Most summer vacations for teenage girls involve getting a job at the local Dairy Queen or tempting skin cancer at the beach. But in France, hundreds of girls disappear each summer when they are sent abroad and forced into marriages with men they’ve never met. Most of the victims are Muslim and of Asian, African, or Middle Eastern descent, so the government has generally considered it a cultural or religious issue. But since other European countries like England have governmental units that track down women who are forced into marriages in their countries of origin, we’re happy that France is just starting to keep up with the times. The French school system is working to set up an alert system for these girls who never return to school in the fall and last year they published a guide to help officials suss out forced marriages. The government is even making efforts to protect girls who want to annul their marriages. [Reuters]There are also several non-profit groups drawing attention to this issue. One of them, Elele, recently found a woman of Turkish decent who was married at a town hall in Paris. When she obviously didn’t want to consummate her marriage, she was locked in a room screaming while her grandmother tied her down! Another woman of Senegalese descent was tricked by her father, who told her he’d won a trip to Senegal and when she got there, she was told she was already married to her 36-year-old uncle in a ceremony that didn’t even require her presence. After being essentially detained for seven months, the French consulate helped her bail the country and she now works for an organization called Femmes Solidaires.
Women working at the non-profits like Elele and Voix de Femmes are sometimes former victims and get death threats from pissed-off families. An estimated 70,000 young women are at risk of being forced into these marriages in France, and Voix de Femmes aids over 200 women a year. While it’s scary enough to be forced to marry, it’s often more dangerous to protest, as families will threaten and cut ties with rebelling daughters.
So next time your parents get on your case about dating losers or hassle you to marry a ‘nice Jewish boy,’ just be happy that you ultimately have a choice in the matter.