Negative social control and forced marriage

Last updated: 2/4/2022

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Characteristics and scope

What is negative social control?

Negative social control is defined as pressure, supervision, threats or coercion that systematically restricts someone in their life and repeatedly prevents them from making independent choices about their life and future. For example, this applies to the individual’s self-determination over their identity, body, sexuality, freedom to choose friends, leisure activities, religion, dress, education, job, boyfriend/girlfriend and spouse, and to ask for health care. When assessing whether a type of behaviour constitutes negative social control, consideration shall be given to the age and development of the controlled party, as well as to the principle of the child’s best interests. There has been increased awareness about negative social control in recent years, both in the public sphere and as a priority area for the authorities. Efforts to combat negative social control are part of the Norwegian integration policy.

How many are at risk?

Most young people in Norway experience a high degree of self-determination and little negative social control. At the same time, new research confirms that students from immigrant backgrounds are more susceptible to negative social control in most areas. This applies to participation in school and leisure activities, friendship, freedom of belief and opinion and experiences of reactions, threats and punishment. The greatest difference is in terms of relationships and sexuality, where students from immigrant backgrounds are far more vulnerable.

A survey among 16-17 year-olds in Oslo and Akershus and at selected schools in Buskerud measured the proportion of students who state that it is very true or fairly true that their parents

  • do not allow them to be with friends in their spare time.
  • do not want them to be with anyone of the opposite sex in their spare time, without adults present.
  • think that sex before marriage is unacceptable.
  • think that it is unacceptable that girls in upper secondary school have a boyfriend.

A significant minority report severe restrictions in their social lives. In the survey, 29 per cent of the girls with a background from Pakistan in the first year of upper secondary school in Oslo and Akershus stated that it is very true or fairly true that their parents do not want them to “spend time with someone of the opposite sex in their spare time, without an adult present”. Among the girls with backgrounds from Somalia and Sri Lanka, the proportion was 23 per cent and 20 per cent, respectively.

This only gives an indication, as the boundary between social control and negative social control is fluid. Social control becomes negative when the young person’s rights are violated or when he/she experiences undue pressure, threats or coercion.

What do we know about negative social control? Who exercises it, who is vulnerable, how does it happen and what are the causes?

Negative social control is not only confined to the immigrant population. Such control also occurs in other parts of the population. At the same time, we know that some groups are particularly vulnerable. Young people who have parents born in the Middle East, North Africa, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and South and East Asia are more likely to experience negative social control.

Religion and the level of religiosity in the family are of great importance. Christians are somewhat more exposed to parental restrictions than those who state that they do not belong to any religion. However, the effect is far stronger both when the person is Muslim or belongs to “other religions” (mainly Hinduism and Buddhism).

In patriarchal-oriented families, where the family’s honour is strongly linked to the women’s chastity, girls and women are particularly vulnerable. However, boys and men can also be affected. The same person can be both a victim of negative social control and someone who exercises control over others. For example, sons can be pressurised by the family to control their sisters. People with disabilities and LHBTIQ+ people are at extra risk.

Negative social control can be exercised if a family is afraid of losing face or honour caused by a son or daughter not behaving according to current values and norms.

The objective is to correct and sanction the individual’s behaviour. The person concerned must comply with the behavioural norms of his or her environment. In some cases, a loose rumour or negative gossip may be enough for a family member to be subjected to negative social control.

Negative social control can be exercised across national borders. Families in Norway can be put under pressure from relatives and extended families abroad regarding anything from child rearing to marriage decisions.

Persons who are left abroad against their will

A serious form of negative social control may be to be left behind and kept abroad against one’s will.

A new study shows that more than one in ten students at upper secondary school from immigrant backgrounds are afraid of being left abroad against their will (13 per cent). A few (3 per cent) state they have actually been left abroad.

Around 25 per cent of all municipalities state that they have had cases concerning children left abroad in the period 2016 to 2018. Municipalities that have had cases represent all parts of the country and on average have a larger population, both in total and from immigrant backgrounds, than other municipalities. The municipalities that have reported an estimate, state that a total of 415 children have been left abroad. Most of these cases are reported from metropolitan municipalities, while other municipalities have a limited number of cases. As a whole, the cases the municipalities report mostly concern children aged 6-13 years. mostly girls and children with backgrounds from Somalia, Syria and Poland.

The municipalities report various motives for leaving children abroad:

  • as a reaction to the involvement of the Child Welfare Service
  • to prevent the children from becoming too Norwegian
  • to strengthen religious/cultural identity,
  • to remove children/young people from criminal environments
  • to get the children away from drugs and alcohol
  • to prevent sexual experimentation

What is forced marriage?

Forced marriage is part of a larger problem area related to an authoritarian upbringing, control and violence. There is often a link between a strict upbringing and control early in adolescence with subsequent marriage pressure and forced marriage.

Forced marriage can be defined as a marriage where one or both spouses cannot choose to remain unmarried without being subjected to violence, deprivation of liberty, other criminal or improper conduct or undue pressure. Forced marriage is a form of domestic violence and may also mean that the individual cannot break an engagement or leave a marriage or choose a partner against the family’s wishes, without facing reprisals.

Forced marriage is prohibited under Norwegian law.

A child marriage is a marriage where one or both of the spouses are under the age of 18. Under Norwegian law, persons under the age of 18 cannot marry.

Some forced marriages and child marriages take place through extrajudicial agreements between families. Although such marriages are neither valid in Norway nor abroad, the persons will nevertheless often be considered to be married according to tradition and culture.

There can be many different motives behind forced marriage, such as finances and a desire for a residence permit for a family member from abroad. Protection of the family’s honour is often a strong motive. Therefore, forced marriage is often referred to as a form of honour-related violence.

Honour-related violence is defined as violence triggered by a family’s need to protect or restore its honour or social reputation. This can occur in families with strong collectivist and patriarchal values. Girls are particularly vulnerable because their sexual behaviour, - by some, - is considered to be inextricably linked to the family’s honour and because undesirable behaviour can humiliate the whole family.

Who is subjected to forced marriage?

We do not know how many people are subjected to forced marriage in Norway. Various help agencies map the number and type of inquiries. This includes fear of or carrying out a forced marriage. These figures say nothing definite about the extent. The same case can be registered in multiple systems and many cases are never reported.

The number of inquiries to different parts of the support system is increasing. Most inquiries concern people with backgrounds from Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Turkey and Syria. In 2020, the Competence team against forced marriage, female genital mutilation and negative social control received 127 inquiries from the support system where the main concern was about forced marriage. Minority counsellors at secondary and upper secondary schools, registered 42 cases of forced marriage in 2020. The integration advisers, who work at selected foreign service missions, registered 23 cases concerning forced marriage in 2020.

What are the consequences of negative social control and forced marriage?

In addition to being a violation of fundamental rights and freedom, negative social control can lead to mental health problems and trauma, as well as loss of knowledge and qualification. Young people who are subjected to strict control at home often live a mentally stressful double life. They participate less frequently in recreational activities and have more mental health problems and poorer self-esteem than other adolescents.

Young people who are left abroad against their will may miss schooling. During long stays abroad, they may experience reintegration challenges upon returning to Norway.

Forced marriage is a form of domestic violence and the health consequences are similar to the consequences of other types of violence committed by someone close to the victim.

Forced marriage in which the family marries a son or daughter against his or her will, will usually lead to sexual assault. It can be considered a form of collective sexual violence because the family actively contributes to the person who has been forced to marry being forced to have sex with her spouse against her will.

Some choose to break away from their family to escape from the violence and control. In such cases, the person concerned can be left alone and be ostracized by the extended family and networks. They can suffer threats and therefore, many young people occasionally need to relocate to a safe environment.

Measures and possible solutions

What is done to prevent negative social control and forced marriage?

For people who are subjected to negative social control and honour-related violence, such as forced marriage, the threshold for seeking advice, asking for help or reporting the matter to the police may be extra high. There is reason to believe that the actual numbers are high. Therefore, there is still a great need for targeted measures, competence development in the support system and good guidance.

The Government has a number of measures against negative social control and forced marriage. These are gathered in the action plan “Freedom from negative social control and honour-related violence (2021 – 2024), which has five priority areas:

  1. Programmes for newly arrived refugees and immigrants

  2. Knowledge and expertise for a comprehensive support programme

  3. Strengthened legal protection for vulnerable persons

  4. Prevent involuntary stays abroad and

  5. International cooperation

Special services have been established to help prevent negative social control and honour-related violence and to enhance competence in schools, the foreign service, child welfare, NAV, the police and other services. The special services also provide advice, guidance and assistance in individual cases. The special services are:

  • The competence team against forced marriage, female genital mutilation and negative social control.
  • Minority advisors at selected schools.
  • Integration advisers at selected foreign service missions.
  • Professional team for the prevention of negative social control and honour-related violence.
  • Housing for people subjected to forced marriage, honour-related violence and negative social control.

NGOs provide an important supplement to the special services and other public services and initiatives. The NGOs can apply for funding towards attitude-forming and preventive work against negative social control and forced marriage. In 2021, NOK 11.45 million was allocated to such initiatives.

More information about negative social control and forced marriage

There are several websites with information about negative social control and forced marriage. These are aimed at vulnerable persons and the support system.

  • www.tvangsekteskap.no (In Norwegian only) - Information about forced marriage and honour-related violence. Overview of professionals in the field, acts and regulations and knowledge. Guidance for vulnerable persons and employees in schools.
  • https://www.imdi.no/nora/ (In Norwegian only) - For young people living under pressure, parents, teachers and the support system. Stories from young people’s perspectives along with information about rights and an overview of who to contact if you need help.

The follow-up evaluation shows good results

Report from the follow-up evaluation of the Action Plan on forced marriage, female genital mutilation and severe restrictions on young people’s freedom (2013–2016) provides an overall analysis of almost 20 years of action plans, as well as a deep dive into three priority areas; the role of NGOs, transnational cases and criminal justice.

Among other things, the report shows that good results have been achieved in prevention and support. However, the support available varies and the support system and the public administration must learn more about transnational cases.

Knowledge needs

The need to enhance knowledge about negative social control and honour-related violence is covered by ongoing research within the framework of the Anti-violence programme (2014-2024). Reports from the anti-violence programme are published by OsloMet.

A summary of knowledge shows that Norwegian research on negative social control and honour-related violence has primarily been concerned with authoritarian and patriarchal family traditions that link the family’s honour to the sexual innocence of the women. There has been little research into money, property, socioeconomic conditions and other possible reasons why children and young people are married off under pressure and coercion. Young girls have been in focus while the experiences of the boys and parents have not received the same attention.

A new report draws some of the same conclusions. Little is known about negative social control and honour-related violence among young men, within marriage and among adults. There is also a lack of knowledge about negative social control in schools, from other students or teachers, from others with the same background or from people in religious communities and churches. How and to what extent LGBTIQ people are subjected to negative social control and honour-related violence is also a relatively unexplored topic.

So that the authorities and other actors can target and dimension initiatives in line with the scope and needs, it is recommended that questions about negative social control and honour-related violence are included in the youth data surveys and other population surveys. This also makes it possible to look at changes over time.

Reference list

Note: Most references are only available in Norwegian.

  1. The definition of negative social control is from the Government’s Action Plan - Freedom from negative social control and honour-related violence (2021-2024). Available from Frihet fra negativ sosial kontroll og æresrelatert vold (regjeringen.no) (Retrieved 16 November 2021) https://www.regjeringen.no/contentassets/bf09aa64a96c4d5e8a69abd4c723f8e9/no/pdfs/f-4464-frihet-fra-negativ-sosial-kontroll-og-aeres.pdf
  2. For example the books Min skyld – En historie om frigjøring (Raja, A., Cappelen Damm 2021) and Skamløs (Bile, A., Srour, S., and Herz, N., Gyldendal 2017), and the film Hva vil folk si? (2017) by Iram Haq
  3. “The right to live a free life” is one of four main areas of the Government’s integration strategy (2018)
  4. “The extent of negative social control”. Proba Report 2021 -10. Available from Report (proba.no) https://proba.no/wp-content/uploads/Rapport-2021-10-Omfang-av-negativ-sosial-kontroll.pdf
  5. Friberg and Bjørnset (2019) Migrasjon, foreldreskap og sosial kontroll (Fafo Report 2019:01). Available from https://www.fafo.no/index.php/zoo-publikasjoner/fafo-rapporter/item/migrasjon-foreldreskap-og-sosial-kontroll (Retrieved 16 November 2021).
  6. Friberg and Bjørnset (2019) Op.cit.
  7. Friberg and Bjørnset (2019) Op.cit.
  8. Friberg and Bjørnset (2019) Op.cit.
  9. Friberg and Bjørnset (2019) Op.cit.
  10. Op.cit. and Košuta (2018) Av og til kunne jeg ønske jeg hadde en hijab å skylde på eller noe som gjør meg synlig: En institusjonell etnografisk studie av sosial kontroll (Master’s thesis University of Agder 2018) Available from http://www.hjelpekilden.no/blogg/av-og-til-kunne-jeg-nske-at-jeg-hadde-en-hijab-a-skylde-pa-eller-noe-som-gjr-meg-synlig (Retrieved 16 November 2021). See also http://www.hjelpekilden.no/.
  11. Friberg and Bjørnset (2019) Migrasjon, foreldreskap og sosial kontroll (Fafo report 2019:01). Available from https://www.fafo.no/index.php/zoo-publikasjoner/fafo-rapporter/item/migrasjon-foreldreskap-og-sosial-kontroll (Retrieved 16 November 2021).

