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Statement to the Ministry of Justice concerning the punishability of forcing a person into marriage (criminalisation of forced marriages) (TAS 573/2021, issued on 14 January 2022)

The Ombudsman for Equality commented on the Ministry of Justice's assessment memorandum on the punishability of forcing a person to enter into a marriage.

In the view of the Ombudsman for Equality, international treaties binding on Finland oblige us to recognise forced marriages as a form of gender-based violence. Forcing a person into marriage should be acknowledged in the Criminal Code of Finland.

Forced marriage is a human rights violation. The right to self-determination is violated and the person forced to enter into a marriage may need to give up fundamental rights and freedoms, including their right to sexual integrity.

The Ombudsman for Equality wishes to draw attention to the fact that the assessment memorandum does not recognise and examine forced marriages as a gender-based phenomenon. The current situation and impacts of the legislative options are not assessed from the perspective of gender and the matter is not examined as an issue related to gender equality. Unicef has estimated that only approximately one sixth of children entering into marriage are boys.

International law defines forced marriages as a form of gender-based violence against women. Both the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Council of Europe Convention on preventing violence against women and domestic violence (Istanbul Convention) require Finland to recognise, combat and eliminate violence against women, including forced marriages. 

According to the CEDAW Committee monitoring compliance with the CEDAW Convention, States Parties must ensure criminalisation of different forms of violence and make sure that legislation does not allow for certain forms of violence, such as child marriages or forced marriages. Furthermore, Article 37 of the Israel Convention explicitly obliges States Parties to criminalise intentional conduct of forcing a person to enter into a marriage. Forcing applies to both adults and children.

The assessment memorandum examines four options for acknowledging forced marriages in the Criminal Code of Finland:

  1. applying existing provisions of the Criminal Code without any amendments or specifications;
  2. amending the provision on trafficking in human beings (Criminal Code, Chapter 25, Section 3) by adding forcing a person to enter into a marriage as a purpose of offence;
  3.  making the offence of forcing a person to enter into a marriage separately punishable under the Criminal Code provision on coercion;
  4. enacting a new separate provision in the Criminal Code.

GREVIO, the expert body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Istanbul Convention, evaluated Finland's situation in their 2019 report and proposed that Finland should enact a statutory definition of offence for forced marriage. The UN Human Rights Committee also recommended in the spring of 2021 that Finland should explicitly criminalise forced marriage as a part of actions aimed at eliminating violence against women.

The Ombudsman for Equality does not wish to comment on which legislative option would be the best option. However, preparations should continue taking into consideration the severity of the violation and the significance of the amendment to gender equality. In the view of the Ombudsman for Equality, explicitly including forced marriage in the Criminal Code would mean that the human rights violation typically committed against women and girls would be taken seriously in national legislation. Even if the number of people subject to forced marriages in Finland is estimated to be low, the need for specific legislation must be considered more carefully considering the severity of the violation.