Tuesday, October 4, 2011

300 New York brides report they were forced into marriage

Some 300 girls and women in New York State reported being forced into marriage in just two years - and two who refused said they almost paid with their life.

That's according to a new survey of immigrant and women's service providers that sought to quantify the extent of the practice here and in other states.

Advocates say the problem cuts across cultural borders and is so widespread - 3,000 cases nationwide - that the U.S. needs stronger laws to stop it from happening.

"Some women who do say 'No' suffer very dire consequences," said Archana Pyati, a lawyer for the New York City-based Sanctuary for Families.

Forced marriage is different from arranged marriage because it happens without consent and can involve an underage victim.

Some city teens fly to their parents' homeland for what they think is a vacation and wind up stuck in a marriage against their will. Others face beatings or worse if they refuse a wedding here - sometimes by parents who stand to gain financially by the union.

One of Pyati's clients, a girl from a West African family, was 15 when she became a bride by proxy. Her father arranged the marriage while visiting his homeland, while she was back in their New York apartment. When the time came to get on a plane, she said no.

"She refused and refused and suffered physical violence in the home," Pyati said.

Finally, she agreed to move to Georgia and become the wife of a West African man there, Pyati said. After being beaten, she fled. She was 17 and pregnant.

Noor Faleh Almaleki was killed in 2009 after being struck by an SUV driven by her father because she refused an arranged marriage.

"When she came running back, they kicked her out of her home," said Pyati. "Now she's raising her baby on her own."

Another client came to the U.S. at age 13 and was forced into a marriage arranged by her mother, Pyati said. "The man enrolled her in school as her father and went home every night and raped her," Pyati said of the girl, who is now 20 and eventually escaped to New York from the Washington D.C. area.

The Tahirih Justice Center, which conducted the survey said that while the practice is most reported in South Asian families, it was found in families from 56 countries and in 47 states. In Arizona, an Iraqi immigrant father was convicted in February of murdering his daughter by running her over with his Jeep Cherokee after she refused to wed.

Yasmeen Hamza of the Arab-American Family Support Center in Brooklyn said she often hears too late that girls in their after-school programs were forcibly married after being duped into getting on a plane.

"Most of the time the girls have no clue," she said.

Advocates say police and children's services agencies often don't see the signs of a forced marriage or know how to proceed.

"I think the problem that you encounter sometimes is that people view it as cultural - so they don't really want to help," said Hamza.

Her group has successfully worked with the Administration for Children's Services to take custody of girls facing forced marriage.

Other non-profits say it's easy for victims to fall through the cracks. At the Sauti Yetu Center for African Women, staffers tried to help a 14-year-old Bronx girl escape a forced marriage to a West African man and asked ACS to take custody of the girl. But since there was no physical abuse or imminent danger, she was returned to her family, the group told Newsweek.

ACS spokesman Michael Fagan said the agency will intervene "if the situation places a child under 18 at risk for abuse, injury, or harm," but that forced marriage cases are "infrequently" brought to the agency's attention. He urged people who suspect it to call the state's child abuse hotline at             1-800-342-3720      .

Tahirih director Layli Miller-Muro believes the U.S. should follow the example of Britain, which has a Forced Marriage Unit, a special protective order for victims and a national hotline.

"In the United States there are zero laws in place that specifically deal with forced marriage," said Miller-Muro. "That's what makes it so hard to help victims." 


Post a Comment


Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites