Maastricht research on marital captivity leads to new parliamentary bill
The law needs to be changed to prevent people from being locked in a religious marriage, writes Maastricht University (UM) lawyer Pauline Kruiniger in the final report on the MARICAP study, Niet langer geketend aan het huwelijk (‘Breaking the chains of marriage’). Following one of the report’s recommendations for additional civil legislation, the Minister for Legal Protection Sander Dekker promised last week to come up with a bill that would compel partners cooperate with a religious divorce in order to combat marital captivity.
Several hundred men and women are thought to be trapped in a religious marriage in the Netherlands against their will. They do not have the freedom to enter into new relationships or make decisions about their lives. At present, there is very little the Dutch courts can do for these people. According to Kruiniger, a legislative amendment should be introduced that requires partners to cooperate with a religious divorce. “It would be even better if partners made agreements in the marriage contract that would require them to cooperate fully in dissolving the religious marriage if the civil marriage or relationship ends,” she says. “If this is agreed in the marriage contract, at the very least the husband or wife seeking divorce has a written document to take to the court should the partner refuse to cooperate.”
Kruiniger’s study examined the specific situation in which someone remains married against his or her will because the religious doctrine does not condone divorce. In some religions, like Catholicism, divorce is not an option. In other religions, it is strongly discouraged and, if permitted at all, there are strict rules that require the cooperation of the partner. Should the partner refuse, the religious marriage cannot be dissolved. “This problem is common to all religions,” Kruiniger says. “Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Hinduism and Islam. And it doesn't only affect women; men can become trapped in a forced marriage as well.”
The threshold to go to court is relatively high, as many victims fear it will escalate the situation. “Victims of marital captivity should be better informed of the protective measures in place to ensure their safety. As it stands now, many fear for their own safety or the safety of their children. Partly for this reason, not one person has been convicted since marital captivity was made punishable by law in 2013.”
Research project on marital captivity
A study on divorce and religion has been underway at Maastricht University since 2013, as part of the research project ‘Marital captivity: Building bridges between religion and legislation’. This project is supported by a grant from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). Social partners are the Atria Institute on gender equality and women’s history; the Stichting Landelijke Werkgroep Mudawwanah, which promotes the legal position of Moroccan women; the Stichting Proefprocessenfonds Clara Wichmann, which supports test cases to improve the legal and social position of women; and Vluchtelingen-Organisaties Nederland, a national network for refugee organisations.