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Finding solutions to remedy marital captivity

Margreet De Boer

Measures to prevent cases of marital captivity and ensure effective solutions for victims are urgently needed, the Committee on Equality and Non-Discrimination has said.

The report by Margreet De Boer (Netherlands, SOC), adopted by the committee on 13 October, explains that marital captivity arises when a person having entered into a civil or religious marriage or who is living in a marital situation wishes to end it, but finds that they are unable to do so, either legally or in the eyes of their community. The phenomenon is little known, but is estimated to affect tens of thousands of people each year in Europe – mostly women.

Persons trapped in marital captivity face a wide range of human rights violations: they lose their autonomy; they often have no financial independence; they cannot freely remarry; they may be prevented from travelling; they are often isolated; and they may encounter serious violence and threats, notably related to so-called “honour”.

In order to remedy this problem, the committee recommended that member States take a series of measures concerning the strengthening of law in this area and its implementation (in particular ensuring the accessibility of divorce proceedings and the availability of no-fault divorce to everyone), prevention, and the protection of victims. It also called on member States to ratify and implement the Istanbul Convention, of which many provisions could apply to cases of marital captivity.

Authorities should also work together with the communities most affected by marital captivity to end the attitudes and practices that foster it, while involving interdisciplinary networks of experts and activists already working within these communities to combat the phenomenon, the parliamentarians emphasised.