for NGOs and researchers.

A. Mandatory Reporting on Child Abuse Law and Accompanying Practice Guides, Training and Resources

We know from this research that children are directly impacted by forced marriage. The Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse Bill was introduced into the Legislative Council of Hong Kong in June 2023. This bill specifies that certain professionals (for example, teachers, social workers, doctors, clinical and educational psychologists) must make a report if they have a reasonable ground to suspect that a child has been suffering or is at real risk of suffering harm248. This new law will cover physical, emotional and sexual abuse as well as neglect. Training guidelines must provide culturally appropriate training to sensitise mandatory reporters to the nature of forced marriage and how to recognise warning signs. The government is encouraged to include forced marriage case studies and examples in training guidelines and provide mandatory reporters with resources to seek help if unsure about cultural nuances. Also, mandatory reporters must be made aware that culture cannot be used as a defence and all children will be protected under the same law.

B. Forced Marriage Assistance List

We have learned that Hong Kong women who face a forced marriage feel alone, they do not know where and to whom to turn to for help. We too at The Zubin Foundation have sometimes struggled to navigate individual cases, because of the intersectionality of safety, social welfare, family dynamics, culture, financial dependency, international marriage and much more. A Forced Marriage Assistance List will help individual victims, social workers, schools, educators, health care providers and others:

● Which civil society organisations can a victim/ schools/ teachers/ social workers approach for help?

● How to access immediate support from the Hong Kong Police if the victim’s physical being is in danger?

● How can a victim inform her social worker, teacher, or healthcare worker that she needs help and is a victim of forced marriage?

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● How can immigration be informed at the airport that a young woman, child is being taken abroad for forced marriage and offer help?

● How can a victim and her siblings seek safe shelter for the immediate and medium-term?

● What assistance (government and civil society) is available to Hong Kong children and adults who have been taken abroad for a forced marriage?

● How can a victim seek assistance from immigration if she doesn't want her husband to receive a dependent visa to live in Hong Kong?

● Where can women seek medium- and long-term gainful employment?

This Forced Marriage Assistance List is an important resource especially as Hong Kong adopts its law on Mandatory Reporting of Child Abuse and cases may become more apparent. Forced marriage is a complex subject and in respect to individual cases, it requires a multi-disciplinary approach. In time, a government ad-hoc committee to address specific cases of forced marriage is recommended.

C. Data Collection

One overarching recommendation is to ensure the collection of data in respect of forced marriage. The counting of anything enables it to be seen and recognised as existing. If forced marriage is not counted, then it does not exist.

There are no statistics relating to forced marriage which are collated by the Hong Kong Government e.g. Hong Kong Police Force (“HKPF") or Social Welfare Department (“SWD”). Creating data in relation to forced marriage would enable the Government and NGOs to assess this issue and to ensure that resources are used in the most beneficial and impactful manner.

Reliable information and statistics on…forced marriage are critical to promoting awareness and understanding of the problem, and to informing policy responses249

STAGE 2: SAFETY AND SUPPORT

Recommendation 4:

Consider means to provide short term (e.g. shelter, social welfare assistance) and long-term support which extends beyond the immediate crisis responses recognising the special nature of isolation and loss experienced by victims of forced marriage.

Recommendation 5:

Recognise the special nature of loss experienced by victims of forced marriage and consider if and how a reconnection process with the family could be supported safely for victims possibly building on the combined approach of mediation and a safeguarding team of professionals.

C. Support Services

Globally, NGOs provide an extraordinary level of support to victims and potential victims of forced marriage. These can range from shelter, health services, legal services, mental health support or social workers.

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One consideration is whether the forced marriage victim is a child or not. Given that forced marriage is a process, coercion and child abuse may occur prior to the age of 18 years. This may not be an issue which support services are aware of for younger children in Hong Kong. How can the needs of these children who are being forced to marry be addressed and protected?

One critical aspect for safety, is the 'one-chance rule':

The idea behind the One Chance Rule is that you might only have one chance to speak to a potential victim and, therefore, have one chance to save a life...this effectively means getting as much information as possible about the person's circumstances and referring them...for immediate help250

In the Australian model, they have now delinked victim engagement with the criminal process and access to the Support Program. This enables victims to have 200 days of support and assistance provided through the Red Cross.

As noted by some of the civil society leaders, there are different needs at different points in time:

● Short term needs: these are typically immediate and can arise because the situation is at a crisis point. For example, a girl has run away from home and needs immediate shelter, social welfare assistance and possibly referral to the police. This can also necessitate medical and mental health assistance. Ensuring there is robust funding for facilities including shelters is critical to supporting safety.

● Long term needs: these needs are more complex and arise because of the special situation caused by forced marriage. For example, if a domestic violence victim is in a shelter, it is possible that they will not have lost access / contact to their entire family and community support network. Forced marriage represents a significantly and qualitatively different experience from a typical family violence victim. Considering how to support victims’ long term will require an approach that addresses their lack of social and community network.

The loss of all family and community requires support to be tailored to the additional needs of victims of forced marriage which are distinct from those of family violence victims. Victims of forced marriage need to find ways to rebuild their social networks and reconceptualise their identity.

