Tackling forced marriage

The government wants to prevent forced marriages and help victims by introducing legislation, informing people of their rights and punishing offenders.

Legislation to prevent forced marriage

Since 5 December 2015, the Forced Marriage Prevention Act (in Dutch) has made it harder to force people to marry against their will in the Netherlands. The key points in the Act are summarised below.

Ban on marriage for people under 18

To marry in the Netherlands both partners must be at least 18 years old. A marriage contracted abroad by children under the age of 18 (child marriage) will only be recognised in the Netherlands once both partners have reached the age of 18.

Declaration on oath if relations wish to marry

In the Netherlands, full cousins can get married and an aunt/uncle can marry their niece/nephew, but only if both partners declare on oath that they are marrying of their own free will. The same condition applies to same-sex partners, for example two male cousins or an uncle and nephew who wish to marry.

Ban on polygamous marriage

Polygamous marriages contracted abroad by a Dutch citizen or resident of the Netherlands are not recognised in the Netherlands.

Criminal prosecution of forced marriage

Forcing someone to marry is a crime. The following rules apply when offenders are prosecuted:

  • Offenders can be sentenced to up to two years' imprisonment.
  • A Dutch national who has forced someone to marry abroad can be prosecuted in the Netherlands, even if forced marriage is not a criminal offence in the country where the marriage took place. The same applies to non-Dutch nationals who are permanent residents of the Netherlands.
  • The six-year statute of limitations for forcing a minor to marry only takes effect when the victim turns 18. This gives the victim time to reflect on the implications of the forced marriage once they reach adulthood, and to report the crime.
  • Persons suspected of forcing someone to marry may be kept in pre-trial detention to protect the victim.
  • The Public Prosecution Service has the power to investigate offenders. For example, they can ask telephone providers to hand over phone records.

Wives held captive

In some cases the cooperation of the husband is required to end a formal or informal religious marriage. If the husband refuses to cooperate, he can be said to be holding his wife captive.

Depending on the circumstances, a court can order an unwilling husband to cooperate in dissolving the marriage. If he refuses, the court may, for example, order him to pay a penalty.

Arranged marriages without force

Arranged marriages do not always take place under duress. Criminal prosecution is not appropriate if the couple entered into the marriage as a result of gentle insistence, encouragement or persuasion. For example, a man or woman may agree to allow their parents to find a partner for them. However, this is seen as undesirable behaviour which should be discouraged by the following means:

  • raising awareness;
  • informing and influencing parents and relatives;
  • providing support and assistance.

Forced marriage statistics

Research shows that there are between 674 and 1,914 victims of forced marriage in the Netherlands. A report entitled 'Zo zijn wij niet getrouwd' (in Dutch only) on the scope and nature of forced marriage, and wives held captive or abandoned provides additional insight into the motives behind this phenomenon.

Measures to prevent forced marriage

The Action Plan on Preventing Forced Marriage and the Self-Determination Action Plan specify measures for preventing forced marriage and spotting problems early on. The aims of the Action Plan on Preventing Forced Marriage are:

  • to educate communities in which forced marriage occurs so that they come to see individual choice, independence and free choice of partner as rights;
  • to inform healthcare professionals, aid workers and schools about forced marriage, e.g. through e-learning and training.

The aim of the Self-Determination Action Plan is to make people aware that they have the right to make their own decisions about education, training, work and free time, choice of partner, divorce, religion etc.

Initiatives aimed at preventing forced marriage

Initiatives for preventing forced marriage specified in the Action Plan on Preventing Forced Marriage include:

Marriage Against Your Will campaign

The Marriage Against Your Will campaign was set up for young people who have been forced to marry against their will. It encourages them to talk about it or get help. The campaign's website Trouwentegenjewil.nl (in Dutch only) provided information on the right to choose your own partner and told young people where they can go for help and advice.

Honour and Safety Platform

The Honour and Safety Platform (in Dutch only) is for professionals and volunteers dealing with issues associated with forced marriage, abandonment and honour-related violence. The platform holds a one-day national conference once or twice a year where participants can exchange ideas and learn from each other.