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JournalistIamA a journalist who recently reported on forced marriage in Belgium AMA!

Oct 24th 2016 by euronews_ • 17 Questions • 3304 Points

I’m Valerie Gauriat, a reporter for Euronews, I recently made a report about forced marriage in Belgium. It was one of the first EU countries to criminalise the practice, which is much more widespread than we might think. During my trip I met victims and professionals working with those victims.

Today from 10am Eastern time (or 4pm CET) you can ask me anything about forced marriage in Europe or about reporting on these kind of topics and I'll respond based on my experience.

My report (proof) http://www.euronews.com/2016/10/14/belgium-goes-on-the-offensive-against-forced-marriages

More proof: https://twitter.com/euronews/status/790523773623689216

Edit: Thank you for your questions, I have to go now. If I can come back to answer more at a later date I will.

Q:

I know you only reported on it in Belgium, but do you have an idea on how widespread forced marriage is in the world today or just the rest of the EU? Is there such thing as being too young?

A:

If you take recently issued figures, according for instance to the International center for research on women, every year, about 15 million girls into marriage, often as young as eight or 10 years old. And that's just for minors. There is indeed a notion of age, and in many countries of the world, there is a legal age for marriage, often 18 years old. But that doesn't prevent forced marriage, whether it concerns minors or adults. In the EU, there are no reliable figures. They vary very much from one country to another, some 2000 cases are reported to be "at threat" for instance in the UK, up to 70000 in France.. Cases which are actually the object of formal complants are very few. and a major reason for such silence is fear. Fear of reprisals, or simply fear of harming the family, being excluded from the community..


Q:

Why did you go to Belgium?

A:

Hi, actually, Belgium is one of the first EU countries to have made forced marriage a specific criminal offence, and has set up a comprehensive network of professionals trying to assist forced marriage victims. The belgian authorities really started being sensitized to the issue, after a young woman was killed by her brother in 2007, in a so-called "honor crime", because she refused to be forced into a marriage, and had a belgian boyfriend her family disapproved of..


Q:

What's the most heartbreaking story you've heard about forced marriages?

A:

Actually, there really are many heart-breaking stories! I was told for instance of a 15 year old syrian girl, who had been married to a much older man, was seeking refuge in Belgium, with 2 children.. One woman I interviewed, coming from Guinea, had escaped form a man twice her age, who repeatedly raped her, and wanted to force her to go through female genital mutilation, for the third time in her young life; her father had died, and she was forced to this marraige by her uncle, who dragged her by force to her husband and beat her up anytime she tried to escape..Her life is at threat, so are those of the few family members who helped her... I I met another woman, who became an activist, but had been forced to marry a cousin at 15, was locked up and beaten up because she tried to refuse..It took her years to get out of that situation


Q:

How much cultural-crossover do you find with this issue? We know its more prevalent in some cultures today, but at some point this was common practice in nearly all cultures. Does some small vestige persist across different cultures?

A:

It was indeed common practice in many of our western cultures not so long ago, and we've all heard of stories of great-parents or great-grand parents who married who they were told to marry... When it comes to today's forcefully married EU citizens, mostly bi-nationals, the cultural element persists, in the sense that some communities would perpetuate the practice in order not to be absorbed by westernised societies.. then the cultural element is far from being the only factor. In many cases it's a way for people to enter the EU, through family reunification policies; or it can almso be a mere question of money, and that's worse.. I've hear of girls who wer literally "shown", all dressed up,for consecutive weeks, to much older men, and the highest bid won...


Q:

Have you gotten any kind of backlash or negative feedback for covering such "delicate" subject?

A:

Not really directly; the most difficult part was to convince victims to testify. And I was very careful not to give any info which could have gotten them into more trouble. Though those who insisted to speak out openly made a very brave gesture.


Q:

Have you gotten any unwanted support from right-wing, anti-immigrant racist groups?

A:

Hello all! I'm going to have to leave this forum for now; thanks very much for your questions and interest, it was great sharing with you all! For those who haven't seen it, I can only recommend you to watch our full programme here: http://www.euronews.com/2016/10/14/new-migrants-old-ways-eu-faces-new-fgm-and-forced-marriage-challenge

And if you're really into the topic, you'll find a lot of facts in this link: http://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra-2014-forced-marriage-eu_en.pdf.pdf

Thanks again, and looking forward to future chats!


Q:

Is there also no minimum age for marriage in Belgium?

A:

There is indeed, it's 18 years old, like in most european countries. And it's punishable by law; but forced marriages don't only concern under age girls (or boys, for that matter) To know more about the situation in Belgium, I can recommend this link: http://icrhb.org/news/forced-child-marriages-belgium


Q:

How do you get people to talk about this kind of issues on TV?

A:

It's a challenge!Precisely because most victimes are afraid to be stigmatised, pointed at, recognised. And they're afraid that if they speak, they might be "punished", by a family memeber or someone in the community. this goes from physical violence to actual death..so it took a lot of persuasion to get some testimonies


Q:

How big of a problem, to use that word, is forced marriage in Belgium and other European countries?