Family from Pakistani Muslims’ perspective is a bit different from what Hong Kong people understand. Weiss mentions that the Pakistani family works as a basis of a social system. It is not merely a living place but provides protection and identity to individuals251

In Denmark, another process which has been used to manage the familial and societal losses caused by forced marriage is CCTM. The use of CCTM originates in the realisation that for many victims of forced marriage, reunification with their family is something that they long for. The loss of their family can lead victims to return to the family even with the risk of continuing coercion. Using CCTM is designed to provide a network of professionals around any interactions to try and ensure the safety of the victim whilst enabling reconnection.

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One similarity that Denmark (population 5.8 million) and Hong Kong (population 7.4 million) share is that we are both relatively small jurisdictions. Unlike a larger jurisdiction in which a victim can leave the area and resettle to build a new life without any contact, Hong Kong’s size can make that unrealistic. Even the interviewees who said that their family had physically, emotionally, and psychologically abused them still yearned to have contact and connection with their families. This will not be the case for all victims, but for some this will be a powerful and even an overwhelming need.

Finding ways to facilitate reconciliation safely should be a priority. It could be that with appropriate training CCTM could be offered in Hong Kong. What is needed as a corollary of this is the second part of the Danish approach – the professional support and oversight.

Merely providing CCTM without the mechanisms to support victims as they establish their lives and connect with their families and community would be extremely dangerous. If CCTM were to be considered in Hong Kong, then participation would need to be predicated on professional support surrounding and safeguarding the victim.

STAGE 3: MINDSETS

Recommendation 6:

Create and deliver a tailored, education programme for Hong Kong which considers global experience and our local context to provide frontline responders with the tools they need to be able to address forced marriage in an agile, sensitive and victim-centred manner.

Recommendation 7:

Create culturally sensitive and Hong Kong appropriate materials to engage youth in Hong Kong, including both boys and girls.

Recommendation 8:

Consider creating material tailored to engage young readers with these topics similar to “But It’s Not Fair’.

Recommendation 9:

Engage with religious and community leaders to raise awareness of forced marriage and to engage with their communities to consider the opportunities available to girls / women in Hong Kong.

Recommendation 10:

Engage with parents to seek opportunities for their daughters which encourage their completion of education, empowerment and agency.

Recommendation 11:

Engage with older forced marriage victims to amplify their voices, to seek out role models and to find ways to support them to create empowerment for women and girls in their community.

D. Education for Frontline Responders

In the Dreams Report, one of the key recommendations was for increasing cultural sensitivity and awareness for schools, social workers and NGOs including252:

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● Schools: workshops for teachers and parents (Chinese and non-Chinese) to create a culturally sensitive school environment

● Social Workers at schools / IFSCs and FCPSUs, NGOs: mandatory training and workshops to create culturally appropriate screening mechanisms, risk assessments and interventions…training should be grounded in research and data on the particular circumstances of the Hong Kong Pakistani population.

● NGOs and Community Centres: mandatory training and workshops for staff, including management to create a culturally sensitive community environment.

The HKPF and the SWD are often the first responders to a situation where a young person is resisting marriage. In their own training in relation to protecting children from maltreatment, the SWD include a potential indicator of child maltreatment as ‘child disclosing that he / she has been forced into marriage by parents (e.g. children of ethnic minorities)’ which demonstrates an awareness of forced marriage as an issue in Hong Kong253

Notably in one of the Interviews conducted for this report, the young person ran away as a child under the age of 18 years, and her first interaction was with the HKPF and the SWD. She found both to be supportive and helpful to enable her to avoid the forced marriage. Her needs and vulnerability were qualitatively different due to being a child. Education for frontline responders, especially in the schools, needs to communicate that forced marriage may impact school age children.

Specialised education for frontline responders such as HKPF, SWD, hospital workers, mental health professionals, lawyers and educators can ensure that professionals have the resources they need to understand that the situation they are experiencing, or how the words spoken by a child are an indicator of forced marriage. This would include ensuring that frontline responders are aware of and have strategies to manage the 'one-chance rule'.

For example, some of the interviewees noted that they had seen examples of girls who had long absences from school without questions being raised, and that these absences were used to enable the marriage to occur outside Hong Kong. Having red flags which are specific to Hong Kong circumstances should be part of any training and education. Recognising the reality that a child may be subject to coercion and child abuse as part of the forced marriage process is key. This highlights the vital role of educators and schools in safeguarding children.

The recommended European Union responses includes four key elements254:

● Recognise – the potential indicators of early or forced marriage e.g. running away, negative change in schoolwork, self-harm, etc. ‘most young people refrain from seeking out professional help out of family loyalty and they do not want to have to choose between their parents and their right to choose who they will marry’255

● Risk Assess – professionals need to be experienced in gathering as much information as possible so that a proper risk assessment can be conducted. The professional needs to determine the level of risk – ‘there are three levels of risk: requires immediate protection (immediate action is required to

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prevent further serious violence of forced marriage) …elevated risk (number of significant factors which require risk management including safety planning) …at risk (some factors present but structures are already in place)’256

● Respond – use a ‘victim-centred approach…victims are listened to and they are able to communicate their needs and wishes…victims are given accurate information about their rights and choices…victims’ wishes are respected about the level of intervention they require’. Also, a ‘rightsbased approach…analysis in accordance with principles of human rights and child rights…principle of ‘do no harm’ to protect victim from being exposed to further harm’ and finally ‘ensure confidentiality…professionals have to be able to differentiate between breaking confidence (involving the child or young person’s family without consent) and sharing information with consent with another appropriate professional’257

● Refer – ‘inform the potential victim of options and services available’ and ‘help and support the individual to develop an individual safety plan’ and ‘follow up with multi-sectoral support to ensure continued support’258

The AFP has prepared their own education programme for local, state and federal agencies, the LALD program which focuses on empowering professionals to know the indicia of forced marriage and to be able to respond appropriately.

