Anecdotal Report on the Incidence of Forced Marriage in Western Canada

Services for the Victims

This research study looked into the services provided and available for victims of forced marriage. As specified in the methodology, the data on services were collected by interviewing service providers from various organizations in Western Canada. The findings of this study cannot be generalised, given the small sample size. They are however important in that these are what some front-line service providers, working with victims of forced marriage, have identified as gaps.

  1. Services that already exist for victims of domestic violence were available to those experiencing violence in forced marriage situations. These are at the first point of contact, NGOs, social services, police, doctors, hospitals (in cases of injuries) and shelters. At the second point of contact are financial aid services, legal services, employment services, language services, settlement services and immigration.
  2. No services or programs were reported that specifically address instances of forced marriage.

To elaborate on the first issue

Many victims of forced marriage seek help when they begin to face abuse and violence from their spouse or have lived with violence and abuse for some time. First they go to ethno-cultural organizations. Most of the information for this research has come from such organizations; however, some very useful information has also come from other sources.

The data on services rendered to the clients show a variety of measures taken to help them. They range from offering information, advice and support, to making referrals to community resources, other NGOs, as well as providing translation services and arranging for housing and shelter.

Depending on the needs of the client, the service providers also arrange for legal counselling, medical help, police protection, and accompaniment to courts, shelters and hospitals. They also provide information, referrals and help with immigration and sponsorship problems. When clients talk about their situation then such problems are revealed. Quite often the clients are so emotional and traumatized that they cannot express their needs. Service providers have to figure out how to help the client from their conversations with them. They place different options before the client for a course of action for their protection and safety. Many clients are too afraid to avail themselves of the assistance. Some women seek advice but out of fear, they do not act. They go back to the same situation. However, as the stories and service providers relate, most clients received adequate help (with referrals to other agencies) and their situation improved. But all this help is given under the category of domestic violence.

Service providers interviewed indicated that they had referred their clients to the following government institutions:

List of Government Agencies Contacted by Service Providers Interviewed: Federal, Provincial and Municipal

  • Canada Revenue Agency (CRA)
  • Income Support Services
  • Citizenship and Immigration Canada
  • RCMP
  • Language Instruction for Newcomers (LINC)
  • Resettlement Assistance Program
  • Immigration Loans Program
  • Housing Programs and Financial Assistance
  • Student Loans
  • Federal MPs
  • AB Works
  • Social Services/ Social Support
  • Legal Aid
  • MLAs
  • Employment Compensation
  • Family Justice Centre
  • Abuse and Assault Counselling Programs for Women
  • Subsidized Housing
  • Provincial Homelessness Initiative
  • Rental Assistance Program
  • Immigrant Settlement Services
  • Employment Services for immigrants
  • Child Abuse Prevention
  • Helpline for Children
  • Transition Houses, Safe Homes and Second Stage Housing
  • Crisis Lines
  • Outreach and Multicultural Outreach Services
  • Victim Services
  • Victim's Fund
  • Counselling Services
  • Shelters
  • Sexual Assault Centres
  • Help Lines
  • Family Violence Centres (government, NGOs)
  • Councillors
  • Rape Crisis Centre
  • Women Against Violence Against Women
  • Victim Link
  • Surrey RCMP Victim Services and other RCMP Centres
  • Battered Women Support Services
  • Department of Community Services (Edmonton)
  • Edmonton Police Service - Victims Services Unit
  • Family Violence Prevention

Some service-providing agencies and organizations stated that they were well equipped to offer full service to their clients. However, around fifty percent of the respondents stated that their agencies did not have adequate resources to meet all the needs of their clients. Remarks like “it is a challenge” to meet the needs of the clients or “not really equipped” or “I cannot say”, suggest a need to make more resources available to the agencies with front-line workers serving clients.

The situation is less clear with regard to victims of pre-marriage abuse and violence, for example from parents, or post-marriage abuse and violence from other family members, for example a mother-in-law. Service providers interviewed did not indicate the existence of services available for minor children being pressured by their parents, or whether individuals being threatened or abused by other family members would have access to the same services as spousal abuse victims.

It is also very telling that the organizations and agencies in three locations (which were requested to identify service providers for interviews) identified more than half of their clients were from South Asian and Middle Eastern backgrounds.

When asked about the countries from which their clients come, they identified the following countries:

  • Pakistan
  • Bangladesh
  • India
  • Fiji
  • Sudan
  • Somalia
  • Lebanon
  • Palestine
  • Yemen
  • Iraq
  • England
  • France

There were also cases of forced marriage of Canadian citizens taking place in England and France, where large communities from South Asian, Middle Eastern and African countries are settled. Marriages of Canadian citizens are often arranged with their relatives and friends in these countries.

To elaborate on the second issue

None of the service providers interviewed stated that they had received any case under the category of “forced marriage”. Moreover no programs were found to exist for those who were facing and/or were afraid of being forced into marriage. Those afraid of being pressured to enter a forced marriage, either in Canada or by being taken abroad, have no help and nowhere to turn to. They do not know whether any such help is available. When they are taken abroad, they cannot do anything. Nor do they know whether any mediation services exist which can appropriately mediate between them and their parents in a culturally-sensitive manner. There was no reported educational or social awareness raising program which can apprise communities of occurrence and consequences of forced marriage and of some preventive measures. There was no report of counselling available that can help young women and men to find strategies to prevent such a marriage and there is no intervention program in place. Police and lawyers are unlikely to be able to help them because, unless the victims have been subject to actual or threatened violence, at this stage no crime has been committed; forced marriage has not taken place.

In short, there appears to be no social awareness that forced marriage is wrong and in Canada it is against the law. In the communities it does not even seem to be recognized as an issue.

Help is however, available to those who need it after forced marriage when abuse and violence occurs in marriage. Then they may go to social services, police or shelters. It is important to note that these cases are treated as cases of family violence, abuse and marital discord. The issue of forced marriage does not even enter, or if it does it comes up, as a contextual factor. Since this issue is addressed as domestic violence, it is no wonder that there is little awareness of the issue of forced marriage and limited specific preventive programs. The fact that a client is in a forced marriage may be revealed only incidentally in the conversation, when the victims come for help for other specific needs after emotional, psychological, and/or physical violence has taken place. The lack of specific focus may prevent victims of forced marriage from knowing that services are available to them, at least in cases where there is domestic abuse.

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