  12. Bredal (2011) Mellom makt og avmakt: om unge menn, tvangsekteskap, vold og kontroll (ISF report 2011:4). Available from https://samfunnsforskning.brage.unit.no/samfunnsforskning-xmlui/bitstream/handle/11250/177457/R_2011_4web.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y (Retrieved 16 November 2021)

  13. Op.cit. Bredal (2011)

  14. LHBTIQ is short for Lesbian, Homosexual, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer.

  15. Eggebø, Stubberud and Karlstrøm (2018) Levekår blant skeive med innvandrerbakgrunn i Norge (NF report no.: 9/2018). Available from http://www.nordlandsforskning.no/publikasjoner/levekar-blant-skeive-med-innvandrerbakgrunn-i-norge-article5613-152.html (Retrieved 16 November 2021)

  16. IMDi (2013) På tvers av landegrenser- Arbeid mot tvangsekteskap og kjønsnlemlestelse ved fire norske utenriksstasjoner. Available from https://www.imdi.no/contentassets/a03ac9a7ce6d4904b4de9ea51fe3db3c/imdi-rapport-2013.-pa-tvers-av-landegrenser--arbeid-mot-tvangsekteskap-og-kjonns-lemlestelse-ved-fire-norske-utenriksstasjoner (Retrieved 16 November 2021)

  17. Op.cit. and Lidén, Bredal and Reizel (2014) Transnasjonal oppvekst - Om lengre utenlandsopphold blant barn og unge med innvandrerbak grunn (ISF report 2014:05). Available from https://www.imdi.no/contentassets/05b9308d1c264e52b98f5e0b9b2c8890/rapport-2014.-transnasjonal-oppvekst--om-lengre-utenlandsopphold-blant-barn-og-unge-med-innvandrerbakgrunn.pdf. (Retrieved 16 November 2021)

  18. “The extent of negative social control”. Proba Report 2021 -10. Available from Report (proba.no) https://proba.no/wp-content/uploads/Rapport-2021-10-Omfang-av-negativ-sosial-kontroll.pdf

  19. Oslo Economics (2019) Kommunenes erfaringer med barn og unge som etterlates i utlandet mot sin vilje (Report 2019-30). Available from https://osloeconomics.no/wp-content/uploads/Oslo-Economics-2019-Etterlatte-barn-i-utlandet.pdf (Retrieved 16 November 2021)

  20. The definition of negative social control is from the Government’s Action Plan - Freedom from negative social control and honour-related violence (2021-2024). Available from Frihet fra negativ sosial kontroll og æresrelatert vold (regjeringen.no) (Retrieved 16 November 2021) https://www.regjeringen.no/contentassets/bf09aa64a96c4d5e8a69abd4c723f8e9/no/pdfs/f-4464-frihet-fra-negativ-sosial-kontroll-og-aeres.pdf

  21. Section253 of the Norwegian Penal Code. Available from https://lovdata.no/dokument/NL/lov/2005-05-20-28/KAPITTEL_2-9#§253 (Retrieved 24 January 2020)

  22. Section 1a of the Norwegian Marriage Act. Available from https://lovdata.no/dokument/NL/lov/1991-07-04-47/KAPITTEL_1-1#KAPITTEL_1-1.

  23. Bredal og Wærstad (2014) Gift, men ugift: Om utenomrettslige religiøse vigsler (ISF report 2014:06). Available from https://samfunnsforskning.brage.unit.no/samfunnsforskning-xmlui/bitstream/handle/11250/2599700/Rapport_2014_6_Allkopi_v3_Ferdig_2.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y (Retrieved 16 November 2021)

  24. www.tvangsekteskap.no

  25. The Ministry of Education and Research (2021) The Government Action Plan - Freedom from negative social control and honour-related violence (2021-2024). Available from Frihet fra negativ sosial kontroll og æresrelatert vold (regjeringen.no) (Retrieved 16 November 2021) https://www.regjeringen.no/contentassets/bf09aa64a96c4d5e8a69abd4c723f8e9/no/pdfs/f-4464-frihet-fra-negativ-sosial-kontroll-og-aeres.pdf