In addition, recognising the important role of educators and schools means that they need to be able to identify warning signs and to know how to respond and to be able to connect with available resources.

E. Engagement with young people

Many efforts globally have been aimed at young people. This may be around creating participation structures such as Plan India or more commonly around education.

One project in Pakistan, the Humsathi: Empowering Girls to become their Own Advocates and Boys to End Early Child and Forced Marriage sought to: 1) strengthen girls to be their own advocates, 2) effect sustainable community-owned changes, and 3) promote an environment where adolescent girls and allies can engage with decision-makers259. The interventions included260:

● providing girls with ‘adolescent friendly spaces’ to gather and gain new knowledge

● forming core 15-member female youth groups in each district

● creating 15-member male youth allies and mothers, including fathers

It is common for education efforts to target young people and specifically girls. Education efforts focus on the empowerment of girls and increasing their sense of agency. The Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights, recommended that:

…a tailored education / vocational advice program is established in schools that recognises the unique challenges young Muslim women face and the potential consequences for young women who do not have educational or vocational options261

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In the Dreams Report, the recommendations included262:

b. Keeping Children in School: Raise the bar beyond the minimum age of schooling (Year 9). Provide financial incentives through scholarships, curriculum or afterschool support for children to encourage them to complete matriculation (Year 12).

c. Life Enrichment Course: Introduce a life enrichment course as a form of personal, social and health education in which topics which are generally not covered in other subjects can be covered, including sex education, reproductive health education, gender stereotypes, child abuse and violence against women, preparing for further education or employment, negotiating cultural and professional demands and expectations, and building resilience.

One of the civil society leaders suggested that empowerment efforts should address both boys and girls when they are in primary school. Engaging boys and girls with material designed to enhance their understanding and respect for others could be something which is done with children at an earlier age.

There are NGOs who have prepared education packs which can be used with young people, such as the Forced Marriage Project – Status of Women Canada which has created toolkits to engage with youth including workshop materials263 .

The Australian Attorney-General’s Department funded a kit of learning and teaching materials for secondary schools to run learning sessions with secondary students264. The Kit stresses that teachers need to ensure that the cultural backgrounds of the students are respected and that prior to using the Kit, aspects of students’ safety and welfare need to be considered265. Some of the topics include: “How am I able to become the adult that I want to be?”, “What are my human rights and from where do they come?” and “What is forced marriage and how does this practice take away a person’s human rights?”266 .

Aneeta Prem, the founder of the Freedom Charity in the UK, wrote a young adult novel called titled ‘But It’s Not Fair’267. In her book, Prem introduces sisters Sofia and Vinny who live in London and who are PakistaniBritish. As the story develops a new friend’s situation becomes increasingly concerning until it becomes clear she is being forced to marry. The book introduces complex issues in a way which is accessible and compelling.

F. Community Engagement

The Dreams Report made several recommendations for engagement with the community and parents:

Parental engagement: A series of workshops for parents (both fathers and mothers) to understand the school’s expectations, the role of the school and the responsibilities of parents in facilitating their children’s educational development and growth as well as coverage of other topics including relationships, a healthy home environment and dealing with conflict and inter-generational

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differences268

Improving

Develop Life Enrichment Courses: Introduce life enrichment course for families, targeting women and girls but also men and boys as a form of personal, social and health education in which topics which are generally not widely discussed within the community, including gender stereotypes, child abuse and violence against women with a focus on ethnic communities to integrate their cultural knowledge with the available resources and networks in Hong Kong269

Raising Awareness: Engaging the Imams to raise awareness with their members about the status of the Pakistani population and their life experienced in Hong Kong…in addition, raising awareness specifically about:

i) What the Holy Quran says about girls’ education;

ii) The link between education and poverty; and

iii) Education of a daughter as a means of educating a family

Harness Cultural and Religious Knowledge to Educate Members About Commitment to Equality: Present role models from within the community, discuss current issues especially, topics that are taboo to cultivate a more enlightened understanding…offer platforms and safe spaces for families, including women and girls, men and boys to discuss gender stereotypes, child abuse and violence against women, negotiating religious, cultural and professional demands and expectations270

In Australia, the Australian Muslim’s Women’s Centre for Human Rights (“AMWCHR”), made several recommendations for community engagement following their report271:

● Women’s leadership program: that a women’s leadership program is developed and established to engage younger and older Muslim women and enable discussions in safe places. This program could explore women’s rights, economic independence, educational / vocational pathways, reproductive health and healthy relationships within the cultural framework of women’s lives.

● Muslim women’s network: that a network of successful Muslim women is established as role models for young Muslim women. This network could: present at school career days; host events that engage young women in positive settings; mentor young Muslim women and set up a social media network to engage and inspire young women.

● Parenting programs: that parenting programs targeted to Muslim communities adopt a strengthbased approach. This programme needs to engage with cultural norms that support the practice of early and forced marriage.

