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Forced marriages, a scourge in Haiti


Forced marriage is one of the causes of marital rape and domestic violence

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For many churches, premarital sex and even pregnancy outside this “sacred bond” is a sin. Those at fault, especially when pregnancy occurred, must remediate their situation by marrying if they wish to continue being part of the assembly.

Hector is 24 years old and his wife is 22. Members of the Église de Dieu church in Delmas 33, the two young people got married a little over 6 months ago, as they were expecting a child.

“Everything happened extremely quickly” recalls the new father. “We hid the pregnancy for several months before revealing it to our parents, who took it rather badly. Aside from my parents who called me names, my wife’s [parents] put pressure on me to get married before the baby’s birth. This prompted me to update the church on the situation. And once that was done, the preparations began for our wedding which was celebrated in a school”.

Their budget not allowing for more, the young people rented part of an educational institution for the occasion. “The weddings of pregnant women are considered impure and are not celebrated inside temples. » Several members of the congregation attended the union celebrated by the senior pastor.

“If it weren’t for this pregnancy, I would never have gotten married,” confides Hector. His daughter Keisha, born after two months of marriage, is now five months old. “She is beautiful, she has two parents who will do anything to protect her, » but that does not change the fact that this very young father admits that he “was not ready for this role”.

Serious personal consequences

In some Christian religions, divorce is only recognized if the divorced people agree to spend the rest of their life on their own. In this sense, asking someone to marry would be asking them to endure even through violence. However, for the obstetrician gynecologist, Ghada Hatem, getting married when you did not want to or without having been prepared for the role can lead to violence.

Getting married when you did not want to or even without having been prepared for the role can lead to violence.

In an interview with RFI last January, the Franco-Lebanese specialist highlights forced marriage as one of the causes of marital rape and violence in couples. “When you are forcibly married, Dr. Hatem recognizes that you may not want to have sex with each other. In most cases, it happens that “the husband rapes his wife since sexual intercourse is not consensual. And since she refuses, he feels authorized to hit her. »

Read also: Tout ce qu’il faut savoir sur le mariage en Haïti

Constant violence, declining health and very bad self-esteem, the consequences of forced marriage are multiple according to Dr. Hatem. “The first is a constant feeling of anger that does not leave you because you have been robbed of your right to decide on your life”.

Marriage should not be a punishment. However, “society inflicts this commitment as if it were so” regrets the feminist Vanessa Jeudi. However, the artist does not give herself “the right to judge anyone’s choice” or to claim to know which way of life a person should choose.

“What should take precedence is individual freedom because a young woman who becomes pregnant is still free to write her own story as she sees fit. We do not have the right to kill anyone’s story by forcing them to be bound for life to another”.

The feminist activist continues to believe that “to marry a single person or have several sexual partners should be a personal decision and not the result of society’s constraints forcing a person to be one way or another”.

Tailor-made sanctions

Polyte Antoine is a pastor at Église de Dieu de Siloe. According to him, sanctions are not applied in the same way towards both men and women. “They vary based on who broke the rules and their gender” says the reverend.

“Since ancient times, men have always enjoyed greater sexual freedom than women” continues Antoine. As a result, we are much more critical when looking at women than we are when looking at men. And this, when judging the same faults”.

For Deborah, a member of the same Protestant assembly as Hector, “certain religious authorities exaggerate in their way of proceeding”. The young woman points to the “overzealousness” of these people who sometimes end up transforming a day that should be one of the happiest of a person’s life into a subject of shame.

Also read: Une photographe suisse assiste à 60 mariages en Haïti. Elle expose ses découvertes.

For example, a worship team choir member in her church recounts having attended a few years ago the wedding of one of her sister’s friends, which was celebrated in the courtyard of the religious building, of which the two are still members today. Also Protestant, the young woman who got pregnant was not only forced to marry, she had to undergo a humiliation which she was made to believe she deserved: she was married not far from the toilets of the church.

Formally, these principles around sex and pregnancy before marriage exist especially to protect young girls. Polytus Anthony points to King Solomon as an example, who had wives and concubines by the hundred, while these same women could be condemned for adultery if they saw other men.

