“Between Choice and Obligation”: Marriages in MENASA Communities in the U.S.

In the United States, there has been increased interest in advocating to end child marriage for children of migrant parents from the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia (MENASA). There has been little research-based data and knowledge on the prevalence of child marriage in the United States. Hence, the authors of the paper “Between Choice and Obligation: An Exploratory Assessment of Forced Marriage Problems and Policies among Migrants in the United States'' have taken it upon themselves by interviewing 100 City University of New York (CUNY) students whose parents originated from MENASA.


These forced marriages happen through coercion, emotional abuse, psychological pressure, kidnapping, trickery, physical violence, or a threat of violence. The United States is home to over three million MENASA migrants, but there seems to be little research-based knowledge about these forced child marriages. However, there are U.S. politicians, such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, who have advocated for new policies to ending child marriage in the United States as such forced marriages are “a threat to fundamental human rights.” These forced marriages are a ubiquitous dilemma happening in the United States that needs to be addressed.


Contemporary Knowledge on Forced Marriage

Marriage is thought to be on a continuum in which degrees of attentiveness towards marriage structures and parental wishes alter. Arranged marriages can be consensual if the consent of the two parties involved is not compromised. However, arranged marriage can be forced marriage if one or both of the two parties involved do not give their consent.


It is a conflicting situation because migrant parents from MENASA value the tradition of parents brokering their children’s marriage while the Western world emphasizes people’s freedom to choose their own life partner. Due to cultural differences, parents can partake in forced marriages by conducting arranged marriages. Nonprofit organizations such as Manavi for South Asian Women and Sauti Yetu Center for African Women show that forced marriage is a prevalent issue in the United States.


Unease, Ambivalence, Conflict, and Pride

The 100 CUNY students described a widespread pattern of conflict and equivocation over honor and culture for themselves and their social networks. The migrant parents value their children’s success at integrating into the American society but also fear being condemned by relatives and others from their origin country. Thus, forced marriage can be a bigger issue for children who live deeper in immigrant enclaves.


It is important to note that child marriage is a prevalent issue that spans all cultural backgrounds, religions, and communities in the United States. Students Against Child Marriage is dedicated to ending the abuse of child marriage across the United States. Join our efforts by joining a chapter or starting one at your school. To take action today, sign our petition, tweet the Biden-Harris Administration, or donate to help us further our mission.


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