Eve Sacks
Eve Sacks

The four daughters of forced marriage

Jewish holiday Passover background with matzo, seder plate, wine and tulip flowers on wooden table. Top view from above. (Jewish News)
Jewish holiday Passover background with matzo, seder plate, wine and tulip flowers on wooden table. Top view from above. (Jewish News)

All young people must have the right to choose who to marry, when to marry or if they marry at all.

The Haggadah refers to four sons and explains how each of them differently experience the telling of the Pesach story, and how we should answer their questions.

This year, I will recite the traditional version together with my family, but I will be thinking of four daughters – their different experiences of forced marriage, and how to answer their questions about this harmful cultural practice.

As part of Nahamu, I co-authored a paper, and have been speaking out about forced marriage. Our paper describes markers of coercion, including a limited ability to opt out of the arranged marriage process, and a rushed engagement so that the couple do not get to know each other before the engagement is agreed. Further there is limited opportunity for the couple to meet, speak to or freely communicate with each other between the initial meeting and the wedding. Other markers include a binding engagement agreement (tenayim) which serves as an extra layer of psychological entrapment. Finally, there is a burden of expectation on the young person to marry the person they are introduced to, along with the social stigma relating to romance, and the lack of awareness of other ways of meeting someone to marry.

It is easy to understand and condemn forced marriage when the young person vocally objects at the time. However, the absence of protest does not mean that the marriage is not forced. A broad range of factors, including social conditioningon the value of motherhood and wifedom throughout childhood and adolescence, may undermine a young woman’s capacity to provide full and free consent to an arranged marriage.

When we were conducting our research it became clear to us that not everyone responds to these markers in the same way, with some young people only realising later that they had been the victim of a forced marriage. Therefore, it may be useful to think about the different ways a socially conditioned forced marriage can manifest itself, using the four children from the Pesach Haggadah.

The wise daughter, what does she say? I am fully aware that I am being coerced into a forced marriage. This is blatant forced marriage. And you should tell her the law. That the UK government has made forced marriage a criminal offence and the legislation includes “threats or any other form of coercion for the purpose of causing another person to enter into a marriage”.

The daughter with the wicked parents, what do they say? We can see our daughter is upset in the run up to her wedding. But we ignore her pain, because we know this is what is best for her in the long run. Once she is married, we know she will be happy. We ignore her doubts at the time, and if she gathers the strength to later leave the marriage, we divest ourselves of all responsibility, saying; “This is the marriage that you agreed to, you and not us”. This is subtle forced marriage.

The naive daughter, what does she think? I can see my older sisters were coerced to marry someone they did not know. They spoke up. But it did not help. I do not want to marry him, but it is futile for me to say anything at all. This is subconscious forced marriage.

As for the daughter who does not know that she should have the freedom to choose who to marry. She willingly and happily marries the groom chosen by parents. She is still being forced. Her parents have organised for her to marry a stranger, but her upbringing has left her without the confidence to challenge that choice.  This is indoctrinated forced marriage.

This Pesach as we contemplate the meaning of freedom, I will be thinking of those who have not had the freedom to choose who to marry.

About the Author
Eve Sacks is a co-founder of Nahamu, a think-tank lobbying on harms in the Charedi community, and a trustee of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance UK.
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