Summer is a high-risk season for youths threatened with forced marriage, warns IEFH (Institute for Gender Equality) on the eve of the school holidays. The organisation, in collaboration with the Migration and Marriage Network, seized this opportunity to create a special handbook for professionals liable to be in contact with victims of such actions: police officers, registrars, magistrates, doctors, teachers and social workers. The aim is to help these front-line professionals more easily recognise signs pointing to a forced marriage, and then to help the victims.
“Many youths from migrant families go home to their country of origin every summer, sometimes at the risk of being forced to marry there,” says Michel Pasteel, IEFH director. “10 to 15 complaints relating to forced marriages have been filed with various law enforcement services each year since 2010,” adds the institute.
The handbook will be circulated amongst targetted professions, but it is also available as a free download on the IEFH website. It explains, amongst other things, the difference between an arranged marriage and a forced one, as only the latter is punishable by law.
As few victims open up to authorities or even to support organisations, the real magnitude of the problem in Belgium is difficult to gauge, points out the institute. “However, some front-line associations admit that they face forced marriage situations relatively frequently as they tend to have to deal with 20 to 30 a year,” mentions the handbook.
Most cases involve young girls aged 16 to 25, but many boys are victims, too. The handbook also describes potentially risky situations and pointers to look out for in particular.