Norway: Combating Forced Marriage in Norway

"We say: No culture, religion or tradition can ever excuse violence in close relations, like forced marriages (and other abuses and malpractises)." Action Plan now available in English!
Combating Forced Marriage in Norway

Intervention in the workshop held in Oslo September 4th by the British Embassy and the Directorate of Integration and Inclusion (IMDI)

"Thank you for this opportunity to speak upon such an important topic – on behalf of the Norwegian Govt, and take part in the dialogue. We say: No culture, religion or tradition can ever excuse violence in close relations, like forced marriages (and other abuses and malpractises).

* Marriage must be entered into freely and willingly. This principle is a human right and is laid down in Norwegian law. It is a criminal offence to force a person to enter into marriage.

* The Government recognises that combating forced marriage requires a broad approach, and many aspects are to be considered. One major challenge is that forced marriages within some ethnic minorities strongly involves the extended family in the country of origin, and that families “marry”, not individuals. This makes the development of adequate actions and long term policies difficult.

* The Ministry of Children and Equality, together with the Ministry of Work and Inclusion, plays an important role in combating forced marriages ,my ministry beeing responsible for coordinating on behalf of the Cabinet. At present seven ministries and their directorates, are involved. Not the least: IMDI. Coordination is a challenge!

* The first three-year Plan of Action against Forced Marriage, containing 40 measures, was presented by the Government in 1998. A revised plan with 30 measures was launched in 2002. A lot has been achieved. Especially help to young people in crisis situations. However, we see that these plans have not involved the public service sectors/all relevant welfare services and municipalities, strongly enough. With one exception; the Child Welfare Services has done a good job. Neither did the plans take the family perspective sufficiently into consideration: Families more often decide, not the individual; how to govern on “parenthood in modern Norway” – in compliance with laws and norms? Then, how to utilise our excellent family counselling services (free of charge) , as to prevent malpractises and educate in parental governance that will enable young people to "master" life in Norway ?

* Several legislative amendments in order to combat forced marriage have been enforced over the years: In 2003, a new second paragraph was added to section 222 of the Penal Code, a prohibition against forcing a person to enter into marriage. The penalty is imprisonment for up to 6 years, also for others onvolved. A punishable offence is also to enter into marriage with a person below the age of 16. A new provision in the Children Act states that parents or others may not enter into a binding marriage agreement on behalf of a child. Several changes are seen in the Immigration Regulations concerning the subsistence requirement in connection with family reunification with a spouse or partner.

New amendments to the Marriage Act entered into force 1 June 2007. A marriage outside Norway will not be valid in Norway if:

1. One of the parties to the marriage is under the age of 18 when the marriage takes place

2. The marriage is entered into without both parties being physically present during the marriage ceremony (marriage by proxy or telephone marriage)

3. One of the parties is already married

* One of the parties must be a Norwegian national or permanent resident of Norway when the marriage is entered into. The purpose of these new amendments in the law is to prevent child marriage, reduce the risk of forced marriage and prevent circumvention of the rules.

* A few years back we changed the Child Benefit Act, bringing the monthly payment to an end after half a year's residence abroad, not 1 year as earlier. Child Benefit is paid up to 18 years of age to all children resident in Norway, paid to the person(s) living with the child permanently. Parents also do have legal obligations to inform the schools properly when children are going away for longer that the usual holidays, and can be fined if not complying.

* Combating forced marriage cannot be done without national coordination and cooperation, involving both governmental agencies , public services on all levels and in relevant municipalities and regions, and NGOs.

* In the autumn of 2004 a team of experts to combat forced marriage was established. (They will present themselves here today). The team has meant a great leap forward in our work, and holds high competence.

* Several information measures and assistance services like the Forced Marriage Hotline run by the Oslo Red Cross by public funding. The Govt. believe that this hotline has been extremely valuable.The organisation Self Help for Immigrants and Refugees (SEIF) receives public funding to assist young people in individual cases who believe they are in danger of being forced into marriage. The 50 Crisis Centres (shelters) are alert, receiving 80 % of their running costs from the State.

* The arrangement for providing emergency housing through the Norwegian State Housing Bank has also made the situation easier because it enables young people to move quickly to safe housing when the need arises.

