Arranged marriages: good or evil?

Recently the world was shocked by a tragedy in Pakistan: 24-year-old Farzana Parveen, who was on the fourth month of pregnancy, was stoned to death for marrying the man that she loved against the will of her parents. The murder was carried out by her father and relatives. According to reports by human rights activists about a thousand women are victims of such honor killings in Pakistan each year. Honor killings also take place in some not so remote countries, where conservative traditions exist and the rights of women and girls are restricted.

In the modern globalized world, where old traditions are leveled down, marriages based on mutual love are considered normal: people meet, date each other, spend time together and after some time it becomes clear whether they are ready to take it to the next level – and a man usually proposes to a woman. They marry and “live happily ever after”. Whether they really do “live happily ever after” is a question, which requires some study, but at least they marry because they love each other and it is a choice they make for themselves.

However, in many Asian and African countries arranged marriages are still prevalent: when young men and women reach a certain age (it is different in different countries), parents agree that their children are ready to fulfill their duties and establish a family. The process of matchmaking begins, young man’s parents get to know the family of a girl and if they are content with everything they send their son to the family of the girl to propose marriage. In some countries it is the parents who do the matchmaking, in other countries this is done by matchmakers or special agencies, but as opposed to the marriage based on love, the period of dating and getting used to each other is absent for bride and groom. In case of arranged marriages, young people basically start living with a person who is a complete stranger to them.

People, who are used to living in the “globalized” world, are shocked by the situation when a young man or a woman may not even be asked if they want to marry. Their opinion is basically neglected, because the parents know better and the children should simply obey the decisions of the older. Isn’t this marriage a violation of freedom of young people? Doesn’t a person have the right to make his or her decisions for himself or herself, on his or her own account? But unfortunately for many people, in many cases obsolete traditions prevail over legal rights of young people and not only break existing laws, but also destroy the lives of young people.

Once I spoke to a young woman from a Central Asian country, who seemed to be about 20 years old. It turned out that her parents adhered to old traditions and since she had turned eighteen had thought about getting her married on several occasions. They were of the opinion that it was them who had to arrange their daughter’s future and were sure that the only way to do this was to get her married to a young man coming from the same ethnic group. The girl kept refusing as she didn’t want to get married to a person she didn’t know. She was a romantic young woman, who believed in love and wanted to choose her husband herself, not to get married to a person, who was recommended either by her parents or by relatives. At first she resisted successfully referring to the need to complete her studies. But the studies were completed and the parents were recommended a “good family” with a son of the right age: this family had many children, four older sisters were married already and there was a younger son. This young man had a well-paid job, wasn’t he a good match? The woman’s parents were willing to agree, but there was one little thing missing: they had to inform their daughter about this decision, but she was deprived of the right to choose and voice her own opinion. She was only allowed to see a photo of the groom and – if she wished to – meet him before marriage in the presence of other relatives (otherwise she would only meet him during the marriage itself).

This was her official acquaintance with her husband and the marriage took place shortly after this. But life with her husband’s parents turned out to be unbearable, the parents and sisters of her husband treated her badly and always demanded something from her. She was not a good party for their son and brother, they insisted. The young woman woke up earlier than everybody else in the family and went to sleep the latest. The burden of keeping the house was all hers (cooking, cleaning, doing the laundry) and no assistance was given to her. It became worse when she learnt that she was pregnant, carrying the child of a man she didn’t love and whose relatives hated her. The woman suffered from toxicosis during pregnancy, but her mother-in-law constantly scolded her, saying that she, too, had been pregnant before, but somehow managed to do all the housework nevertheless. Young woman kept silent, tried to endure this, cried at night, while her husband pretended not to notice this. This lasted for half a year and then the young woman escaped to her parents’ house. Her husband initiated divorce and refused to pay alimony when his child was born. Now this young woman is a single mother, who takes care of her daughter by herself. She cannot blame her parents for what happened to her – they only wanted “the best in life” for her, but it turned out the opposite.

Some may consider this story to be just a separate incident, while in most cases arranged marriages seem to be stronger than marriages based on “love”, because the former are based on “respect” – respect for traditions, for partner in marriage – while “love” appears later during the marriage. This may be true in some cases, but as the saying goes “it depends”. In many cases this “respect for traditions” leads to some real tragedies, broken lives and in some cases – honor killings.

by K.B., intern of ADC “Memorial”