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Understanding Arranged Marriage

September 6th, 2005

Dr Petra

Today the newspapers have all been obsessing over new powers that will override forced marriage.

Which I think most people would support.

Unfortunately many reporters and columnists weren’t quite able to get their heads round the idea that there’s a major difference between arranged marriage and forced marriage.

An arranged marriage is where a couple is introduced by their respective families, often with the help of a matchmaker. The families pick someone who they think will appeal to their child – someone who’ll make their child happy and who’ll keep them safe. If both people agree then the marriage goes ahead.

A forced marriage is where one or both parties are tricked, coerced or threatened into a marriage where their well-being is not considered, and where their happiness is ignored. Frequently girls are forced into marriage and can face abuse to get them to wed and stay within the marriage.

The two are completely different situations.

Whilst some arranged marriages are unhappy, so are many marriages where people choose their spouse without family assistance. Often arranged marriages are highly successful. They may not fit the Western model of romance and weddings, but that’s not to say it’s not an equally valid way of meeting a partner and starting a family.

Sadly many reporters didn’t seem to be aware of this and I was shocked to see many headlines berating ‘arranged marriages’ or using arranged marriage when they meant ‘forced marriage’.

All the reports were presented in a well meaning way. Many containing references to young girls being swept off to faraway lands for a life of hell with evil husbands and mother in laws. But that isn’t what arranged marriage should be about, and in presenting it in such a way these reporters were patronising, innacurate and frequently racist.

They also missed the point.

Which is that whilst forced marriages should be outlawed, we’ve a lot to learn from arranged marriages and how they work.

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