Unpacking what arranged marriage is, what forced marriage is and how to escape.
By Sarah Chew
He was her best friend.
He was a stranger.
He was six feet and “well-built.”
He was six-foot-two inches and “lumpy.”
He was from Canada, she was from Pakistan.
He was from Pakistan, she was from Canada.
They had talked over WhatsApp about their pasts, their dreams and their futures
and by the end of the month Areeba A.* knew she liked him.
They couldn’t communicate properly in English, he had a superiority complex, and after one walk in the park alone with him, Terry F.* knew she did not like him.
Areeba, a medical doctor, was 24 years old and living in Pakistan at the time of her engagement. Terry, a York University student, was only 18 and hadn’t even finished high school. Both Areeba and Terry were married through civil ceremonies in Canada, only months after they were first introduced to their future husbands.
As with most arranged marriages, Areeba and Terry's family members initiated the relationships. Areeba’s mother suggested a man named Asim.
Areeba said her parents were very relaxed during the four weeks she spent getting to know Asim. They did not force her to continue talking to him, nor force her to marry him seven months later.
“If ever during the whole process I said I found this thing wrong about him, even though they had announced to the whole family that I'm getting married to this person, I always had the freedom of backing out,” said Areeba. “There wasn't any pressure on me to stick to it.”
Terry had a very different experience in her arranged marriage. She said her mother told her in Grade 12 that she was going to marry her cousin named A.J.* Terry said she barely remembered her cousin, who was three years older than her.
Terry’s family announced the couple’s engagement the following month, and around six months later, Terry met A.J. for the first time. Upon arriving in Canada from Pakistan, Terry said A.J. judged her appearance, demanded a car and swore at her family members. After witnessing this, Terry declared that she would not marry her cousin.
She was promptly told by her family that she didn’t have a choice. “They [looked] at me like I had just murdered somebody,” said Terry. “[They said] ‘If you don't marry him, we're going to send you to Pakistan. You're going to marry him there.’”
Two months later, Terry and A.J. were married. On the day of the wedding, Terry remembered she felt “extremely upset” and on the verge of tears. She kept thinking, “I don’t want to do this.”
“I remember the photographer had to tell me numerous times, ‘Can you smile please?’ And I'm like, ‘No!’”
The Difference Between Arranged Marriage and Forced Marriage
Terry and Areeba’s experiences having an arranged marriage were so vastly different mainly because Terry did not have an arranged marriage — she had a forced marriage.
According to a 2008 report by Naïma Bendriss published by the Department of Justice Canada, a forced marriage is when a person is literally forced into marrying another person despite their refusal. The family who arranges the marriage will subject the person to physical or psychological duress until they surrender.
The report states that arranged marriages turn into forced marriages when there is no freedom for the bride or groom to say no. Arranged marriage, on the other hand, includes the informed consent of both parties getting wed.
Forced marriage was made illegal in Canada in 2015 through the Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act.
According to the Criminal Code, anyone who officiates, participates, or forcibly removes someone out of Canada for the purpose of a forced marriage could face jail time for up to five years.
Viola Chu, a lawyer licensing candidate with nine years of law experience, recommended that if any woman finds herself in a forced marriage, she should report it to the police. The 2015 amendment gives police the right to intervene and make arrests in cases of forced marriage
A Modern, Legal Alternative
A noticeable trend amongst stories of arranged marriages suggest that most parents act out of fear that their children will not find suitable partners on their own.
Terran Shea, founder of Mutual Match, a matchmaking service based in the GTA, said that involving an objective third party in one’s romantic life is a good option, as family members can be blinded by their own personal feelings when picking potential partners for others.
“As busy professionals, people will end up hiring financial advisors [and] personal trainers, but hiring a matchmaker or dating coach to help support them through their dating is also a great thing.”
Terry said she does not want to think about dating right now. After suffering from physical, emotional and sexual abuse from her husband, Terry separated from him and filed for a
divorce. She is now studying human rights and equity studies at York University. She wants to start a group that teaches girls about sex and the meaning of consent.
“Rape within a marriage, just because you're married, does not mean that your body is technically your husband's. It's still your body,” Terry said.
Her advice to women or men going through forced marriages is to run away and seek help.
“What's happening to you is not okay. There is help, and there is a life better than what you're going through right now.”
Happily married Areeba said she and her husband Asim are still in the honeymoon phase five months later. She thanked her Desi parents for initiating the arranged relationship since she felt that at age 24 she “didn't have the emotional maturity to find the right qualities for a husband.”
“It wasn't ‘arranged arranged’ in the conventional sense that my parents introduced me to a husband,” said Areeba.
“They introduced me to a guy who turned out to be my husband.”