The U.S. Department of State's highest priority overseas is the protection and welfare of American citizens. Forced marriage is contrary to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which states that "no marriage shall be entered into without the free and full consent of the intending spouses". The U.S. Department of State considers forced marriage to be a human rights abuse, in the case of minors also a form of child abuse. Often, victims are subjected to non-consensual sex, physical and emotional abuse, isolation, and threats of violence.
Arranged marriages are a long-standing tradition in many cultures and countries. The Department respects this tradition, and makes a very clear distinction between a forced and an arranged marriage. In arranged marriages, the families of both spouses take a leading role in the arrangement but the choice whether to consent remains with the individuals. In a forced marriage, at least one party does not consent to the marriage, and some element of duress or coercion is generally present.
In Syria, marriage laws are based on personal status laws, in which Sharia’a courts are the authoritative body for Sunni and Shia Muslims, Madhhabi Courts for Druze, and Ruhi Courts for Christians and Jews. Marriage laws dictate that both parties consent to the marriage. In general, the minimum marriage age is 18 years for males and 17 for females. However, if either party is a minor under the age of 18 and they wish to marry, a male member of the paternal head of household must provide written consent in order for the marriage to take place. Syria does not have a specific law banning forced marriage, but the religious leader will ask both parties separately and privately before performing the ceremony whether or not they consent to marry their future spouse.
Some marriages are arranged between families, and in rural areas, parties can be as young as 14 years old, however this is a rare example. While infrequent, honor based violence relating to family honor, marriage and chastity has been known to occur. According to some reports, an estimated 200 honor crimes are committed a year in Syria. If a female individual wanted to depart the country in order to avoid a forced marriage she should be aware that an exit hold can be placed by a male member of her father’s family until she is married. After she is married, her husband will have the right to place an exit hold on her. It is important to note that the ability to place this exit hold is regardless of nationality.
If you are facing this situation, or know someone who is, contact the local authorities and the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Please see the Country Specific Information for Syria for locations and contact information.