'Outlaw forced marriages in Sweden'

Published: 2 Jun 09 11:49 CET


Nearly 70,000 young Swedes feel they aren’t able to freely choose whom they want to marry, according to a new study, leading the report’s authors to propose Sweden outlaw forced arranged marriages altogether.

“To be able to marry whoever you want to is actually an important human right. For a large group of young people, that isn’t an absolute certainty,” said Per Nilsson, head of the Swedish National Board for Youth Affairs (Ungdomsstyrelsen), in a statement.

The study, entitled Gift mot sin vilja (‘Married against their will’), was carried out by the youth board at the request of the government as part of a broader effort to highlight “honour-related violence and oppression” in Sweden and was handed over to integration minister Nyamko Sabuni on Monday.

It revealed that around 5 percent of young people in Sweden between the ages of 16- and 25-years-old, or about 70,000 young people, don’t feel they have the ability to choose with whom they want to get married.

In addition, 8,500 young Swedes are concerned that they won’t have any say at all when it comes to choosing a spouse.

“Arranged marriage is connected to norms about virginity and the control of one’s sex life, especially for girls,” said Hanna Linell, who helped carry out the Ungdomsstyrelsen study, in an interview published on the organization’s website.

“The girls’ ability to act freely is limited and boys are raised to control their sisters. These gender-specific expectations impact these young peoples’ life as a whole.”

The youth board submitted a number of suggested legislative changes to the government along with the results of the study.

Specifically, the group wants the government to criminalize child and forced marriages in Sweden and to bolster efforts to offer affected youth advice and counseling.

In addition, Ungdomsstyrelsen wants Sweden to scrap the provision in its marriage laws which allows someone under 18-years-old get married upon receiving permission from a county administrative board.

After receiving the report on forced marriages, Sabuni indicated she was prepared to change Sweden’s laws to counteract the problem.

“We were aware of the figures, but it’s good to have them confirmed so the scope of the problem becomes known. Our mission must be to protect individuals; we can’t let parents marry off their children,” the minister told the Svenska Dagbladet (SvD) newspaper.

“It’s such a serious violation of children’s rights that society needs to act.”

While Linell admitted that there are occasions when young people don’t automatically view arranged marriages negatively, she added that it’s easy for problems to arise.

“Problems arise when the young people don’t follow existing rules. Problems also arise when parents don’t let young people influence their own lives in such important questions,” she said.

The study’s results are based on responses to three surveys: one sent by Ungdomsstyrelsen to 6,000 young people ages 16- to 25-years old; a survey of first- and second-year high school students conducted by the National Board of Health and Welfare (Socialstyrelsen); and a survey of Stockholm area ninth graders carried out by Stockholm University.

David Landes (david.landes@thelocal.se/+46 8 656 6518)