The U.S. Department of State's highest priority overseas is the protection and welfare of American citizens. Forced marriage is contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that "no marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses". The U.S. Department of State considers forced marriage to be a human rights abuse, in the case of minors also a form of child abuse. Often, victims are subjected to non-consensual sex, physical and emotional abuse, isolation, and threats of 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 Kosovo, marriage laws are based on civil law. Marriage laws dictate that only individuals who reach the age of 18 and above can enter into wedlock. In cases of individuals who are below 18 but older than 16 years old, a competent court can rule whether the person has reached the necessary physical and psychological maturity for exercising his/her marital rights. Prior to the decision, the court shall seek the opinion of the Municipal Center for Social Work, and shall take into consideration the wishes of the minor and his/her parents. The court shall also consider the wishes of the person with whom the minor intends to enter into wedlock and shall investigate other circumstances important for making the decision. Kosovo does not have a specific law banning forced marriage; however, according to Kosovo law, a marriage shall not be valid when the consent to marry has been obtained under coercion, threat, by mistake or any other evidence of lack of free will by either of the future spouses.
The average age of marriage in Kosovo for men and women is from 18-24 years of age, but there are cases where one of the parties, most often the woman, is 16-18 years of age. Due to the shortage of economic opportunities and high unemployment rates, school dropout rates are higher for girls, especially in rural areas, which is one of the main reasons for woman to marry at a younger age. Many families live below the poverty level which can influence the marriage decision of the girl, as well as her parents. The use of arranged marriages is fairly common throughout Kosovo, especially in rural areas. Usually the families of both parties take the lead in arranging marriages, although sometimes other relatives or close family friends will propose the arranged marriage. It is not uncommon for immigrants, once established in their new countries, to return to Kosovo to find their spouse. There are also lingering stereotypical perceptions of gender roles, especially in rural areas, which may push girls to get married earlier. There are no statistics on honor based violence, but there is anecdotal information that if it was determined that a woman was not a virgin upon marriage she might be divorced.
Institutional mechanisms have been set up to protect victims of gender-related violence, including the Centers for Social Work (for minors) and the Victim Advocacy and Assistance Division of the Kosovo Ministry of Justice. In addition, a number of nongovernmental organization (NGOs) run women’s shelters and provide other, limited assistance, including counseling and mediation between the victim and the family. Often the choices of women and girls are limited by their economic dependency on their families and social mores that push for women to remain in the family.
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 Kosovo for locations and contact information.