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The recommendations regarding the empowerment of women, particularly older women recognise their place in the community. As noted in a local study of another ethnic minority group in Hong Kong:

Changes in gender relations among the Nepalese in Hong Kong are taking place. While women at the familial level contribute to constituting and reproducing the patriarchal system, they are also active agents in making changes within it at an individual level. The single most important catalyst for this change is public participation, especially in social service programs for South Asians organised by non-governmental organisations and, to a lesser extent, their attendance in government-sponsored activities and ethnic community-based programs272

Recommendations to engage with the community need to be culturally sensitive and engage with community leaders, such as religious leaders and elders. There were a significant number of recommendations made by the AMWCHR which are not included above because they related to the Australian context i.e. the legal framework. Unless and until Hong Kong has a specific criminal offence of forced marriage or civil protection, it is key to engage with the community by highlighting the positive aspects of supporting girls and women’s education and empowerment. As one of the civil society perspectives noted, helping parents to understand the opportunities which could be available to their children in general and their girls in particular is critical to discouraging forced marriage.

It may seem that the opportunities and life options which are created by education and financial empowerment are obvious. However, consider the educational attainment level of most of the interviewees’ parents and it becomes clear that this may well not be obvious to their parents. For all but one of the families, the interviewees’ educational level was the highest level of education attained in their family. It can be easy to underestimate how our own experience limits our perceptions of what is possible.

The Forced Marriage Project in Canada also provides material for workshops with parents to engage with them in relation to forced marriage273:

● Parental responsibility for finding their children’s appropriate marriage partner – encouraging them to do so in a way that respects their children’s needs, rights and future.

● Parents have a part to play in choosing children’s partners, respecting their children’s rights to decide who / when to marry.

● Passing on community values to their children which consider the circumstances of life where they live.

● Assist parents to discuss issues with their children.

STAGE 4: LEGISLATION

Recommendation 12:

Consider specific legislation such as the draft Modern Slavery Bill to provide for a cohesive criminal and civil regime dealing with forced marriage.

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Recommendation 13:

Collate and collect information regarding sponsorship of spousal visas. Consider interviewing sponsors individually to provide an opportunity for them to speak confidentially with the Immigration Department.

Recommendation 14:

Consider the option of criminalisation of forced marriage, including passing the current Modern Slavery Bill. However, any criminalisation needs to be tied to supportive services to ensure that victims are supported and not re-victimised.

G. Civil Protection

In the UK, FMPOs have provided another tool to ensure the safety of victims of forced marriage. They are part of a structured response to forced marriage, and have been useful in protecting the rights of potential victims. As they exist within the family court, they have avoided the stigmatisation of a criminal offence.

The ILO sees FMPOs as an important part of a victim-centred approach:

Central to providing criminal or civil remedies to protect victims and those at risk is a traumainformed, victim-centred approach that empowers survivors to make informed choices as to the best solution for their individual situation. Not everyone wants to prosecute, particularly where family members are perpetrators; therefore, a suite of remedies should be made available, including alternatives to criminal prosecution274

Some relief may be available in Hong Kong under the Domestic and Cohabitation Relationships Violence Ordinance (Cap. 189) which provides for injunctive relief from various forms of violence and harassment. It may be that these provisions are sufficient to protect victims of domestic violence, however an argument exists that specific wording and protections relating to forced marriage are worthwhile. Firstly, they enable forced marriage to be counted and recognised as a specific set of circumstances. Secondly, injunctive relief like the FMPO would raise public awareness about this issue.

H. Immigration

In Denmark various methods which were used to deter forced marriages for the purpose of immigration by reducing the number of family reunifications. One of the most controversial aspects of the 2003 changes was the supposition rule which applied to consanguineous marriages. For the interviewees this rule would have impacted several of the marriages.

In the UK, it is possible for sponsors of spousal visas to discuss concerns with the FMU. This can result in an open statement that the spousal visa is not supported (i.e. a Public Statement) or a confidential discussion which may examine alternatives275. Anyone denied a visa in the UK is entitled to understand the reasons for the denial and therefore any steps taken need to be nuanced and compliant with immigration rules276

Given that the right of the spouse to come to Hong Kong was noted as a motivation in at least some of the Interviews, this could be an area which it would be worth exploring and understanding.

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I. Criminalisation

At present in Hong Kong, there is draft legislation which would criminalise forced marriage as a specific offence in Hong Kong277. Introducing legislation is a significant step, however, other countries have criminalised forced marriage, often as part of complying with SDG5. The number of convictions seems to be low (e.g. UK) to non-existent (e.g. Australia) in some jurisdictions which might mitigate against the utility of criminalising this behaviour.

As noted by some of the civil society leaders, the lack of a specific criminal offence in Hong Kong can make it difficult for the police, professionals and even the public to be clear about the parameters of coercion.

Criminalisation of this behaviour may make it easier for victims to access resources. For example, some of the civil society leaders noted that accessing Legal Aid for annulment can be difficult. If forced marriage was better understood, it may be easier to access Legal Aid.

