Forced or arranged

There’s that report on Honour-based violence in the UK. It starts off by discussing forced marriage – and right away I got snagged by an obstacle.

According to most definitions, a marriage becomes forced if any coercion, physical or psychological, [is] used against either spouses [sic] in order to force them to consent. A forced marriage is not the same as an arranged marriage which occurs with the full consent of both parties.

No the obstacle isn’t how desperately the report needs copy-editing; it’s full of mistakes and typos, but that’s not the obstacle. The obstacle is that item about the full consent. What is full consent? Under what conditions is it possible? How prevalent are such conditions? All that needs spelling out, and it’s a mistake to declare roundly that all arranged marriages by definition occur with the full consent of both. In other words there are arranged marriages, that are considered and called such by all parties, that are not completely freely consented to.

How could it possibly be otherwise? When children are raised with the idea that they will have marriages arranged for them, and that this is the right way to do things, and that to do things otherwise is risky or stupid or defiant or Western or dirty or all those – how freely do they consent when an arranged marriage is offered to them? Or at least, how freely is it safe to assume they consent? It may well be that many people who enter arranged marriages are entirely happy to do so, but is it safe or reasonable to assume that, given the circumstances? I don’t think it is. That’s not to say the police should be called out for every arranged marriage, just that the distinction between forced and arranged should not be seen as clear-cut and dependable.

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