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Forced marriage affects hundreds

Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga announcing the results of the study into forced marriage Keystone

In the past two years, around 1,400 young women in Switzerland have been forced to marry, end a relationship or have been told not to seek a divorce, according to a study by Neuchâtel University for the Federal Migration Office.

Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga presented the results of the study in Bern on Thursday.

Researchers found 348 cases of forced marriage in which a woman was put under pressure to marry against her will, largely for reasons having to do with cultural expectations and family pressures.

In 384 cases a young woman was found to have been forced to break off a relationship with someone she had chosen to be with.

In 659 cases a young woman who wanted a divorce was told that wasn’t going to happen.

Cases of forced marriage and forced dumping mostly involved woman aged 18-25 from the Balkans, Turkey and Sri Lanka, according to the researchers.

Those unable to secure divorces were predominantly women aged over 25 who had been born abroad, who were economically independent from their husband and whose residence status was uncertain.

In order to help the women affected, the study recommended treating all similar cases as domestic violence in the future.

Parliamentary agreement

In June, both chambers of parliament voted to increase jail sentences to a maximum of five years for people found guilty of coercing others into a marriage. The law applies regardless of whether the marriage was agreed upon outside Switzerland.

The Senate followed the House of Representatives in tightening the law, notably banning marriages for minors. The minimum age for marriage in Switzerland is 18.

Senator Christine Egerszegi, spokeswoman for the committee on political institutions, said at the time that the aim of the bill was to ensure that forced marriages could be cancelled more easily and that the onus was not placed on those coerced into marriage.

Under the new law, Swiss registrars must refuse to officiate when they come across forced marriages and report suspected incidents to the justice authorities.

But further discussions are needed in parliament to iron out differences. The Senate wants to invalidate every forced marriage, while the House of Representatives last December came out in favour of allowing exceptions if both parties of a forced marriage agree to continue the union voluntarily.

Current Swiss legislation foresees a maximum jail sentence of up to three years in cases where pressure or threats were used to force two people into a marriage.

The Swiss government tabled legislation to combat forced marriages on February 23, 2011. The bill is currently before parliament. Some of the measures involved:
–  forced marriage is to be regarded as an infraction of the Swiss criminal code;
–  anyone forcing a person to marry by means of violence or threats is liable to imprisonment for up to five years or a fine;
– where a marriage has been contracted against the will of one of the spouses, it is to be declared null and void;
– marriages contracted with minors abroad will no longer be recognised under Swiss law.
(Source: Justice ministry)

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