The following are defined as practices “similar to slavery” in the 1956 Slavery Convention. Any institution or practice whereby:

  • A woman, without the right to refuse, is promised or given in marriage on payment of a consideration in money or in kind to her parents, guardian, family or any other person or group; or
  • The husband of a woman, his family, or his clan, has the right to transfer her to another person for value received or otherwise; or
  • A woman on the death of her husband is liable to be inherited by another person.

More recent interpretations of forced marriage are broader than the practices defined in the 1956 Slavery Convention. In 2006 the United-Nations Secretary-General noted that “a forced marriage is one lacking the free and valid consent of at least one of the parties.” Forced marriage therefore refers to any situations in which persons, regardless of their age, have been forced to marry without their consent.

Child, early and forced marriages are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably. Some child marriages, particularly those involving children under the age of 16 years, are considered a form of forced marriage, given that one and or/both parties have not expressed full, free, and informed consent (as noted in the joint general recommendation No. 31 of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women). It is important to note that in many countries 16 and 17-year-olds who wish to marry are legally able to do so following a judicial ruling or parental consent.