What is Forced Marriage?
Forced marriage is a practice in which a marriage takes place without the free consent of the individuals getting married, where pressure or abuse is used to ‘force’ one or both people to marry against their will.
A forced marriage can happen to anyone; of any gender, of any age.
Forced Marriages Are a Form of Violence.
If you or someone you know is being forced into a marriage, help and advice is available. This violence may take emotional, mental or physical forms where, an individual may be ‘forced’ by: using threats, beating them, isolating them, using restrictions on them, inducing guilt, and, many such forms of coercion.
In some cases, individuals may be taken abroad to be forced to marry. A marriage that is forced is a form of violence and an abuse of human rights. It is against the law in Canada to force someone to get married.
Emergency help is available.
Do You Need Help?
Every situation is different.
If this is happening to you, or someone you know — it is not your fault and you are not alone. You can get help.
It is important to understand that who you marry, when you marry or if you marry, marriage is a choice. Forced marriage is a form of abuse and is against the law in Canada.
A Network of Agencies Against Forced Marriages (NAAFM) has been established, which includes a range of committed community partners, who are equipped to help you. They will work with you to identify strategies that promote your safety and your right to choose marriage freely.
Local and international resources are available, including free and confidential support. Resources include health, housing, counselling, legal and financial help.
For immediate assistance contact the 24 hour support lines at the Victim’s Support Line: 1-888-579-2888 or 416-314-2447, if you are calling from within Toronto.
If you are worried about your immediate safety and well-being, contact your local police at 911.
The following can be signs to look out for if you are concerned about someone you know:
- The person begins to miss appointments, school, work or social events
- The person may seem more anxious, depressed or scared
- The person no longer meets with you alone
- The person has injuries that he/she cannot explain
- The person’s eating habits change
- The person expresses that he/she wants to hurt themselves
Forced marriages can take place abroad. If you suspect that the reason for travel is for a forced marriage, try to avoid the trip. If this is not possible, there are supports available.
If you or the person in concern have not yet traveled overseas and are worried for your safety, get in touch with an agency or a service provider that can help you. You can contact the local police, a school guidance counselor, a social service agency, or a community legal clinic.
See Get Connected and Emergency Links.
If travel becomes unavoidable, provide a trusted person with:
- Address and telephone number of where you are going to stay
- Your passport details
- All your flight details (there and back)
You should also:
- Register with the government prior to traveling by filling out the ‘Registration for Canadians Abroad’ Form. You can be assisted in the case of an emergency, including issuing passports, transportation and assisting with a safe return to Canada. Click here for the registration form.
- Keep some emergency cash with you
- Carry the contact information of the nearest Canadian embassy or consulate.
If you are overseas and require assistance, you can contact a Canadian embassy or consulate abroad, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) [www.travel.gc.ca].
For a list of Canadian embassies click here.
While abroad you can email for help at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the Emergency Operations Centre if in North America at 1-800-267-6788 or call collect from anywhere in the world at 1-613-996-8885.
Government of Canada Emergency Operations Centre
Contact: 1-800-267-6788 (North America) or 613-996-8885
It is important to note that a person’s immigration status will impact the type of options available to them if they are forced to marry while abroad. Canadian embassies abroad offer assistance primarily to Canadian citizens.
Permanent residents and temporary residents may need to explore additional options, including independent, advocacy and non-governmental organizations located outside of Canada that may provide assistance to victims of forced marriages. The services of these organizations are available to citizens and non-citizens, and may include the provision of shelter, referral services and advocacy on behalf of the victim.
Forced marriages occur either within Canada or abroad. An individual may need support with safety planning, education about rights and responsibilities and looking into assistance available.
It is important to connect to confidential and responsible assistance.
Visit Get Connected and Emergency Links for community partners that are able to provide support.
- Find a safe environment. Talk to someone you trust and think of individuals who may be able to provide you with help. Seek the assistance of community service providers for legal questions, housing, counseling, health services and additional supports. Be discrete when contacting others for help, if personal safety may be an issue.
- Learn your rights. Forced marriages are illegal. Gain an understanding of the law through contacting a community legal clinic.
- If an individual is under the age of 16 community service providers must report abuse to Children’s Aid Society.
- If you are contacted by a person under threat, attempt to collect as much information as possible, including age, nationality, birth date/place of birth, passport details, school details, employment, name and address of parents/caregivers and names of family/friends that can be trusted.
- Try to establish a safe ways to communicate with others (telephone, email, texting, through a friend/family member etc.).
Be aware that a person may be at risk of experiencing violence or harm if their family learns that they have sought assistance.
Safety and exposure to risk must always be considered when creating an action plan or offering advice in cases of forced marriage.
Things to Consider
- Establish a code word with people you trust to ensure you are always speaking to the right person.
- Leave copies of important documents such as a passport, Social Insurance Number and birth certificate with a trusted person
- Have access to money through a trusted person or personal bank account.
- Keep a list of emergency contacts and help lines somewhere accessible and safe.
