Forced Marriage and its Entangled Socio-Legal Analysis

Presenter: Anusooya Sivaganesan


With the fall of the Wall in 1989, the proxy war on values shifted from the systemic East-West-conflict and from demonizing communists towards a local value-contention with supposedly collectivist migrant minorities. The war on values targeted betrothal and marriage practices among migrant minorities that are intertwined with larger systems of customs, morals and belief. Since the mid-1990s, forced marriage as practiced by some of these minorities made it onto Western policy agendas. From of the early 2000 onwards, legal measures against this harmful social practice have been substantiated and are issued at an unparalleled pace and intensity in Europe. Under the pretext of combatting forced marriage and introducing a specific criminal provision, measures for a general immigration control were and are also introduced which is raising considerable controversy. What is instead needed at the forefront of the debate is the human right principle for everybody to enter marriage with their free and full consent (art. 16 par. 2 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948). According to philosopher Hanna Arendt’s reflexion on freedom and politics, (political) action is always derived from and inspired by a principle. Although the principle, cannot dictate the outcome, the principle - in our case the free choice of one’s partner - is being realized in the very performance of the action. The human rights principle of the free and full consent therefore neither prescribes a concrete form of marriage nor a happy marriage as a result, but merely the realisation of the principle of the free will in the act of marriage. The implementation of human rights is obtained through the interaction of social norms with the laws reigning within a given society.


Anusooya Sivaganesan graduated from the University of Zurich with a Master of Law. Currently, she is working on a PhD-project with the title: "Forced to marry. A human rights’ violation within its Euro-Asian entanglements. Unfree marriages from a multi-country perspective exemplified by Switzerland, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Turkey". The project is embedded into the interdisciplinary University Research Priority Program (URPP) Asia and Europe at the University of Zurich. So far, she has done her field work with interviews with experts, scholars, activists and state authorities in Turkey, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Switzerland and in the Netherlands. Furthermore, and on a volunteer basis, she is the director of the Swiss competence center against forced marriages and chairs the volunteer organisation Migration & Human Rights.
* Sandwiches will be served.