Muslim girls in Austria fighting forced marriages

Nelle Kalek, an Istanbul native who works as a sociologist in Hamburg, blames the German government for not passing laws that punish parents for pressuring their daughters into marriage. Kalek says the “growing Islamic radicalization of many Turkish communities in German cities” has caused the phenomenon to grow in recent years.

Perhaps with that in mind, both Austria and Germany have recently begun to address the issue.

In September, Austria’s center-right government announced that police and prosecutors would investigate suspected forced marriages even when victims are too afraid to testify.

In Germany, bills have been introduced in parliament that would toughen laws that allow immigrant men to bring mail-order brides from their native countries and give prison terms of six months to five years for parents who coerce daughters into marriage. Some observers say the sudden interest in forced marriages is the result of about 48 “honor killings” in Germany since 1996 by male relatives who have slain wives and sisters by bullets, knives and even gasoline for fleeing a forced marriage or adopting Western lives, according to the Turkish women’s organization, Papatya, in Berlin. In the past year, eight honor killings have occurred in Berlin alone, the city with the largest Turkish community.

“These so-called honor murders are not a new phenomenon but one that’s been a taboo subject in Germany for much too long,” Cileli said. “The murders are committed quite openly in public to serve as a warning to other women.”

Last February, Hatin Surucu, 23, a Turkish woman raised in Berlin, was shot three times in the head by a brother; two other brothers, who were arrested as accomplices, have pleaded not guilty. At a recent trial broadcast on television, the 19-year-old accused in the killing, who faces a life sentence in prison, said he murdered his sister because she divorced her husband, refused to cover her head, dated men and lived alone.

“It was too much for me,” he told the court. “I grabbed the pistol and pulled the trigger.”

According to the prosecution, the victim had been forced to marry a cousin in Istanbul at age 16. Defying her parents, she obtained a divorce in Turkey and returned to Berlin to give birth to the couple’s son, who is now 5. She then moved out of her parents’ home, finished high school, discarded the traditional Islamic head scarf and began working as an electrician. The prosecution charges that two brothers tricked her into leaving her home to meet them at a bus stop while her other brother lay in wait.

In a more recent case in June, 20-year-old Fulcan Karabey was shot to death by her 24-year-old brother, Ali Karabey. The brother told Wiesbaden police that he killed her for fleeing from an arranged marriage and dating a German man.

These crimes have shocked the German public.

“For thousands of young girls and women, many Turkish families in our country are outside any laws,” said an editorial in the Hamburg weekly, Die Zeit. “The existence of Muslim village morals in the modern environment of Berlin is deplorable,” said Sueddeutsche Zeitung, the nationally circulated Munich daily.

To be sure, these murders have also shocked the Turkish community. In a public statement, the Turkish Federation of Berlin and Brandenburg, which represents immigrants in the capital and surrounding counties, urged Muslims to speak out on behalf of self-determination for women and deplored “the dreadful crimes against our women. There must be zero tolerance for a repressive stance toward women allegedly based on religious beliefs or traditions.”

Back in Austria, the honor killings in Germany have alarmed women seeking refuge at Orient Express.

Angela, 30, who was forced by her Hindu family to leave a longtime fiance in New Delhi and marry a much older man, says she lives in fear of her family finding her even though it has been years since she obtained a divorce in a Vienna court.

“My relatives not only kept beating me ferociously, but my mother also threatened to commit suicide if I didn’t marry the man they had picked for me,” said Angela, who now works as a nurse in a Vienna hospital and still gets psychological counseling at Orient Express. “I have no contact with my family in India and hope they never find out where I live.”

Orient Express recently started a media campaign in Vienna schools to make Muslim teens aware of the risk of taking a family vacation in their parents’ homeland.

“Forced marriages occur usually during a supposedly carefree holiday to the old country,” said Meltem Weiland, the 30-year-old Turkish-born spokeswoman for Orient Express. “They are totally unaware of what’s in store for them.”


Arranged marriage was common in many countries and within many religions until the 19th century, and is still practiced today in large parts of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and some parts of Eastern Europe. Arranged marriage operates on the notion that marriages are primarily an economic union — family coffers and social standing can rise dramatically — and a means to have children.

Today, arranged marriages are most commonly found in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Somalia and Sudan. In recent years, it has rapidly diminished in South Korea, China and Japan.

An arranged marriage occurs when parents or the eldest male in the family chooses a spouse for a young boy or girl. In some countries, it is the man who chooses his wife, often paying a fee — in cash or goods — to the bride’s family.

Proponents say arranged marriage is more successful than marriages based on romance because the bride and groom begin with few expectations. They also argue that because parents arrange the marriage, both husband and wife are more willing to give it their best effort rather than break up after a few conflicts.

But critics say aside from a loveless union, arranged marriage gives women little choice. And they can be disowned by their parents and community and condemned to a life of poverty if they seek divorce.

Source: 2001 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia; Chronicle Research

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
San Francisco Chronicle, USA
Dec. 4, 2005
Ereic Geiger, Chronicle Foreign Service

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday December 5, 2005.
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