As one civil society leader noted, even if there were one case which resulted in a conviction this can assist with ensuring community understanding of forced marriage as not acceptable in Hong Kong. The ILO notes that criminalisation:

…has a symbolic effect in communicating that the practice will not be tolerated, can deter perpetrators, and empower victims to come forward and report incidents278

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1 ILO, Global Estimates of Modern Slavery: Forced Labour and Forced Marriage (2022), 5

2 Hirani v Hirani [1982] EWCA Civ 1, as relied upon in the Hong Kong case, RM v AY [2023] HKFC 59 at para.23

3 Khatidja Chantler, Nughmana Mirza and Mhairi Mackenzie, Policy and Professional Responses to Forced Marriage in Scotland, British Journal of Social Work (2022) Vol. 52, 843

4 Ibid.

5 ILO supra note 1, 5

6 Ibid.

7 ILO, supra note 1, 63

8 Tahirih Justice Centre, A Framework for Identifying and Responding to Cases of Forced Marriage, 6

9 Kaye Quek, A Civil Rather than Criminal Offence? Forced Marriage, Harm and the Politics of Multiculturalism in the UK, The British Journal of Politics and International Relations (2013) Vol.15, 629

10 Ibid.

11 Lam Ching Sum, Identity and Agency of Pakistani Youth and their Families in Hong Kong, Hong Kong Anthropologist (2022) Vol. 12, 71

12 Dr Naseem Akhter and Dr Arshad Munir, Forced Marriages in Pakistan (From Islamic Perspective), Research Journal Al Basirah (Vol. 5, Issue 2), 33

13 Muhammad Muzaffar, Zahid Yaseen and Aisha Ahmad, Child Marriages in Pakistan: Causes and Consequences, Journal of Indian Studies (2018), Vol. 4 No. 2, 203

14 Zara Ahmed, Evolution of Pakistani Marriages, Canadian Journal of Family and Youth, (14)2, (2022),2

15 Tahirih Justice Centre, supra note 8, 5

16 Khatidja Chantler, Geetanjali Gangoli and Marianne Hester, Forced Marriage in the UK: Religious, cultural or economic or state violence? Critical Social Policy (2009) Vol. 29, 596

17 Sundari Anitha and Aisha Gill, Coercion, Consent and the Forced Marriage Debate in the UK, Feminist Legal Studies (2009) Vol. 17, 176

18 Ibid., 172

19 Ibid.

20 Yunas Samad, Forced Marriage among men: An unrecognised problem, Critical Social Policy Vol. 30(2), (2010), 197

21 Ibid., 198

22 Ibid., 196

23 Ibid., 200

24 Bushra Rauf, Nadia Saleem, Rachael Clawson, Mandy Sanghera and Geoff Martson, Forced marriage: implications for mental health and intelligence disability services, Advances in psychiatric treatment (2013), Vol. 19, 136

25

Editors Raees Baig, Sally Ka-wing Lo and Stephanie Kwok, Minority Girls and Gender Justice project under The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Guidebook on Honour-based Violence – Experiences from Hong Kong, (2022), 25

26 Mohammad Mazher Idriss, Abused by the Patriarchy: Male Victims, Masculinity, “Honor”-Based Abuse and Forced Marriages, Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Vol.37 (2022), 907

27 Lam, supra note 11, 34

28 Ibid , 38

29 Chantler et al., supra note 16, 599

30 Wanru Xiong, Does the Shortage of Marriageable Women Induce the Trafficking of Women for Forced Marriage? Evidence from China, Violence Against Women, 0(00) (2021), 3

31 Helen McCabe and Lauren Eglen, "I bought you. You are my wife": 'Modern Slavery' and Forced Marriage, Journal of Human Trafficking (2022), 7 (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/23322705.2022.2096366)

32 UNICEF, https://data.unicef.org/resources/is-an-end-to-child-marriage-within-reach/

33 Ibid.

34 UN OHCHR, https://www.ohchr.org/en/women/child-and-forced-marriage-including-humanitarian-settings

35 Human Rights Council, UN General Assembly, strengthening efforts to prevent and eliminate child, early and forced marriage, A/HRC/RES/29/8 (2015), 3

36 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16 (https://www.ohchr.org/en/human-rights/universal-declaration/translations/english)

37 UN OHCHR, (https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Publications/FactSheet2Rev.1en.pdf)

38 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 23 (3), (https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/ProfessionalInterest/ccpr.pdf)

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39 Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Article 16(e), (https://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/text/econvention.htm#article16)

Improving

40 IASC, Guidelines for Integrating Gender-Based Violence Interventions in Humanitarian Action,5

41ibid., 321

42 Ibid.

43 https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/development-agenda/

44 https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/tag/193-member-states/

45 https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/gender-equality/

46 United Nations, supra note 43

47 United Nations, https://sdgs.un.org/goals/goals#5progress_and_info

48 Census and Statistics Department, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Thematic Report – Ethnic Minorities, (2022), 6

49 Ibid., 14

50 Ibid., 18

51 Ibid., 20

52 Ibid., 64

53 Puja Kapai and Ravina Lalwani, Dreams of Pakistani Children (2019) (The Zubin Foundation, Plan International Hong Kong and CCPL)

54 Ibid., 9

55 Ibid., 9 and 10

56 Ibid., 44

57

Ibid., 45

58 Ibid., 45

59

Ibid., 36

60

Ibid., 36

61 Ibid., 37

62

Ibid., 38

63 RainLily, Understanding Gender-based Violence of Girls of South Asian Ethnic Groups in Hong Kong Survey Report (2018)

64

Ibid., 8

65

Ibid., 30

66 Ibid., 32

67

Ibid., 34

68

Ibid., 34

69

Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau, Government of Hong Kong (https://www.cmab.gov.hk/en/issues/human.htm)

70 Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance (Cap. 383), Section 8, Article 19

71 see R v Chan Wing Kuen and Another [1995] 1 HKC 470

72

Domestic and Cohabitation Relationships Ordinance (Cap. 189)

