Forced or arranged marriages, as well as marriages involving minors, both male and female, are not an alien issue from faraway but something taking place here in Belgium, the Institute for Gender Equality highlighted at a symposium they organised on Tuesday.
Fifty-six complaints about a forced marriage were registered by police between 2010 and the end of 2013, the organisations point out, whereas 3,397 applications for asylum motivated by forced marriages were dealt with by the Commissioner-General for Refugees between 2009 and 2013.
The issue is however much more widespread on the Belgian territory than these figures reveal, according to the organisers of the symposium. “We do not have any accurate global quantitative data” for Belgium, says Els Leye of ICRH, who also teaches at Ghent University.
Maria Miguel Sierra, director of the non-profit The Voice of Women (La Voix des Femmes), points out: “In most cases that we know of, victims will not lodge a complaint. For them it means accusing their own families.”
Based on interviews with field workers (non-profits, policemen, etc.) which took place between 2013 and 2014, ICRH can state that the issue of forced marriages affects equally “ethnic minorities long integrated in Belgium, such as Turks and Moroccans, and recent immigrants including Serbs and Chechens.”
Roma and Afghan communities are particularly affected by the plague of early marriages, including minors “sometimes only 12 or 13,” adds Els Leye.
Associations have formulated a “National Action Plan 2015-2019”, including various previous recommendations, and it should soon be sent to politicians at every level of power.
Based on outrage expressed by professionals, they call for the setting up of a tool facilitating the early detection of signs implying a risk of forced marriage.