Forced Marriage and Mental Health by migrants in Germany

Forced Marriage and Mental Health by migrants in Germany

Forced Marriage and Mental Health by migrants in Germany

Problems associated with forced marriage have been the subject of discussion at a political level and in the media in European countries for some years now. For instance, legislation has been passed against forced marriage in Switzerland and Germany and, simultaneously, numerous projects have been initiated which, fundamentally speaking, aim to protect people against being forced into marriage and the support and care of those individuals affected [1,2]. Despite this, the research conducted contains very little reliable data on the frequency of forced marriage and its medical and psychosocial consequences [3].

Based on the level at which counselling is accessed, it is only possible to guess at the number of people who are in reality affected by forced marriage [4]. For example, the Free State of Bavaria reported in 2012 that, based on a general survey of counselling services and refuge shelters conducted in 2008, a total of 228 individuals were being cared for in relation to the issue of forced marriage. 16 % of these were minors. 44 % were individuals between the ages of 18 and 21, representing the majority in these cases. Up to the age of 21, the majority of those seeking advice were not yet married [5].

Forced marriage is primarily discussed in Europe with regard to people with a migrant background and, in Germany, in particular with regard to those of Turkish origin. This chiefl y occurs in the context of the debate on migration and integration, coupled with domestic violence – particularly violence against women in this respect – and in relation to human rights violations [1,6].

A forced marriage is defi ned as a marriage coerced through violence or threats from at least one person. It generally takes place with the consent of the parents who, among other things, also assume the role of perpetrators to a certain degree and, for example, force their own daughter or son to marry. It is not governed by any particular religious persuasions. In patriarchal cultures, such marriages are regarded as benefi tting the collective, be this the family or tribe [7]. Male individuals are also affected. Marriage here is regarded as having a functional and less emotional value, as it should serve the protection (e.g. marriage into a powerful tribe) and survival (e.g. procreation) of the collective [8,9].

In contrast to forced marriage, so-called arranged marriages exist in these cultures which, for example, are initiated by relatives and friends or acquaintances – with the consent of the couple to be married. If, however, the individuals to be married have, from a cultural point of view, learned not to contradict their parents or friends and acquaintances in this regard and accept this marriage in silence, this can also be considered a forced marriage to a certain degree [10]. In extreme cases, and in combination with the biography and system of values of these societies, young women who resist a marriage of this kind may fi nd themselves subject to considerable mental and physical pressure [11]. In some cases, they suffer death at the hands of their immediate family members, a practise known as so-called “honour killings” [3].

Due to international economic globalisation, the expansion of travel opportunities, networking through other media, industrialisation, ethnic and religious confl icts, environmental changes, natural catastrophes and epidemics, an increase in migration has been observed over recent decades in many countries around the world. People migrate for a variety of reasons. However, their cultural backgrounds in terms of family and religion, their individual biographies and their migration histories may make it diffi cult for them to address the issue of forced marriage, both in public and in institutions [12].

No study has been conducted to date of migrants in forced marriages in Germany and the possible mental illnesses associated with this, and it is for this reason that we have examined whether a relationship exists between forced marriage and mental illnesses and if this group differs from other migrants who have also undergone inpatient treatment in psychosomatic clinics in Germany for psychological complaints.

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