  26. Op.cit

  27. Divided into the categories “Suspicion of forced marriage” (68 cases), “Fear of forced marriage” (51 cases) and “Actual forced marriage” (8 cases). Source: Annual Report 2020. The Competence team against forced marriage, female genital mutilation and negative social control. (bufdir.no) https://www.bufdir.no/Bibliotek/Dokumentside/?docId=BUF00005352

  28. IMDi has 59 minority advisers who are deployed to secondary and upper secondary schools in all of Norway’s counties. Source: Negative social control (imdi.no) https://www.imdi.no/negativ-sosial-kontroll/

  29. Divided into the categories “Fear of forced marriage” (37 cases), “Actual forced marriage” (5 cases) and “Fear of forced marriage and female genital mutilation (1 case). Source: Work against negative social control and honour-related violence in 2020 (imdi.no) https://www.imdi.no/contentassets/435c666bbc0047619371edb808ed12f7/arbeid-mot-negativ-sosial-kontroll-og-aresrelatert-vold-i-2020---imdi---oppdatert-versjon.pdf

  30. Divided into the categories “Fear of forced marriage” (17 cases) and “Actual forced marriage” (6 cases). Source: Work against negative social control and honour-related violence in 2020 (imdi.no) https://www.imdi.no/contentassets/435c666bbc0047619371edb808ed12f7/arbeid-mot-negativ-sosial-kontroll-og-aresrelatert-vold-i-2020---imdi---oppdatert-versjon.pdf

  31. Op.cit Friberg and Bjørnset (2019)

  32. Op.cit Lidén, Bredal and Reizel (2014)

  33. Hafstad and Augusti (2019) Ungdoms erfaringer med vold og overgrep i oppveksten: A national survey of adolescents aged 12 to 16 years. Oslo: The Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies. Report 4/2019.Available from https://www.nkvts.no/content/uploads/2019/10/Rapport_4_19_UEVO.pdf (Retrieved 16 November 2021)

  34. Bjørnholt, Bredal and Starheim Ruud (2021) Seksuelle krenkelser og hjelpsøking blant utsatte med innvandrerbakgrunn En undersøkelse av erfaringer i hjelpeapparatet og politiet NOVA-report no. 11/21. Scheduled to be published by December 2021

  35. Nadim and Orupabo (2014) Miljøterapi med unge utsatt for tvangsekteskap og æresrelatert vold. Follow-up of the national housing and support programme (ISF report 2014:13). Available from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/10ff/af7b878eba0f849ffade76e5dec0f80741a2.pdf (Retrieved 16 November 2021)

  36. Op. Cit. Bjørnholt, Bredal and Starheim Ruud (2021)

  37. The Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs. Annual report 2019 – Competence team against forced marriage, female genital mutilation and negative social control. Available from kompetanseteam_aarsrapport_2019.pdf (bufdir.no) (Retrieved 16 November 2021) https://bufdir.no/globalassets/global/nbbf/vold_overgrep/kompetanseteam_aarsrapport_2019.pdf

  38. The Ministry of Education and Research (2021) Freedom from negative social control and honour-related violence (2021-2024). Available from Frihet fra negativ sosial kontroll og æresrelatert vold (regjeringen.no)Frihet fra negativ sosial kontroll og æresrelatert vold (2021-2024) - regjeringen.no (Retrieved 11 November 2021)) https://www.regjeringen.no/contentassets/bf09aa64a96c4d5e8a69abd4c723f8e9/no/pdfs/f-4464-frihet-fra-negativ-sosial-kontroll-og-aeres.pdf

  39. Bråten and Elgvin (2014) Forskningsbasert politikk? – En gjennomgang av forskning på tvangsekteskap, kjønnslemlestelse og alvorlige begrensninger av unges frihet, og av de politiske tiltakene på feltet (Fafo-report: 2014:16). Available from https://www.fafo.no/images/pub/2014/20363.pdf (Retrieved 26 November 2021)

  40. Op.cit Bråten and Elgvin (2014)

  41. Extent of negative social control. Proba Report 2021 – 10. Available from Report (proba.no). https://proba.no/wp-content/uploads/Rapport-2021-10-Omfang-av-negativ-sosial-kontroll.pdf

  42. Op.cit Proba (2021)

  43. Op.cit Proba (2021)

  44. Op.cit Proba (2021)