This project is funded under Socio-economic Sciences and Humanities

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Forced and Arranged Marriages in Austria

Project aims ...

On behalf of the Vienna Municipal Department 57 - Promotion and Coordination of Women’s Issues, the Centre for Social Innovation (Zentrum für Soziale Innovation, ZSI) carried out this project in 2006, aiming at a comprehensive overview of the topic of forced and arranged marriages. It was the study's aim to integrate literature research, expert knowledge and the viewpoint of the victims, and then to compare the situation found in Vienna on an international level.


Research concentrated mainly on three extensive fields:

1. First of all, we took stock of the approach and current status of social science research on the topic. One central starting point was the definition and delineation of forced and arranged marriages and domestic violence (as this study assumed the phenomenon to be part of the domestic sphere); another was the problem of collecting valid empirical data for measuring the prevalence of this practice.

2. Secondly, we identified and described international legal instruments as well as national legal provisions. In both these fields, we reviewed the current state of research on an international level.

3. Thirdly, we compiled an overview of existing counseling and sheltering services for victims of forced and arranged marriages in Vienna, including the identification of deficits.

As a result of our research across these three fields, a list of recommendations was worked out, showing development potentials of existing prevention and intervention measures, and giving concrete policy recommendations.

In order to arrive at a comprehensive report of the current situation and a list of recommendations, we developed a three-step qualitative research design with corresponding modules for collecting data. The design provided for the integration (triangulation) of various perspectives in order to intensify their strengths and to reveal their respective limits. A central objective was the systematic integration of expert knowledge as well as the subjective view of the victims.

In the first module, we reviewed the relevant social science literature in order to establish the current state of research both internationally and in Austria. In addition to approaching the topic theoretically by identifying relevant definitions and explanatory approaches, we also investigated the availability of relevant data, again on a national and international level. Based on the literature survey, we developed guidelines for the next module’s expert interviews. The experts were chosen according to the dimensions of forced marriage we considered most relevant. All in all, 20 experts from the fields of counseling, justice, administration, politics and science were interviewed. When talking to these experts, we also asked them for a quantitative estimation of the problem’s prevalence in Vienna. Subsequently, the results of modules one and two were integrated in order to establish a comprehensive view of the situation in Vienna.

In the next module, the interviews with victims of forced or arranged marriage were designed and carried out. Existing contacts with migrant organizations and multipliers provided access to the field. Parallel to this, the mother-tongue interviewers, who were chosen according to their language and psycho-social skills, received their training. Subsequently, eight problem-centered interviews with victims (six women, two men) were carried out and transliterated. We analyzed the data using structural content analysis, establishing dimensions and typification by cross-case comparison.

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Research findings

Based on these data and their analysis, we created a comprehensive report of the current situation and drafted a number of recommendations.

Being one of the first studies on forced and arranged marriages in Austria, our project examined the fields of social science research, legislation, and counseling, establishing the current state of research and discussion and drafting recommendations on that basis.

The definition and delineation of forced and arranged marriages is of utmost importance for the topic. It turned out that using the criterion of “free choice” as decisive factor demands a more differentiated examination. In general, both scientific literature and expert statements made clear that there is no general definition of forced marriage, especially as compared to arranged marriage. The definitions indicate a broad continuum between free choice and coercion, where the victim’s realistic and self-determined scope of action is crucial. In any case, forced marriage can be qualified as a type of domestic violence.

These definition problems, the phenomenon’s multidimensionality and the resulting difficulties in collecting data impede a quantitative assessment of the problem’s prevalence. International studies and counseling experience show that it is mostly girls and women who are affected by this marriage practice, and that the victims come from a wide variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds. Although religion does not justify forced marriages, it is often used wrongly for legitimizing patriarchal traditions. Two major factors can be identified as a motivation for enforcing the practice: Traditionalistic practices on the basis of cultural norms, and the family’s socio-economic situation. Other factors may be connected to the migration situation, especially regarding transnational marriages entered into under coercion. Furthermore, tendencies of reviving traditional views can be seen as the result of marginalization and discrimination within the receiving society and considered a possible influential factor. The likely consequences of forced marriages consist in an early abandoning of education careers on the one hand, and impairments of the victims’ emotional and physical well-being on the other.

According to Austrian national law, forcing somebody to marry is a case of grievous compulsion (“schwere Nötigung”). In 2006, there were some changes in the Criminal Code; marriage compulsion is now a criminal offence requiring public prosecution. Thus, prosecution can be initiated following a third-party report instead of requiring a complaint made by the victim her- or himself. Additionally, forced marriage being a form of domestic violence, the Austrian Law against Violence (“Gewaltschutzgesetz”) is applicable.

The counseling and support services offered for victims of forced marriages are located on various levels and within numerous institutions, with this study taking into account only those based in Vienna. Although many of the institutions in our survey do document cases of forced marriage in a differentiated way, there is no overall standard. Therefore, we can only draw a blurred picture of the practice’s prevalence (and additionally, the number of unreported cases is assumed to be high). Educational campaigns at school, mother-tongue counseling services and a sheltering concept specifically tailored to the needs of the target group are considered important prevention and intervention measures.


Policy recommendations

• A representative survey on the prevalence of violence should be carried out urgently. The only data for establishing the prevalence of forced marriages in Austria are provided by service institutions and NGOs; however, these do not collect their data according to a common standard. In order to generate better and more comparable data, workshops for the development of standardized forms of documentation should be organized.

• Legal provisions for residence and employment permits need to be reformed in order to grant migrant women legal residence and access to the labour market independently from their husbands.

• Targeted and innovative measures should improve the collaboration of significant stakeholders (migrant communities, administration).

• It will only be possible to fight gender-specific violence within migrant communities effectively if discrimination in all parts of society is fought at the same time.

• Generally, there should be educational support programmes for girls with a migrant background as experts consider education a factor that might delay marriage and also strengthen a girl’s position within the family.

Sensitizing and gender-aware work with boys should challenge traditionalist role models and gender attributions. Specialized counseling services for boys and men should be expanded, offering amongst other things gender-sensitive work with men and domestic violence training.

• Secret accommodation of adolescents threatened by forced marriage should be simplified. Currently, the staff of shelter institutions are obliged to file for a blocking of their address at the guardianship court – a procedure reported to take too long and being too cumbersome.

• Existing shelter institutions should develop a special concept for counseling and supporting the victims of forced marriages. Generally, specialized shelters for victims (or victims-to-be) of forced marriages are urgently needed. In addition to short-time shelters, more sheltered housing facilities should be established.

• The police should establish an expert group especially focused on cases of domestic violence.

More multilingual counseling services and sheltering institutions for victims of violence should be provided.

• The training of specialized mother-tongue counseling and support staff should be encouraged.