Sunday, March 22, 2015

"Unchained at Last": Organization helps women escape forced marriages

NY Times    Unchained at Last operates in the contested crossroad between the modern secular concept of marriage for love between consenting adults and longstanding ethnic or communal customs of arranged marriage. Religion does not require such marriage, but is very often invoked to provide moral justification for it. And the laws of certain faiths, Orthodox Judaism in particular, give a husband the sole right to grant a divorce.

A reliable estimate of arranged marriages is difficult because the definition is inexact. But the Tahirih Justice Center, an advocacy group for immigrant women, reported that about 3,000 cases of “forced marriage” took place in the United States from 2009 through 2011.

Almost all of the 90 women whom Unchained at Last has helped had been pressured into marriage by their religious community: Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Mormon, Unification Church. Most lived in the New York area, though one was in Arizona. The women’s nations of origin stretch through Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

On a basic level, Unchained at Last provides legal services because most of the women’s cases involve divorce and child custody litigation, and some extend into immigration status and restraining orders against a violent spouse. Because the clients’ situations can be so catastrophic — forced at gunpoint to accept a marriage, raped by a husband, essentially imprisoned within the home as a domestic servant — Unchained at Last also provides mentoring, access to therapy and cash stipends for everything from basic clothing to English as a second language class. [...]

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