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Marriage, Forced and Otherwise: Inter-generational conflict over marital choice among North African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian New Yorkers

Alana Henninger

Anthony Marcus

Ric Curtis

Presented by Alana Henninger at the European Society of Criminology Annual Conference


Over the past two decades, social policy concerns have emerged in varied OECD countries around the problem of “forced marriage” and intergenerational conflict over marital choices within migrant communities. While the United States Department of State defines forced marriage as “one in which one or both parties have not consented to the marriage”, for migrants who encounter conflicting kinship norms and beliefs in situations of diaspora, the question of consent is never simple. Interestingly, the Department of State identifies eleven countries where United States citizens have been known to be forced into marriage, but does not include the United States on this list. Some American advocacy organizations now argue that forced marriage is occurring in the United States in substantial numbers, and have begun calling for specific legislation and socio-legal responses. However, there is very little empirical research into the nature and scope of the problem because it involves complex and intimate family matters that are typically hidden from outsiders even when they are not in violation of receiving-country norms. Additionally, government institutions in western countries are sometimes hesitant to act because of the fear of appearing racist or forcing western values upon established cultural norms.

This exploratory study examines the ontology and life experiences of New Yorkers from families that migrated from places where arranged marriages are common in an effort to add to the small body of scientific knowledge on forced marriage in the United States. Using intercept recruitment, 100 CUNY students from these regions were surveyed about their beliefs, attitudes, and opinions concerning marital choices, and their experiences with intergenerational tensions within their family concerning arranged marriage. This study provides a view into what forced marriage may look like to students occupying a difficult space between sending and receiving countries, and how forced marriage may or may not fit the socio-legal categories of its Western advocates.