"To Have and To Hold": Understanding the Relationship between Forced Marriage and Modern Slavery.

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Sch of Politics & International Relation


Since 2017 the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has included forced marriage in its Global Estimates of Slavery (GES). This followed including forced marriage as a form of sexual slavery at the International Criminal Court, and explicit linkage of forced marriage to slavery by the UN's Special Rapporteur on Contemporary Forms of Slavery (Shahinian 2012). In 2018, after the first successful English prosecution for forced marriage, UK NGO Karma Nirvana called for similar cases to be prosecuted under the Modern Slavery Act. Forced marriage and slavery are thus being linked on the national and international stage. This raises key and as yet unanswered questions about the relation between forced marriage and slavery.

This is not merely a conceptual problem divorced from reality. 40.3 million people are estimated to live in slavery today, 15.4 million of them in forced marriage (ILO 2018). The inclusion of forced marriage in the GES has not only greatly increased the number of people recognised as living in slavery, but revealed the gendered nature of modern slavery: though men are also victims of forced marriage, women and girls account for 71% of modern slavery victims (ILO 2018).

As Allain (2015) notes, 'in legal terms, forced marriage is not slavery...and yet...': that is, there does seem to be a link between at least some instances of forced marriage and modern slavery. However, this relationship is neither immediately obvious, nor made plain in international or domestic law. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) treat forced marriage and modern slavery separately (under SDG Targets 5.3 and 8.7 respectively). The definition of slavery in the 1920 Slavery Convention, and the Bellagio-Harvard Guidelines on the Legal Parameters of Slavery's definition of modern slavery, is treatment of one person as property by another. With forced marriage, however, the focus is on lack of consent to the initial ceremony. Treatment as property and lack of consent may be connected, but they are not identical. 'Forced marriage', then, is not obviously a form of slavery, liable for inclusion in the GES. And yet, as Allain says, 'and yet...'.

My multidisciplinary project would be the first to explain why certain types of marriage should be seen as forms of modern slavery, rightly included in the GES. I seek to answer the following research questions:

RQ1: To what extent, if any, is forced marriage a form of modern slavery?

RQ2: Does forced marriage as currently defined in law really encapsulate the normative problem?

RQ3: What types of marriage, if any, ought to be seen as forms of modern slavery?

In order to answer these questions I:

1) Draw on the work of past philosophers' nuanced and sophisticated analyses of how marriage constitutes a form of slavery to show that fundamental elements of the real normative problem are not covered by the modern notion of 'forced' marriage (RQs 1,2 and 3).
2) Collate current legal definitions of forced marriage, and see how these map onto understandings of modern slavery (RQs 1 and 2).
3) Explore the corpus of existing survivor narratives regarding forced marriage and slavery (RQs 1,2 and 3).
4) Conduct a systematic survey of existing empirical research on instances of forced marriage and/or marriages which could be forms of slavery, including by partners Walk Free and Karma Nirvana (RQs1,2 and 3).
5) Generate typologies of marriages which arguably constitute an institution or practice similar to slavery, and a definition of the normative problem the global community is rightfully seeking to eliminate, currently referred to as 'forced' marriage (RQs 1 and 3).
6) With project partner Walk Free, input into data-collection for the GES, leading to more accurate numbers for forced marriage globally and development of a new SDG Target Indicator for inclusion in the Global Slavery Index, to better measure progress towards eradication of forced marriage and modern slavery (RQ3).

Planned Impact

The ultimate beneficiaries of this research are everyone who might be impacted by forced marriage or modern slavery. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that there were 5.4 victims of modern slavery for every thousand people in the world in 2016 (ILO 2017): but the repercussions of forced marriage and modern slavery are felt by many more than those who personally becomes victims of either. Ending forced marriage and modern slavery are both targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, from achievement of which the whole global community will benefit, and my project makes a contribution to this task by explaining the link between the two, without which we cannot make much progress in eradicating either.

I hope to evidence impact in five ways. 1) Widespread adoption by Non-Governmental Organisation actors; government agencies (e.g. the UK's Forced Marriage Unit and Indepenent Anti-Slavery Commissioner); and international bodies (e.g. UN Women) of the definition of forced marriage, and typologies of 'slave-like' marriage I develop in the project. 2) Use of the Forced Marriage Legislation Database by these same actors. 3) Input of my findings regarding definition and the conceptual link between forced marriage and modern slavery into the data collection for the annual Global Estimates of Slavery and Global Slavery Index with project partner Walk Free. 4) Input into the advice and training materials provided by Karma Nirvana to key actors tasked with safeguarding potential victims (e.g. police officers, teachers, medics and social workers) and to their helpline staff, who will thereby be better able to detect and flag links between forced marriage and modern slavery. 5) Increasing general knowledge, understanding and awareness of forced marriage and modern slavery through engagement with the general public at events held on the University of Nottingham campus, and through our Massive Open Online Course on slavery.

Key beneficiaries include:

1) Policy-makers and agencies within national, devolved and local government, including (in the UK) the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Home Office Modern Slavery Unit, the UK Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner's office, and the UK Forced Marriage Unit who will be able to use my research outputs to improve legislation, measurement, and policy regarding interventions.

2) Front-line groups and service-providers, including (in the UK), the Crown Prosecution Service, the National Crime Agency, police forces, border security, social workers and health professionals, who will be able to use my research outputs in their own efforts to end forced marriage and modern slavery and will benefit from the training co-produced with Karma Nirvana.

3) International governments seeking to adopt new forced marriage legislation and/or set up Forced Marriage Units, using the UK's Forced Marriage Unit (the first in the world) as a model, who will benefit from the conceptual clarity my research will provide.

4) Intergovernmental agencies working to end forced marriage and modern slavery, including Alliance 8.7, UN Women, and the International Criminal Court, who can also use my new definition, typologies, systematic review of empirical research, more accurate numbers produced in conjunction with Walk Free, and suggested SDG Target Indicator in constructing new policy, more effective interventions, and better advice regarding drafting legislation on forced marriage.

5) NGOs working to tackle forced marriage, measure it more effectively, and support survivors, including Freedom Fund, Karma Nirvana, Girls Not Brides, Plan International and Unchained at Last, who will all find definitions, more accurate measurements and training materials helpful for training staff and focusing their efforts effectively.

6) The general public who will benefit from increased knowledge regarding forced marriage and slavery, and from achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.


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