What is the Difference between Arranged Marriage and Forced Marriage?

April 4, 2017
Clock Icon 3 min read

In this article, we look at the difference between an arranged marriage and a forced one and explore why it’s not a great idea to conflate the two. 


Slavery, in one of its many forms, is an institution or practice ‘whereby a woman, without the right to refuse, is promised or given in marriage on payment of a consideration in money or in kind.’

This is precisely the basis of forced marriage. We might update that definition to say ‘whereby any human’ as roughly 20% of forced marriages victims are male.

Forced marriage does not give the right to refuse. And, in doing so, it is tantamount to slavery. 

Indeed, many forced marriages involve forms of domestic servitude (a form of modern slavery). As well as involving many other human rights abuses and violence.

In an arranged marriage, there is always consent. Even if the consequences are tough. So, it’s essential not to conflate the two. Doing so is harmful because it promotes an image of the countries and cultures who do practice arranged marriage as inherently barbaric or cruel.

Yet, it happens a lot. Even the UK government conflated the two in 2007 during the process of creating legislation to prohibit forced marriage.

Physical violence is used to pressure a young woman into forced marriage


What is an Arranged Marriage?

An arranged marriage is NOT the same as a forced marriage. In an arranged marriage, the family takes the lead to find a marriage partner for their son or daughter.

And both parties are free to choose whether they enter into that marriage. They will often marry before having a long term relationship.

An arranged marriage has the consent of both parties. And parents respect the wishes of the child. Traditionally, there is little input from their child. The idea is that parents know their children and can use their wisdom to know what will bring their child happiness.

Happiness is the ultimate goal of an arranged marriage.

Parents consider things like family reputation, wealth, career prospects, appearance, values, religion, and medical history.

But arranged marriage can have a sad and even brutal side.

Some children who refuse to consent may find themselves faced with an ultimatum. Their parents may cut them off financially, remove them from education or ask them to leave the family home.

Two consenting adults in a UK arranged marriage


What is a Forced Marriage?

A forced marriage means that one or both spouses don’t or can’t consent. This could be because they are too young, they don’t want to, or they have a learning or physical disability.

A forced marriage also involves pressure, this is used to coerce one or both parties to marry. Pressure can be physical, psychological, financial, sexual or emotional.

Forced marriages happen for a variety of reasons, and this list is not comprehensive. A few reasons for forced marriage might be:

  • Ensuring care for children who have a learning difficulty or physical disability.
  • Protecting ‘family honour’.
  • Keeping land, property, and wealth in the family.
  • Reacting to social pressure. Neighbours and older relatives can pressure parents to coerce their children into matrimony.
  • Reducing levels of poverty or to repay a debt.

Some parents leave their child totally in the dark and resort to drugging or kidnapping their child to make sure the marriage goes ahead.

Within a forced marriage, victims often endure violence. This intimidates them and ‘breaks them’ to make sure they can’t leave the marriage. This can include rape. And when that leads to the birth of a child many mothers feel unable to leave that marriage.

Girl forced into marriage with a daughter


Who is at Risk of Forced Marriage?

Victims are usually aged between 13 and 30, but there’s no ‘typical’ victim of a forced marriage.

At the time of writing, there are 195 recognised countries. In 2014, the Forced Marriage Unit handled cases in 88 different countries.

Most frequently encountered included: Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Somalia, Turkey, Iraq, Sri Lanka, and Iran.

97% of UK forced marriage cases happen within Asian communities. And 72% of forced marriages are among Pakistani families.


UK Forced Marriage Statistics in 2016

In an average month, the UK’s Forced Marriage Unit received roughly 350 calls.

  • 371 cases involved victims below 18 years of age.
  • 497 cases involved victims aged 18-25.

The unit has handled cases in 90 countries since 2005 where a victim was at risk of, or had already, been taken to in connection with a forced marriage. The highest volume countries were:

  • Pakistan – 612 cases (43%).
  • Bangladesh – 121 cases (8%).
  • India – 79 cases (6%).
  • Somalia – 47 cases (3%).
  • Afghanistan – 39 cases (3%).
  • Saudi Arabia – 16 cases (1%).
  • 157 (11%) cases took place in the UK and had no overseas element.

Further Resources

Like This Article?
Share it on social.