Forced marriages

Testimony
18-year-old Hélène*, grew up in Switzerland: «I have been living in Switzerland since I was 3 years old. My father talked to me about marriage when I was still a teenager and I used my studies as an excuse to give myself more time. But he began to introduce me to men. I didn’t want any of them. My family forced me to stay at home and if I rebelled I was beaten and humiliated. One day, I ran away and I have been living far away from my family ever since, as I fear their reaction towards me».
*name changed

Section 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. (…) (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses. (…)". Nevertheless, all over the world, thousands of women, and sometimes men, are subject to and penalised with forced marriage. Forced marriage is defined as a union of two people, to which at least one of them did not fully and freely consent.

Forced marriages in Switzerland

The SURGIR Foundation published the first exploratory study on the prevalence of forced marriages in Switzerland. The results of that study, revealed during a press conference on December 2006, set the cat amongst the pigeons as the matter had never been discussed in Switzerland before; a reality all too often ignored. Thirty-five Swiss French and Swiss German newspapers covered the topic.

The study makes a number of recommendations

  • Implementing a national prevention and information campaign
  • Reinforcing mechanisms designed to protect victims (set up women’s refuges and an emergency help-line)
  • Training and informing professionals involved (those working within the healthcare, legal, education, etc. sectors).
  • Sending out a strong and clear message stating that enforced marriage is illegal in Switzerland.

Forced marriages from a political stance

The debate took place before the Swiss Parliament with the “Heberlein” Motion, which encouraged the Federal Council to undertake measures regarding this subject, on June 2008. Since then, the Confederation has been supporting pilot projects in Switzerland in view of raising awareness within the migrant population and informing professionals.

During the 2012 summer session of the swiss Parliament, it is ultimately a tougher law than the one proposed by the Federal Council that was voted. ''Anyone who forces another into marriage is liable to a prison sentence of up to five years. Chambers have also agreed to cancel any marriage concluded against the will of the spouse, or in the case one of them is younger that 18 years old. 
The law entered into force on july 1st 2013.