Forced Marriage and Asylum: Perceiving the Invisible Harm

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Kim Thuy Seelinger
Publication Date
October 1, 2010
Publication Type
Journal Article
Conflict, International Criminal Law, International Humanitarian Law, Public Health


Many women seek refugee protection fleeing from forced marriages. However, because there is no precedent establishing forced marriage as a form of persecution, these women often have to establish their claims on related harms that already constitute persecution, such as rape,. The article discusses what constitutes forced marriage and the development of requirements for refugee protection. The author then examines the meaning of persecution and how forced marriage may fit within the definition. Following this more general discussion, the article analyzes a number of U.S. cases involving forced marriage to explore the treatment of forced marriage in asylum adjudications. The analysis identifies a number of factors in asylum adjudications involving forced marriage, including legal challenges and adjudicator misapprehensions. It concludes that forced marriage as persecution is barely addressed in U.S. asylum cases. The author concludes that forced marriages should be considered a form of persecution under domestic and international law since they deprive women of the fundamental right to freely consent to marriage.