73 Ibid , s. 3

74 HHJ Melloy, P v C (FCMC 9655 / 2005), para.s 22 and 24 https://legalref.judiciary.hk/lrs/common/search/search_result_detail_frame.jsp?DIS=57588&QS=%24%28molestation%2Cmay%2Ctake%2CplaCE%29&TP=JU

75

Matrimonial Causes Ordinance (Cap. 179), s. 20(2)(c)

76 Evelyn Tsao, Obtaining the first ‘get out of marriage’ card for a Muslim victim of forced marriage, https://www.patriciahoassociates.com/advocacy-updates1/obtaining-the-first-get-out-of-marriage-card-for-a-muslim-victim-of-forced-marriage

77 Ibid.

78 HHJ Kwan, RM v AY [2023] HKFC 59

79 Ibid., paras.26 and 27

80 Fauzia Shariff, Towards a Transformative Paradigm in the UK Response to Forced Marriage: Excavating Community Engagement and Subjectivising Agency, Social & Legal Studies (2012), 9

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Improving the lives of Hong Kong’s ethnic minorities by reducing suffering and providing opportunities

81 Rais Nouman Ahmad, Faiz Bakhsh, Rao Imran Habib and Muhammad Danyal Khan, Social Cultural and Religious Factors of Forced Marriages in Pakistan and its Legal Concerns, Pakistan Journal of Social Sciences, Vol. 40 No.2 (2020), 1122

82 Shariff, supra note 80, 9

83 Salma Nawaz, Mouna Koser and Malik Shahzad Shabbir, The Conceptual Framework of study to analyse the status of women in the Pakistani family system, Pakistan Journal of Educational Research, Vol. 4, Issue 4 (2021), 340

84 Muzaffar et al., supra note 13, 199

85 Choong Pui Yee, Eradicating Child Marriages in Southeast Asia: Protecting Children, Challenging Cultural Exceptionalism, Penang Institute Issues (2021), 5-6

86 Yunas A. Samad and J. Eades, Community Perceptions of Forced Marriage, University of Bradford, 84

87 Shariff, supra note 80, 4

88 Centre for Legal Aid Assistance & Settlement UK, Submissions on child, early and forced marriage in Pakistan addressed to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, (Ref: WHRGS /GA/RES/75167), 2

89 Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz, Forced Marriage: A ‘New’ Crime Against Humanity, Northwestern Journal of Human Rights, Vol. 8 Issue 1 (Fall 2009), 53

90 Ahmad et al. supra note 81, 1122

91 Legislative Council, A brief overview of the Modern Slavery Bill 2017, LC Paper No. CB(2) 1480/17-18(05)

92 HHJ Kwan, supra note 78, 59

93 Rosie Heselev, FECCA, Forced Marriage in Australia: a literature review, (2019), 15 - 16

94 Ruben Timmerman, Responses to Early or Forced Marriages, International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy (https://icclr.org/wpcontent/uploads/2019/06/Child-Forced-Marriage-Final-Revised2.pdf?x21689#:~:text=Community%2Dbased%20Response%20and%20Social%20Change&text=The%20specific%20efforts%20that%20may,services%20and%20su pport%20for%20victims.), 6

95 Ibid., 7

96

Ibid., 7

97 Frances Simmons and Grace Wong, Learning from Lived Experience: Australia’s Response to Forced Marriage, UNSW Law Journal Vol. 44(4) (2019), 1623

98 Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995, (https://www.legislation.gov.au/C2004A04868/latest/text/2)

99 Australian Government, https://www.legislation.gov.au/C2018A00153/latest/text

100 Australian Government, Forced marriage: Fact Sheet for Media, (https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/criminal-justice/files/forced-marriage-fact-sheet-media.pdf)

101 ABC, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-09-04/nsw-forced-marriage-police-fear-spike-as-travel-resumes-/101317834

102 AFP, https://www.afp.gov.au/news-centre/media-release/human-trafficking-reports-continue-increase-australia

103 Simmons et al., supra note 97, 1625

104

Ibid., 1626

105 Australian Federal Police, supra note 102

106

Ibid.

107

Ibid.

108

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-08-02/man-who-killed-forced-marriage-bride-jailed/100342086

109

Ibid.

110

Ibid.

111 The Australian Muslim Women's Centre for Human Rights, Child and forced marriage: A guide for professionals working with the Muslim community (2019), 5

112 Australian Government, supra note 100

113 Department of Social Services, Increased Support for Forced Marriage Victims, (https://www.dss.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/05_2018/d18_479015forced-marriage-stream-trial.pdf)

114

Ibid.

115 MyBlueSky, https://mybluesky.org.au

116 Laura Vidal, Rethinking Australia’s Response to Forced Marriage, (2020) (https://lens.monash.edu/@politics-society/2020/10/26/1381571/rethinkingaustralias-response-to-forced-marriage)

117

Ibid.

118

Ibid.

119 Kathleen Stacey and Sheryl Boniface, Australian Red Cross Forced Marriage Stream Trial Evaluation – Final Evaluation Report (summary) (2019), 3-4

120

Ibid., 4

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121 Ibid.

