German Teachers Schooled in Forced Marriage Prevention

Last month, a 15-year-old Serbian girl learned from her family that she was about to be forced to marry a complete stranger. So she texted her teacher for help, who was able to contact the authorities and intervene on the girl’s behalf. That story, which became international news, has spawned an innovative new program in Germany: teaching teachers how to identify and prevent forced marriages.

The vast majority of forced and child marriages in Germany occur in immigrant communities, usually of Asian, African, or Eastern European heritage. However, the roots of forced marriage aren’t in any given ethnicity or religion, but in a patriarchal family structure. A common thread in cases of forced marriage are the family’s view that girl children are property, and must marry who the family chooses, when they choose. In some cases, girls are forced to marry young to preserve their chastity and prevent them from being tempted into pre-marital sex as teenagers. Other reasons include financial concerns, political motivations, and family needs. And forced marriages is far from a problem unique to Germany — it happens all over the world.

So to fight forced marriage, German teachers are being given the tools to educate students about relationships, families, and marriage in a new way. Each teacher will be issued a set of guidelines, which encourage and promote discussions about relationships and gender roles in class. They also incorporate the issue into academic subjects, like discussion of universal human rights in social studies classes and the right to make choices about your body during sex education. The goal of the curriculum is to foster open dialogue about marriage, finding a partner, and making educated and empowered choices about their relationships. It sounds pretty awesome. Which means in the U.S., it would probably get banned.

But Germany is convinced teachers are the best way to prevent forced marriages. According to Papatya, a crisis and transition center for girls with immigrant backgrounds, the majority of girls at risk for forced marriage are between 14 and 20 — school age in Germany. Plus, school may be the one place those girls are allowed to go without their families. The case of the 15-year-old Serbian girl last month already demonstrated teachers can be great resources in time of crisis. Now they’re just being tapped earlier.

If this program is successful in Germany, it’s possible the topic of forced marriage and healthy relationships for teens could be introduced into school curriculums in other countries as well. Maybe, fingers-crossed, even here in the U.S., where forced marriage is a reality for some girls.  But considering the fact that we still can’t get our act together to offer comprehensive sex ed, I’m going to try not to get my hopes up.

Photo credit: Ken_Mayer




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