The U.S. Department of State's highest priority overseas is the protection and welfare of American citizens. It considers the issue of forced marriage to be a violation of basic human rights and a form of child abuse. Often, victims are subjected to non-consensual sex, physical and emotional abuse, isolation, and threats of violence. International law and conventions also support an individual's right to self-determination, minimum marriage ages and the rejection of abuse of women and honor based violence.
Arranged marriages are a long-standing tradition in many cultures and countries. The Department respects this tradition, and makes a very clear distinction between a forced and an arranged marriage. In arranged marriages, the families of both spouses take a leading role in the arrangement but the choice whether to consent remains with the individuals. In a forced marriage, at least one party does not consent to the marriage, and some element of duress or coercion is generally present.
In India, marriage laws are codified under English common law. However, there are several marriage laws which apply depending on the religion of the parties to the marriage. Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs and Parsis each have specific marriage tenants codifying who is eligible to marry and which religious officials are qualified to perform marriages under the Act. The Special Marriage Act of 1954 permits marriage between persons of different religions or nationalities. Any marriage performed under religious tenants is subject to civil law.
All marriage tenants prescribe the minimum age of marriage to be 21 years for men and 18 years for women. A marriage of a boy below twenty-one years of age or a girl below eighteen years of age is prohibited under the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929. Enforcement of this Act depends on charges being filed in the civil court. Parties who press charges (including minors) are required to stay in India for the duration of the court case. Despite these laws, marriages of minors still occur, particularly in rural areas.
The consent of both the parties is necessary. Another adult cannot consent on their behalf. The granting of consent can be disputed or challenged in a court of law. India does not have a specific law banning forced marriages. However, it recognizes forced marriages as a violation of basic human rights.
Most Indian adults are married in their mid-twenties, though women are usually married at a younger age than men. Parents are actively engaged in finding a suitable spouse for their child. After finding a match, the parties to the marriage are generally given the opportunity to meet and decide whether to agree to the marriage. However, in extreme cases, refusing a marriage arranged by a parent could result in isolation and threats or acts of physical or emotional abuse.
If you are facing this situation, or know someone who is, contact the local authorities and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Please see the Country Specific Information for India for locations and contact information.