122 Ibid.

123 Ibid.

124 Australian Government, Australian Government response to the Human Rights sub-committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade report: Advocating for the elimination of child and forced marriage, (2022)

125 Ibid.

126 Ibid.

127 Ilpo Kauppinen and Panu Poutvaara, Family Migration and Policies: Lessons from Denmark, CESifo DICE Report, ISSN 1613-6373, ifo Institut - Leibniz-Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung an der Universität München, München, Vol. 09, Iss. 4, 37

128

Ibid.

129

Ibid.

130 ed. Alison Shaw and Aviad E. Raz Bergahn, Cousin Marriages: Between Tradition, Genetic Risk and Cultural Change, Chapter 6, A Cousin Marriage Equals a Forced Marriage, 134-135

131 Ibid., 135

132 Kauppinen et al., supra note 127, 38

133 Shaw et al. supra note 130, 138

134 Kauppinen et al., supra note 127, 38

135 Eleonore Kofman, Integration Discourses, the Purification of Gender and Interventions in Family Migrations, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Vol. 46 No. 14, (2023) 3039

136 Nicole Stbynarova, Self-Restrained Adjudicator Meets (not so) Self-Restrained Lawmaker: Danish Human Rights Protection Tested on the ‘Forced Marriage Presupposition Rule’, Nordic Journal of Human Rights Vol. 39, No. 3 (2021), 269

137 Ibid , 272

138 Ibid 270

139 Ibid

140 Ibid., 271

141 Shaw et al., supra note 130, 147

142 Maria Barcons Campmajo, Forced Marriages in Europe: A form of gender-based violence and violation of human rights, The Age of Human Rights Journal, (June 2020), 8 - 12

143 Council of Europe, Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, Council of Europe Treaty Series – No. 210 (2011), Article 37

144 The Danish Institute for Human Rights, Submission for the General Assembly Resolution 73.153 on ‘Child, Early and Forced Marriage’ and to Human Rights Council Resolution 41/8 on Consequences of Child, Early and Forced Marriage, Doc.No.19/02743-2 (2019), 2

145 Daniela Danna and Piera Cavenaghi, Transformative mediation in forced marriage cases, Interdisciplinary Journal of Family Studies, XVII, 2 (2011), 47

146 Laura Vidal, The art of helping: Lessons for Australia in taking a mediation approach to forced marriage, 2019 (https://www.powertopersuade.org.au/blog/the-art-of-helping-lessons-for-australia-in-taking-a-mediation-approach-to-forced-marriage/18/3/2019)

147 Vidal, supra note 146

148 Danna et al. supra note 145, 48

149

Ibid., 50

150

Ibid., 51

151

Ibid.

152 Vidal, supra note 146

153 Danna et al., supra note 145, 51

154 Vidal, supra note 146

155 Danna et al., supra note 145, 51

156 Vidal, supra note 146

157 Danna et al. supra note 145, 48

158 UK Government, Forced Marriage Protection Orders, (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/forced-marriage-protection-orders-fl701/forcedmarriage-protection-orders)

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159 Kyla Noack-Lundberg, Aisha K. Gill and Sundari Anitha, Understanding forced marriage protection orders in the UK, Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law, Vol. 43, No. 4 (2021), 372

160

Ibid., 387

161

Ibid., 388

162 UK Government, supra note 158

163

Ibid.

164 Sundari Anitha and Aisha K. Gill, Understanding Protection and Prevention Responses to Forced Marriage in England and Wales, University of Bristol and University of Lincoln (2023), 96

165 UK Government, Forced Marriage Protection Orders and Female Genital Mutilation Orders, (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/family-court-statisticsquarterly-july-to-september-2023/family-court-statistics-quarterly-july-to-september-2023#forced-marriage-protection-orders-and-female-genital-mutilationprotection-orders)

166 Noack-Lundberg et al., supra note 159, 375

167 Anitha et al., supra note 17, 175

168

Ibid., 176

169 Lisa V. Martin, Restraining Forced Marriage, Nevada Law Journal Vol. 18, 973

170 Noack-Lundberg et al., supra note 159, 375

171 Anitha et al., supra note 17, 170

172 Anitha et al.(2023), supra note 164, 47

173 Noack-Lundberg et al., supra note 159, 382

174 Anitha et al., supra note 17, 171

175 Anitha et al.(2023), supra note 164, 104

176

Ibid.

177 UK Government, supra note 158

178

Ibid.

179

Ibid.

180 Shariff, supra note 80, 4

181 UK Government, The Right to Choose: Multi-agency statutory guidance for dealing with forced marriage and Multi-agency practice guidelines: Handling cases of forced marriage (2023), 42

182 Shariff, supra note 80, 4

183

Ibid.

184

Ibid., 5

185

Ibid.

186

Ibid.

187

Ibid.

188 Noack-Lundberg, et al., supra note 159, 372

189 UK Government, Forced Marriage Unit statistics, (https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/forced-marriage-unit-statistics-2022/forced-marriage-unitstatistics-2022#:~:text=In%202022%2C%20235%20cases%20(78,victim%20has%20mental%20capacity%20concerns)

190

Ibid.

191 Frances Simmons and Jennifer Burn, Without Consent: Forced Marriage in Australia, Melbourne University Law Review, Vol. 36 (2013), 998

192 Geetanjali Gangoli and Khatidja Chantler, Protecting Victims of Forced Marriage: Is Age a Protective Factor?, Feminist Legal Studies, Vol. 17 (2009), 272

193 Home Office UK, Forced Marriage – A Consultation Summary of Responses (2012), 9

194 Gangoli et al., supra note 192, 272

195 Home Office UK, supra note 193, 11

196 s. 121 Anti-social behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, (https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2014/12/part/10/enacted)

197 s. 2 Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022

198 UK Government, supra note 181, 30

199

Ibid.