Today, these ideas tainted with misogyny are denounced. However, the speeches encouraging the sexual infidelity of men persist and are enough for the reverend to believe in the woman’s obligation to preserve her virginity. “So,” says the man of God “not only does a woman who really wants to follow biblical instructions have to be virtuous by respecting the limits set with regards to sex, a woman who marries while a virgin will inspire more confidence, love and respect from her husband since she will have been able to control herself despite the many temptations”.

A matter of reputation

Often, the use of forced marriage due to pregnancy is imposed to protect the name and reputation of the family. In these cases, pregnancy out of wedlock is considered a dishonor.

Leaders of Protestant or Catholic churches understand the legal obligation of consent to ensure the validity of marriages. They brandish threats of sanctions to guide couples towards forced unions.

Polyte Antoine specifies that he has never forced anyone to make such a decision. “If two young people get married, I make sure it’s their choice. If they are minors, their parents will have to consent to their union or there will be no marriage”.

Nevertheless, the Église de Dieu de Siloe pastor says that those concerned will still be punished for violating established principles.

Finally read: La plupart des mariés haïtiens ne prennent pas le certificat prénuptial au sérieux. C’est une erreur.

Unlike a woman, a man will immediately pay for the consequences of premarital sex. “It will be forbidden to contribute to all forms of church activities, and he will not be able to partake in the Holy Communion.”

Sanctions go much further for Jehovah Witnesses. If for the Pentecostals it is simply a question of limiting the man in his functions, the Jehovah Witnesses cut all ties with the accused, reports Mike, a Jehovah Witness.

As for the man who refuses to recognize a child who is his, he will simply be ignored. “He will neither be greeted by the members of his assembly nor approached by the latter who will no longer speak to him until his repentance.”

And if the two culprits of fornication continue to see each other while they refuse to marry, they will be considered as cohabiting partners. Thus, contrary to Pentecostal values which exclude a woman from any sanction during her pregnancy, those of the Jehovah Witnesses chastise the woman from the start, just like her companion.

The man who refuses to recognize a child who is his will simply be ignored. He will neither be greeted by the members of his assembly nor approached by them who will not speak to him again until his repentance

“In order not to spiritually sanction her child, no form of sanction will be taken against the woman before the child’s birth, nor during the first three months of breastfeeding”, says the pastor. This measure also applies to women who, preferring to live alone, refuse to marry despite their pregnancy.

Sanctions are therefore not uniform. “The more important a person’s place, the heavier the sentence will be”.

Marriage as a punishment

Vanessa Jeudi labels herself as having fallen into a so-called anti-marriage category. Since she has known many broken people who were made so because they said yes to « for better or for worse », the young singer advocates free union instead of marriage.

“Everyone should be free to go whenever they want because change is part of life itself. Nothing says ten years from now, I will still be the same person I am today. In other words, I may no longer hold the same values, no longer have the same tastes, and no longer love the person with whom I had a relationship”.

By asking someone to swear to stay with another until death, Jeudi believes that person is being asked at the same time to no longer consider the dynamism of life and to resign themself to endure all of the abuses that could result from their engagement.

“Moreover,” states the women’s rights activist, “marriage is a Western institution that was imported from the time of colonization. »

As we know it, marriage has therefore not always been part of our way of organizing life and family. Our ancestors did not get married, they were « plase ».

This practice of a much more spiritual dimension is all the more very present in the voodoo religion. If it is common to see followers of voodoo who are married to spirits — it is less so between people. Didier Dominique, who is a high voodoo priest, explains that many are the houngans, mambos or any other follower of the sects to find a companion with whom to live without having ever taken an oath in front of anyone”.

Getting married is therefore not a necessity for Dominique and Jeudi, whom are both non-Christians and see a free and unconstrained commitment preferable to marriage. Within this “European” institution that is marriage, “the woman almost disappears as a Subject to exist only by and for the man” underlines Vanessa Jeudi, who grew up in a Christian family, respectful of the matrimonial principles. This is what she identifies as the power dynamics that exist between man and woman, based on “a patriarchal model of society which is consequently interwoven within the family”.

Rebecca Bruny

Rebecca Bruny est journaliste à AyiboPost. Passionnée d’écriture, elle a été première lauréate du concours littéraire national organisé par la Société Haïtienne d’Aide aux Aveugles (SHAA) en 2017. Diplômée en journalisme en 2020, Bruny a été première lauréate de sa promotion. Elle est étudiante en philosophie à l'Ecole normale supérieure de l’Université d’État d’Haïti