Government to do more against 300 forced marriages a year

Over 900 forced marriages have taken place in Switzerland since the beginning of 2015 Keystone

The Swiss government plans to step up its fight against forced marriages and is considering whether to tighten legislation. Over 900 forced marriages have taken place in Switzerland since the beginning of 2015, according to a new report.

This content was published on October 31, 2017 - 10:58

Switzerland has banned forced marriages since 2013. But a federal report published on Tuesday revealed that 905 forced marriages had been reported in Switzerland between 2015 and September 2017. Most families originated from Kosovo, Sri Lanka, Albania, Macedonia and Turkey. The number of cases of people from Afghanistan and Syria has increased.

Most victims are women (83%). Nearly a third (28.4%) are minors under 18. In many cases people hold residency status, but the proportion of Swiss nationals is not negligible, the authorities said.

The minimum legal age for marriage is 18, even if the law of the person’s country of origin is different.

In 2012, the Swiss parliament passed a series of measures that came into force in 2013, increasing jail sentences to a maximum of five years for people found guilty of coercing others into a marriage. This applies regardless of whether the marriage was arranged outside Switzerland.

In addition, Swiss registrars must refuse to officiate when they come across forced marriages and must report suspected incidents to judicial authorities.

At parliament's request, the government is considering whether additional legal measures are needed. It is examining, for example, whether the clause nullifying a marriage when a person is under age is sufficient.

It also plans to look into forced marriages concluded abroad. And the authors of an external report have asked the Swiss authorities to see whether measures are needed for the long-term care of victims. 

Federal programme

In the new report, the government says the fight against forced marriages needs the long-term commitment of the federal authorities, cantons and communes, public sector institutions and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to be successful.

A four-year federal programme against forced marriages was launched in 2013 with a budget of CHF2 million ($2 million). So far, it has financed 18 projects, including seven proposed by NGOs, focusing on networking, information, awareness-raising and training. 

Efforts are still needed to ensure a nationwide approach. There is currently no specialised regional service in French- and Italian-speaking Switzerland offering consulting services or handling complex cases. Activities have been mainly concentrated in the cities of Bern and Zurich. In nine cantons, especially in central and eastern Switzerland, there are no activities at all. 

The government says it plans to stop directly funding local activities combating forced marriages. Instead, it will support the creation of a national centre for 2018-2021 to oversee complex cases and to provide local organisations with specialised information. A total of CHF800,000 has also been set aside for the centre to raise awareness about the problem of forced marriages.

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