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200 Anne Kazmirski, Peter Keogh, Vijay Kumari, Ruth Maisie, Sally Gowland, Susan Purdon and Nazia Khanum, Forced Marriage: Prevalence and Service Response, Department of Children, Schools & Families (2009), 5

201 UK Government, Forced Marriage – a survivor’s handbook, (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5e995d5de90e07049676101f/Forced_Marriage_survivor_s_handbook.pdf), 13

202 Bedfordshire Police, (https://www.beds.police.uk/news/bedfordshire/news/2023/08-august/man-jailed-after-forces-first-ever-forced-marriage-conviction/)

203

Ibid.

204 Anitha et al. (2023), supra note 164, 120

205

Ibid.

206 UK Government, supra note 202, 9

207

Ibid.

208

Ibid., 44

209 UNICEF, Ending Child Marriage – A profile of progress in India (2023), 28

210

Ibid.

211 PLAN International, Their Time is Now – Time to Act, (2019), 16

212 Ibid.

213 Ibid.

214 Ibid.

215 Ibid., 17

216

Ibid.

217

Ibid.

218

Ibid.

219

Ibid.

220

Ibid., 42

221 Aksharacentre, Girls Map Change (2019), Introduction

222

Ibid., 5

223

Ibid., 0

224

Ibid., 20-21

225 Ibid., 28

226 https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/about-us/

227 Girls Not Brides, Multi-media Edutainment Initiative ‘Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakti Hoon’ – I, A Woman Can Achieve Anything, (2015), 1

228

Ibid.

229 Ibid., 2

230

Ibid.

231

Ibid., 2-3

232 Satyarthi Global Policy Institute for Children and the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation, Forced Brides in India (2022), 2

233

Ibid., 6

234 HAQ Centre for Children’s Rights, Child Marriage in India: Achievements, Gaps and Challenges – Response to Questions for OHCHR Report on Preventing Child, Early and Forced Marriages for Twenty-sixth Session of the Human Rights Council (2010), 3

235

Ibid., 4

236

Ibid.

237 Shariff, supra note 80, 2

238

Ibid.

239

Ibid.

240

Ibid.

241 Council of Europe, Steering Committee for Human Rights, Guide to good and promising practices aimed at preventing and combating female genital mutilation and forced marriage, CCDH (2017) R87 Addendum II, 35

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242 Anitha et al., supra note 17,171

243 Simmons et al., supra note 97, 1624

244 Chantler et al. supra note 3, 843

245 Council of Europe, supra note 241, 48

246 Quek, supra note 9, 629

247 ILO, supra note 1, 99

248 https://www.info.gov.hk/gia/general/202305/31/P2023053100588.htm

249 ILO, supra note 1, 9

250 NIHR School for Social Care Research, My Marriage My Choice Toolkit (https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/research/groups/mymarriagemychoice/documents/toolkit.pdf), 51

251 Lam, supra note 11, 46

252 Kapai et al., supra note 53, 47-49

253 SWD, Protecting Children from Maltreatment Procedural Guide for Multi-disciplinary co-operation (Revised 2020) – An Introduction (2020), 49 254 editor Mathilde Sengoelge, EU Roadmap on Forced/ Early Marriage (FEM) Referral Pathway for Frontline Professionals, (2016), 32

255 Ibid., 14

256 Ibid., 15

257 Ibid., 33

258

Ibid., 16-17

259 Farida Shaheed, Ghausia Rashid Salam, Madiha Shekhani and Bushra Shehzad, Humsathi: Empowering Girls to Become Their Own Advocates and Boys as Allies to End Early Child and Forced Marriage, Final Technical Report (2019), 1

260 Ibid., 2

261 Australian Women’s Centre for Human Rights (AMWCHR), Marrying Young, 2

262 Kapai et al., supra note 53, 47

263 South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, Forced Marriage Project, Service Provider Training 3 - Engaging Youth (http://idoproject.ca/wpcontent/uploads/2016/04/FMP_TOOLKIT_3YOUTH_v1.pdf)

264 Australian Catholic Religious against Trafficking In Humans (ACRATH), My Rights – My Future – forced marriage – A Kit of Learning and Teaching Materials and Support Documents for Australian Secondary Schools (2020) (https://acrath.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/My-Rights-My-Future-forced-marriage-Kitupdated-June-2020.pdf)

265 Ibid., Update

266 Ibid., 4

267 Aneeta Prem, But It’s Not Fair, (2d ed. 2011)

268 Kapai et al., supra note 53, 47

269 Ibid., 50

270

Ibid., 51

271 AMWCHR, supra note 261, 37

272

Siumi Maria Tam, Dealing with Double Marginalization: Three Generations of Nepalese Women in Hong Kong, Asian Journal of Women’s Studies Vol. 16 No. 2, 34

273 South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario, Forced Marriage Project, Service Provider Training 2 - Working with Parents (http://idoproject.ca/wpcontent/uploads/2016/04/FMP_TOOLKIT_2PARENTS_v1.pdf)

274 ILO, supra note 1, 101

275 UK Government, supra note 201, 91

276 Ibid., 30

277 Legislative Council, supra note 91

278 ILO, supra note 1, 100

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