A:

As mentionned before, it's very hard to quantify, none of the survey instituions are able to put a figure on it. However, it is increasingly identified as a problem. In Belgium, one example: some 90 cases were reported last year only in the city of Liege; mutiply that figure by the number of medium size cities in a country like Belgium, and you'll get an largely underestimated figure; it's only the tip of the iceberg.. A very useful read to know more about the situation in Europe: http://fra.europa.eu/sites/default/files/fra-2014-forced-marriage-eu_en.pdf.pdf


Q:

Based on your experience and research, what have you found to be some of the best and worst ways to prevent forced marriages?

Furthermore, in Denmark, where I live, traditions like forced marriage is branded as uncivilized and terrible, but did you find some cases of forced marriages where both parts were happy? Where it wasnt as bad as the European conensus make it?

Thank you :)

A:

According to the experts I've met, criminalising forced marriage specifially is a useful took, in that far that it is dissuasive. But less than half EU countries do have specific laws to that regard. Now law isn't enough. There need to be a lot of talking, networking, and a lot of prevention, especially among youths. One woman i met who ehads an association for victims insisted there should be specific courses at school, for them to know that these practices should not be forced upon them, and encourage them to speak out. As regards "happy" forced marriages, I didn't come across any examples; that would concern what is called "arranged" marriages, eventually, which are more commonly accepted as part of a "culture" or tradition. But as all, and I insist, all women or young girls I've met, told me it's hard to be happy if you have to share your bed every night with someone you dislike.. though yes, it can eventually end up in some kind of compromise. And it's been the case for centuries in our own western civilisations.. ;)


Q:

Ah I see, so there's also a distinction between forced and arranged marriages to take into account.. that seems like a very difficult line to balance between. When is it forced and when is it arranged? Is it "just" about consent from the girl/woman?

A:

It's a difficult balance indeed. And legal definitions of forced marriage vary from one state to another, though the generallly agreed understanding is that it's forced when at least one of the parties don't consent.. A forced marriage is always arranged; an arranged marriage is not always forced.. And by the way, boys can also be concerned..


Q:

What made you interested in reporting on forced marriage?

Was there anything you learned that surprised you?

A:

We decided to dedicated a full edition of our "Insiders" programme to forced marriage and FGM on the occasion of the International day of the girl; and we wanted to report on the fact that is was also happening in Europe, and sometimes to european citizens. this was probably the biggest surprise..and also the fact that victims were so scared to talk to us. It's a very taboo topic, involving a lot of suffering, and we wanted to give the victims a voice.

I would recommend you see the full edition here, http://www.euronews.com/2016/10/14/new-migrants-old-ways-eu-faces-new-fgm-and-forced-marriage-challenge Damon Embling's report in the UK and an interesting interview by our anchor Sophie Claudet http://www.euronews.com/2016/10/14/turning-the-tide-of-abuse


Q:

Could you give the definition of forced marriage used in Belgium? I am trying to imagine what would be considered forced outside of obvious situations where the girls/women or boys/men have no say in the matter. Would this also include situations where they are not necessarily forced but chose out of necessity? (yes no situation vs. Degrees of choice). I imagine there could be ways for those who organize this as a way to get around the current laws by creating an illusion of choice and this question is posed out of this concern.

Thank you for this AMA. It has been insightful.

A:

Hi, sorry, I really have to run, but that's an interesting question, raising the relativity of the notion, and the difficulty for those concerned to actually put a complaint forward. Will try to answer more extensively tomorrow, but meantime check out this interesting link on compared european legislation: http://www.charlotteproudman.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/crim-of-FM-EU.Fam-Law.pdf Many thanks for your interest!


Q:

At the risk of being insensitive, does this happen in cultures we might not expect...IE outside those of African/middle eastern descent?

A:

It does; many cases of underage marriages are reported for instance in the Roma communities; there are also forced marraiges imposed on young girls and sometimes men by parents who have double citizenship; these youth are born and raised in europe, and have a hard time escaping from such situations, if they refuse to comply.


Q:

How many (death) threats have you received so far?

A:

When we journalists touch upon sensitive issues, we do get some strong reactions. As far as I'm concerned, it fortunately hasn't gone as far as death threats


Q:

Thank you.

A:

You're welcome!


Q:

Is there a difference between the european states how 'forced marriage' is defined?

A:

Yes, there are some differences, depending on the notion of what "forced" is, and the thin line between what is seen as forced, and what is seen as "arranged", though the general understanding is that it's forced if one at least of the parties don't consent; there are also differences in provisions for prosecution, and penalties, which can vary from 2 to 6 years emprisonment.. Since the intricacies of various legislations would take a lot of time to go into in detail, I would recommend this very good overview of where European countries are in terms of criminalising forced marriage: http://www.charlotteproudman.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/crim-of-FM-EU.Fam-Law.pdf