Forced marriage traditions of Africa studied

More than arranged marriage, forced marriage is coerced and without consent

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Benjamin Lawrance, the Hon. Barber B. Conable Jr. Endowed Professor of International Studies, co-edited Marriage by Force? Contestation over Consent and Coercion in Africa.

Marriage without consent in Africa is the focus of a new book co-edited by a Rochester Institute of Technology professor.

Marriage by Force? Contestation over Consent and Coercion in Africa features 12 chapters by academics and activists from the United States, Canada, Italy, Nigeria, Gambia and the United Kingdom covering varying historical and contemporary perspectives on this human rights abuse.

“Forced ‘marriage,’ that is conjugal unions without consent, is very widespread in the world,” said Benjamin Lawrance, the Hon. Barber B. Conable Jr. Endowed Professor of International Studies and Director of International and Global Studies at RIT. “Many girls and women are treated as property, treated as transactional opportunities to build alliances to other families.”

Lawrance said women in some countries are less likely to have educational opportunities, and they may be viewed as a burden to families. Unions with other families build alliances, relieve familial burdens and ensure the continuity of patriarchy.

The peer-reviewed book is a result of the Conable Conference in International Studies held in at RIT in 2013 that focused on gender, violence and justice in the age of globalization. The chapter authors attended the conference, Lawrance said, “and we selected from a large number of possible contributions.”

He said this is the first book to focus on forced marriage in African nations.

In some countries, including the United States, pregnant girls as young as 13 may be “married” to men with the permission of parents or a judge. In other contexts, the men might face charges of statutory rape. The Commonwealth of Virginia recently revised its marriage laws to close what some have referred to as the child rape loophole. Similar and related practices occur throughout he developing world. Young girls and women are forced to marry men who have raped them, abducted them or violently coerced them into cohabitation.

“A lot of women’s rights and human rights groups are trying to combat this,” Lawrance said. “But a variety of forms of coerced unions are prevalent in many cultural practices. It is widespread, but there also are a lot of people challenging it. The question this book attempts to explore is what is the relationship between consent and coercion, and how has this changed over time.”

Annie Bunting, an associate professor in the Law and Society program at York University in Toronto, and Richard L. Roberts, director of the Center for African Studies at Stanford University, co-edited the book with Lawrance.