- Have a telephone card or change for emergency calls. Note: 9-1-1 can be dialed for free from any payphone in Canada.
- Arrange for alternative housing with a trusted person or community shelter.
Forced marriages are illegal. Individuals should seek professional and confidential help in understanding their legal rights and responsibilities.
Criminal offenses for forced marriages can include sexual assault, threatening behaviour/threats to kills, kidnap, abduction, assault, imprisonment and murder.
Community Legal Support Services
Community Legal Clinics in Ontario
Contact: Legal Aid Ontario 1-800-668-8258 (legal aid assistance and referrals in over 120 languages)
Free Legal Assistance Services for Low-Income Ontarians
South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario
Contact: (416) 487-6371
Family Law Education for Women
Contact: (416) 961-8101
Justice for Youth and Children
Location: 415 Yonge Street, Suite 1203, Toronto
Contact: (416) 920-1633
Ontario Women’s Justice Network
This online legal resource provides information on issues related to justice and violence against women and children.
Services Provider Resources
Forced marriages are often a hidden form of violence. Due to a common misconceptions and lack of awareness, the forced marriage issue can be overlooked.
Increasingly, community service agencies and healthcare providers are beginning to address forced marriages.
There a number of ways to get involved and stop forced marriages.
1) Understand the Issue
A toolkit for community education is available, to develop a stronger understanding of the forced marriages issue.
2) Make connections
A Network of Agencies Against Forced Marriages exists, which includes a range of committed community partners, who are equipped to further address the forced marriages issues.
3) Understand the misconceptions
There are many myths that exist about forced marriages. Learn about the misconceptions in order to become an informed community member.
Information and referral support is available to service providers.
A Network of Agencies Against Forced Marriages has been established to support with forced marriages cases. These network members include front-line service providers, researchers, advocates and additional committed community partners. A Forced Marriages toolkit has been designed as guide to assist service providers in dealing with cases of forced marriage in Ontario and to facilitate open discussion with different stakeholders, including youth and their families. It contains practical information for the identification and prevention of forced marriage as well strategies for intervention. We encourage the users of this toolkit to adapt this document to suit their needs as well as the needs of the people they work with to make it more accessible and relevant. Download toolkit here.
This brochure provides information and resources on forced marriages. It can be printed and distributed as needed.
This poster can be utilized by service providers to promote an understanding of the forced marriages issue.
Additional resources are available to provide further information on forced marriages for both service providers and community members.
A Forced Marriages Unit (FMU) is established in the UK. The following UK resources can be explored to gain more awareness on the issue.
Forced Marriage Unit (FMU)
Phone: 020 7008 1500 or +44 20 7008 1500 (from abroad) (24-hour line)
Forced Marriage Awareness
Honour Crimes Directory (developed by CIMEL and INTERIGHTS)
A comprehensive list of local NGOs has been created through a project in United Kingdom called ‘ ‘Strategies to Address ‘Crimes of Honour’’, a joint project between CIMEL (the Centre of Islamic and Middle Eastern Law) and INTERIGHTS (the International Centre for the Legal Protection of Human Rights). This ‘Honour Crimes Directory’ is available athttp://www.soas.ac.uk/honourcrimes/directory/
If there is an emergency situation, immediately call 911 for assistance.
Emergency and Police Services
Contact: Dial 9-1-1
Emergency and Police Services
Contact: Dial 2-1-1
Ontario Victims Support Referral Line
Contact: 1-888-579-2888 / 416-314-2447 (Toronto)
Distress Centres of Toronto
Contact: (416) 408-HELP (4357) / TTY (416) 408-0007
Distress Centres of Ontario
Assaulted Women’s Helpline
(416) 863-0511 (Greater Toronto Area)
Cell: #SAFE (#7233)
This helpline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Services are available in over 100 languages. Get help – Free crisis counselling and referrals for legal advice, shelters and other supports.
Femaide (Francophone phone line)
Kids Help Phone
Children’s Aid Society of Toronto
Contact: (416) 924-4646
Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies
Contact: 1-866-797-0000 / TTY 1-866-797-0007
Sexual Assault / Rape Crisis Centre of Peel
Contact: 1-800-810-0180 (Confidential and Anonymous)
This helpline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Victim Services Victim Support Line (VSL)
Contact: 1-888-579-2888 (VSL) / (416) 326-2429 (Victim/Witness Assistance)
The Victim Support Line provides help in English and French. The Victim/Witness Assistance Program supports individuals through the criminal justice process.