* The Ministry of Children and Equality) has investigated the occurrence of forced marriage in Norway. According to a survey carried out in 2005 and 2006 around 500 young persons contacted public services or the NGO’s I just mentioned. We have, however, reasons to believe, that there are dark figures. It has been terribly difficult to set a standard for how to “measure” what is a forced marriage or an arranged (but not forced) situation. We aim at establishing a common research-based standard for how to register incidents of forced marriages. We are not there yet.

* Forced marriages raises issues with our relations with countries of origin (and others). One goal is to deepen the relations and dialogue with authorities in these countries (where forced marriage may take place with Norwegian citizens involved) in order to achieve rapid and effective handling of specific cases. And to get the youngsters home safely! We have a specific budget line in my departement for travel expences home to Norway

* A bilateral agreement between Norway and Pakistan entered into force on December 1st 2005. (The so-called Family Protocol). Under this agreement, an advisory committee has been established consisting of representatives of the authorities of Norway and Pakistan. (Including myself). The first meeting was held in Pakistan a year ago and a next meeting is planned for October 25th this year in Oslo. We hope this dialogue will increase understanding of such matters as forced marriages by both state parties.

* We cooperate within the framework of the Nordic Council of Ministers. In 2006 we organised a Nordic seminar in Oslo about this topic, and will repeat this annually, due to the similarities of the problem. Best practises are shared. The Nordic cooperation also includes protection. The UN is also a valuable place for learning and following up the CEDAW and the Beijing Platform of Action, both through the CSW and the 3rd Committee of the General Assembly. We of course observe the UN Convention on Marriage (from 1964) and the Conventions on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and on Civil and Political Rights (EU-countries and Council of Europe are also valuable arenas for cooperation, but we could use a more systematic approach on the European Arena).

* Many measures have been implemented over the years, resulting amongst other things in a higher focus on forced marriage – it is not taboo to speak upon anymore, civil society has better awareness of the problem, it is acknowledged as offence to Human Rights, more people know how to look for “signs” in order to prevent, and we have seen an improvement in the competence of public administration, social services, in schools and work life. Better assistance is given to more young boys and girls. Media have played – and are playing – a significant role . However , we have not suceeded well enough – as yet – to reach out into the family life of our minority groups, with information and dialogue on how to conduct parenthood in Norway in compliance with laws and regulations, the rights of the child and the independence of young people above 18 years of age, as well as women's rights (The Gender Equality Law).

* As long as a young person is regarded as an “asset” to secure and maintain and develop the family’s honor, strength, wealth and bonding with other families either here, in other countries in Europe or in the country of origin – by force - we have not succeeded. The work for inclusion and integration is now paramount ! On the 29th of June this year, the Government presented a new National Action Plan, running from 2008 to 2011. It contains 40 new and continued measures, involving eight different ministries .More than 70 million “fresh” NOK is allocated to this aim in the 2008 budget, along with all the funding already in place, and of course through utilising our public services better – “mainstreaming” work against F.M. throughout the whole system, on all levels of administration and within the police force.

* New measures include the establishment of “minority advisers” in secondary schools (age 16 – 19) with a high percentage of students with a minority background (schools are crucial), of integration attachés who will assist relevant Norwegian Permanent Delegations abroad, and more resources to non-governmental organisations working against forced marriages in a targeted way. Furthermore, the availability of accommodation/housing for young people exposed to forced marriage will be improved significantly. Measures will also be taken to ensure effective law enforcement when it comes to prosecution of cases of forced marriage. (We have only one sentence as yet)

* Even with a new and strong focus on utilising better our public support system and all types of welfare services, we still are dependent on a continuation of the good work of organisations like SEIF, the Red Cross and not the least - the Crisis Centres which give housing to young women being exposed to forced marriage. The contribution of religious communities and ethnic minority organisations is important as to changing attitudes, especially of the parental generation.

* The Action Plan is in the process of being translated into English and other languages, and will be available on We look forward to further dialogue with countries like the UK. IMDI (The Directorate of Integration and Inclusion) will take a lead in the day to day work. As a coordinating ministry, we will measure along the way what works and what doesn’t , and secure milestones for reporting on status and effects."

-- Arni Hole,
Director General of the Ministry of Children and Equality