When the topic about an arranged marriage crosses my mind, I cannot help, but visualize in my mind the book that Zana Muhsen wrote, Sold. Zana and her sister Nadia are promised to be taken to Yemen by their father for a holiday. Little did the young Muslim girls of 16 and 15 respectively, know that their father had already made arrangements to sell them to his Yemeni friends in what turned out to be arranged marriages. The two girls, born and brought up in Birmingham, England did not return home after the holiday. What followed was a traumatizing life for them (Muhsen, 46).They are treated as sex tools in a highly chauvinistic society.
The girls are subjected to a life of slavery where they are beaten by their husbands, their freedom of movement is curtailed, they are made to bear more children than they can handle, and they are overworked in an environment that is harsh because of the relatively high degrees of warmth in North Yemen. They live in grass thatched houses and their health is greatly compromised by weariness and lack of proper dieting. Finally, after a long struggle Zana manages to go back home to England leaving her sister Nadia in Yemen at the mercies of brutal men in a hostile environment.
The story of Nadia and Zana brings to our mouths the bitter taste of arranged marriages. The story brings us to a closer understanding of what an arranged marriage is. It is a type of marriage whereby the couples do not choose freely, their desired marriage partners. The decision as to whom they should get married to rests with their parents. In the case of Nadia and Zana, Islam, their religion allowed it (Muhsen 36). Religion can also be interpreted to mean culture, notably the Islam culture. According to many cultures in Asia, Middle East and Africa, arranged marriages were allowed and still thrive in spite of their draconian nature. The kind of trauma they subject their victims to, especially the female victims is a strong indictment of the marriages.
In certain societies, arranged marriages are done for economic purposes. Unlike the cultural dimension which is retrogressive in nature, the economic perspective in arranged marriages may have certain advantages to the victim although this might not be a guarantee. The bride might be married off to a family that is as wealthy as her family to give continuity to affluence and to maintain the status quo. This is however not primarily the tenet upon which a good marriage is built and cannot bring love and happiness to the marriage. Affluence should never be the basis for marriage. Another angle that helps explain why arranged marriages are made is the social side (Pemoud 102).
Certain families tend to place themselves in a specific social pedestal whether perceived or real. They therefore tend to look for spouses for their children from similar social classes. The fact that forming political alliances in our modern society has become the norm is inescapable. The marriage between former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari is a case in point. Most parents affiliated to certain political interests would prefer to marry off their sons and daughters to certain families that are of good political standing to enhance their political survival.
It is worth noting however that arranged marriages usually have a bigger shelf life than marriages that are of free choice or which happen out of love. This can be explained by the bonding done by the societies where they happen (Westermarck 23). The societies exert insurmountable pressure and uncompromised demands on their longevity. However, the acceptable ground is that love and free choice should be the only condition for marriage.
The idea of arranged marriages is misplaced in the modern world (Westermarck 10). One cannot deny that the world is undergoing a complete paradigm shift from traditions that go against individual or personal freedom. Parents should allow their sons and daughters to choose their marriage partners. Arranged marriages negate the value of basic human rights. In regions where the practice is rampant like the Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other countries in the Middle East, the most affected victims are young girls who are usually sold off at a tender age (Kashiwase 17).
In the US and parts of Europe, reports have been made about secretly arranged marriages. The problems that arranged marriages pose are numerous. One of them is that they deny the victims a chance to undergo formal schooling. Most of the girls lead ignorant lives where they cannot fend for themselves (Kershaw 4).
They stand a high risk of contracting sexually communicable diseases like HIV/AIDS, gonorrhea, and syphilis. This bars them from access to safer methods of engaging in sexual activities. Some of the young girls do not indulge in proper eating habits due to ignorance. The implication of this is that they overeat leading to obesity. They also develop general body weakness due to movement restrictions and lack of physical exercises. This is to say that arranged marriages have far reaching effects on their health. The repercussions lead to early deaths. Due to lack of education, arranged marriages can be the bedrock on which abject poverty is bred.
The victims are denied the chance to access good employment opportunities due to lack of concrete academic backgrounds. Most victims are prone to physical and sexual molestation which disfigures and endangers their lives. Their marriage, at a tender age exposes the young girls to life threatening complications attributed to early pregnancy. The young girls mostly give birth to malformed babies who die as soon as they are born and the ones who survive die later in childhood due to problems linked to birth by immature mothers.
