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The Approach to Forced Marriage – The Case of Finland

Anna-Greta Pekkarinen
Tuesday 25 June 2024

Forced marriage takes place all over the world. It is declared a violation of human rights by many international bodies and in legal instruments such as the Istanbul Convention. Victims of forced marriage are usually women or girls, but all genders can be forced to marry.

As a researcher at the European Institute for Crime Prevention and Control, affiliated with the UN (HEUNI), located in Finland, I am a part of an EU Citizens, Equality, Rights and Values Programme (CERV) -funded project called EASY (“It is never easy to talk about this” – Increasing dialogue, awareness, and victim-centred support for victims of forced marriages) which looks at forced marriage and the ways to increase community engagement and dialogue, raise awareness, and develop victim-centred support for the victims and those in threat of forced marriage. The project partners are SOLWODI (Germany), the Immigrant Council of Ireland, University of Lleida (Spain) and Valentes i Acompanyades (Spain).

With Dr. Carolina Villacampa and Dr. Marc Salat from the University of Lleida in the lead, an overview of the legislation concerning forced marriages in the four countries – Finland, Germany, Ireland and Spain – was completed. In this piece I will look at my home country of Finland, in particular.

Out of the four EASY project partner countries, Germany, Spain and Ireland have introduced specific legislation to criminalize forced marriage, whereas in Finland, forced marriage is seen as a part of the trafficking in human beings legislation. A separate criminalization of forced marriage has sparked discussion in Finland on the definition of forced marriage: by only including actions that have preceded the marriage, the concept would not correspond to situations in which the marriage was contracted willingly but turned into coercion, during which the perpetrator may be severely exploitative and violent.

Nevertheless, criminalization is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to forced marriage. Well-organized, timely and holistic victim support services must be in place – and ideally guaranteed by the law – in order to assist the victims in whatever their individual needs may be. Victims of trafficking have access to specialized services in Finland, and this applies to victims of forced marriage as well, which is great. For someone to help refer the victim to these services, however, the case needs to be identified as forced marriage, which might be quite a hurdle in itself.

Creating awareness of the issue of forced marriage rests largely on the shoulders of NGOs and civil society. It is crucial to introduce the subject also in the curricula of e.g., future law enforcement officers, social and health care workers, and educators. On one hand, the police have an important role in the identification of forced marriage because the signs may be detected during a domestic disturbance call. On the other hand, as victims do not always recognize their situation as forced marriage (and are often unaware of the related legislation), they rarely initiate contact with the police themselves – at least not before getting the impetus to do so from someone else. Organizations that offer easily accessible, gender- and culturally sensitive support for potential victims of forced marriage play an important part in shedding light to the phenomenon. Together with the NGOs we’ve collected some of the promising practices of enhancing response and support to victims of forced marriage in this booklet.

An important component of assistance is ensuring that migrant victims have avenues to apply for residence no matter at which point the forced marriage becomes the knowledge of the authorities. It is not uncommon for the perpetrators to threaten the victims with deportation if they ask for divorce or talk about going to the authorities, and the prospect of returning to the country of origin as a divorcee may be worse than staying in an abusive marriage.


Anna-Greta Pekkarinen
HEUNI Researcher

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