Sexual Assault Support Centres in Ontario
Emergency Shelter Services
Shelter Net Assessment & Referral Centre
Contact: (416) 338-4766 or Toll Free 1-877-338-3398
Shelter Central Family Intake
Families with Children
Contact: (416) 397-5637
Community Legal Clinics in Ontario Legal Aid Ontario
Contact: 1-800-668-8258 / TTY 1-866-641-8867
Service: Legal aid assistance and referrals in over 120 languages
Family Service Association of Toronto
Contact: (416) 596-9230
Family Service Ontario
Contact: (416) 231-6003
The Barbara Schlifer Clinic
Location: 489 College Street, Suite 503
Contact: (416) 323-9149 / TTY (416) 323-1361
LGBT Youth Line
Contact: 1-800-268-YOUTH (9688) / Email: email@example.com
Association of Ontario Health Centres
Contact: (416) 236-2539
Ontario Women’s Health Network
This database provides information on various health services for women
Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (When Abroad)
Contact: 1-800-267-6788 (North America)
1-613-996-8885 (Call Collect anywhere from the world)
Click here to download a list of NAAFM members.
Access Alliance Multicultural Community and Health Services
Location: Multiple locations in GTA; 340 College Street, Toronto
Contact: (416) 324-8677
Service: Programs and services for immigrants and refugees
Agincourt Community Services
Location: 4155 Sheppard Avenue East, Suite 100, Toronto
Contact: (416) 762-8798 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Service: Address needs of children, youth, seniors, newcomers & underserved communities
Bloor Information and Life Skills Centre
Location: 672 Dupont Street, Suite 314, Toronto
Contact: (416) 531-4613
Service: Immigration, settlement and counselling services
Council of Agencies Serving South Asians
Location: 2401 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 212, Toronto
Contact: (416) 932-1359
Service: Resource for information, research, mobilization & coordination on social justice
India Rainbow Community Services of Peel
Location: Locations throughout Peel Region
Contact: (905) 275 2369
Service: Settlement, health, education and social services
Justice of Children and Youth
Location: 415 Yonge Street, Suite 1203, Toronto
Contact: (416) 920-1633
Service: Legal support for age 17 and under
Midaynta Community Services
Location: 1992 Yonge Street, Suite 203, Toronto
Contact: (416) 544-1992
Service: Settlement and counselling services
Newcomer Women’s Services Toronto
Location: 745 Danforth Avenue, Suite 401, Toronto
Contact: (416) 469-0196
Service: Settlement services for women
South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario
Location: 45 Sheppard Avenue East, Suite 106A
Contact: (416) 487-6371
Service: Advice, services, and legal representation to low-income South Asians
The Alternative for Her Community Centre (TAFHCC)
Location: 2975 Don Mills Road, North York (by appointment)
Contact: (416) 949-7411
Service: Recreational programs and culturally sensitive social services
The Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP)
Location: 20 Carlton Street, Suite M126, Toronto
Contact: (416) 599-2727
Service: Health promotion, support and advocacy for South Asians affected by HIV/AIDS
The Arab Community Centre of Toronto (ACCT)
Location: 5 locations across the Greater Toronto Area
Contact: (416) 231-7746
Service: Settlement and integration services
Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office (TNO)
Location: 45 Overlea Boulevard, Unit 108A, Toronto
Contact: (416) 421- 8997
Service: Settlement, employment and counselling services
Toronto Community Housing Corporation
Contact: (416) 898-2640
Service: Social housing provider
Toronto Police Service
Location: 40 College Street, Toronto (Head Office)
Contact: (416) 808-7041
Service: Policing, safety and criminal justice
Women’s Health in Women’s Hands
Location: 2 Carlton Street, Suite 500, Toronto
Contact: (416) 263-4889
Service: Inclusive healthcare services for women
In order to better understand the forced marriage issue, it is important to address frequently asked questions.
Are arranged marriages the same as forced marriages?
All arranged marriages are not forced marriages.
In arranged marriages, families arrange the match. The individuals getting married have a choice of whether or not to marry.
In a forced marriage, the individuals getting married are not given the choice to marry.
Aren’t forced marriages a thing of the past?
Forced marriages are still occurring in Canada and many different parts of the world.
The exact number of forced marriages cases in Canada is not known. Due to stigma and lack of awareness about forced marriages, many people do not report cases of forced marriages.
Why is forced marriage a part of some cultures?
Forced marriage is not a cultural practice.
Forced marriages can occur in any culture, class, religion or area of the world.
Forced marriage is not accepted by any religion or culture.
Who is forced to marry?
Forced marriages happen to people of all ages and gender. While many marriages involve domestic violence and violence against women, many men are also victims of this practice.
Forced marriage also happens to trans-gendered trans-sexual, gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals.
Forced marriages can happen to anyone.
Isn’t forced marriage a private family matter?
Forced marriages are not a private family matter.
Forced marriages violate human rights and international laws.
Parents/caregivers may believe that they are preserving cultural tradition, building stronger families and protecting their children.
Regardless of motives, forced marriage is against the law and is an act of violence.
The Forced Marriage Project is an initiative of South Asian Legal Clinic (SALCO), funded by theOntario Trillium Foundation (OTF). SALCO would like to thank the members of the ‘Forced Marriage Project Advisory Committee’ and the‘Networkof Agencies Against Forced Marriages’ (NAAFM) for sharing their input and expertise on the issue of forced marriage. Their guidance and contribution to the project and development of the resources has been vital.