A core solution to the problem of arranged marriages is proper legislation. In Most countries in the world, the practice has been outlawed in respect to basic human rights. This does not mean that such outdated practices of arranged marriages do not exist. Studies have shown that there is more economic progress in societies that observe greater individual freedoms. Culture that tends to subject people to humiliating lives achieves counterproductive results because it does not integrate all the stakeholders in the process of development.
Culture should promote freedom and prosperity and not be used as an oppressive tool. It therefore goes that implementation of laws to curb such traditions, comes in handy. Education is a key weapon in the fight against arranged marriages. Education purges all outdated traditions any society might have been using. In most parts of the world where arranged marriages are common, research has revealed that their citizens also rank as among the most illiterate (Reaves 26).
In this case, education has to be two fold. Parents need to be sensitized on the negative effects of arranged marriages. Their children should also be opened up to the issue to combat it effectively. This can only be achieved when victims are made aware that they have a right to say no to traditions that infringe on their individual rights. They should be made to understand that the matter of choosing marriage partners should be left entirely to them.
The government should set up bodies that specifically address the problem. Such organizations ought to be enshrined in the laws of the state to empower them in the fight against arranged marriages. One of their key duties should be to lay clear guidelines that a person in threat of an arranged marriage should undertake to stop the possibility. They should be informed of the legal processes involved and mechanisms of unveiling the locality where the arranged marriage is slated to happen.
It is imperative that human rights organizations and non-governmental organizations are better equipped with facilities and funding from their mother governments and donors in order to effectively curb arranged marriages. At least, in instances where a victim has been secretly sneaked out of the country, such organizations through their governments, should be able to arrange for the deportation of people who have been married off under such circumstances, and living in foreign countries as in the case of Zana Muhsen.
Emergency facilities that are accessible to the victims of arranged marriages would help nip any plans to secretly marry off victims in the bud. Such facilities would be a veritable channel through which victims of arranged marriages air their grievances and report cases. Through these channels, victims can receive both emotional and material support where necessary and more so, provide for them a fallback position when confronted by the reality of being married off through arranged marriages.
Organizations should set up homes that are friendly and well equipped with learning facilities like classrooms, libraries, and sports facilities to rehabilitate and secure victims of arranged marriages. It is an incontrovertible fact that some victims become outcasts in their societies when they resist being married off without their consent. They should therefore be sheltered in such homes and mentored educationally, physically and spiritually to enable them to lead normal lives. Some of the victims who might have undergone harrowing experiences such as rape and physical abuse should also be counseled adequately by qualified psychiatrists to help them recover from painful experiences.
In countries where arranged marriages have been outlawed, clear punitive measures should be stipulated in the penal code to deal with offenders related to cases of arranged marriages. Hefty penalties should be imposed to keep off prospective offenders. Training of persons mandated to handle and detect cases related to arranged marriages is paramount. This is because of the sensitivity of the matter of arranged marriages and some of the salient complexities that inform the marriages.
Victims of arranged marriages especially underage girls require special handling by trained professionals who are good at detecting arranged marriages and can provide proper guidance.
Professionals assigned the duty of assessing where arranged marriages occur should be perfect at cross examining both spouses and counter checking marriage documents for validity in the case where offenders use fake marriage documents for fear of pursuing legal processes that might open loopholes that might expose them. In conclusion, arranged marriages end up being vicious weevils that eat up at their victims emotionally, and physically. Every modern society must do away with this practice that infringes on basic human rights of an individual.
Kashiwase, Aruna. Why cousin marriage matters in Iraq. Csmonitor. 2006:12-19.
Kershaw, Sarah. Living Together. New York Times: 2009: 4-6.
Muhsen, Zana. Sold. Little Brown Book Group, 1994:45-56.
Pernoud, Regine. Those terrible middle Ages: debunking the myths. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000:102.
Reaves, Jo. Marriage in China Not So Different than in the West, St Paul: Asian Page: 24-27.
Westermarck, Edward. The History of Human Marriage, Macmillan and Co. Ltd: London, 1903:3.