Forced marriage of Christian women becoming 'concerningly common' worldwide: Open Doors

By The Christian Post |
Muslim girl
Rachid Oucharia | Unsplash
In a sobering yet vital recognition ahead of International Women’s Day, persecution watchdog Open Doors has released its annual Gender Report, revealing that forced marriage is becoming a "concerningly common practice" impacting Christian women worldwide. 

The 2024 Gender Report, compiled by Open Doors’ global research team, draws attention to the marginalization of Christian women who live in countries ranked as the 50 most dangerous for Christian persecution. 

The report highlights the oppression and violence they endure due to their gender and their faith in Christ, noting that forced marriage is a threat to Christian women and girls in an astounding 84% of the countries on the 2024 Open Doors World Watch List.

“This year, faith-based forced marriage was identified as a risk for Christian women and girls in 84% of the WWL countries; a concerningly common practice,” researchers noted. “Forced marriage is a form of exploitation and control and in many contexts, this risk is interwoven with sexual violence."

"For example, in the Horn of Africa, young female Christian converts from a Muslim background can be forced into marriage to keep them from dishonoring their families for leaving the faith," the reports add. "A regional expert notes that often they are forced to marry much older men. Sexual violence and forced marriage are employed as a means of intimidation and control, with these strategies targeted at preventing Christian women and girls from pursuing their faith in Christ."

A regional expert in Cameroon said that forced marriage is becoming a tactic for "intimidation and control in regions experiencing conflict-related challenges." 

“In areas [of Cameroon] affected by armed conflicts and religious tensions, Christians…[can be] at heightened risk of violence and exploitation," the expert stated. 

"In the Central African Republic, 'Christian women and girls face heightened risks of rape … and forced marriage during attacks by militants on civilian villages," the report adds. A regional expert stated that "[i]nstances of sexual slavery for abducted girls are reported.”

Ryan Brown, the CEO of Open Doors USA, emphasized the gravity of the situation. 

“Today, more than 365 million people face real persecution and discrimination — unimaginable horrors every day — for following Jesus,” he said. “And so many of these faithful followers are courageous women — wives, mothers, sisters and daughters —choosing this difficult path, choosing to stay true to the gospel, despite increased oppression and brutalities.”

The report identifies five primary "pressure points" for Christian women in these countries: forced marriage, sexual violence, physical violence, psychological violence and abduction. 

The report notes that women are not only at higher risk due to their Christian faith in WWL-listed countries but also face added risks because of their gender in environments fraught with violent insecurity.

Choosing to follow Jesus, researchers said, further elevates their vulnerability.

“As these courageous women face increased persecution, we are witnessing their undying faith in Jesus all the more,” said Open Doors US COO Sarah Cunningham. “Although widely without a voice and basic human rights, they serve an incomparable purpose in the Kingdom of God — shining a light for Christ in their families and communities and showing us all what real faith looks like.”

Researchers found “reasons to be hopeful,” saying that historically, peace initiatives have been male-dominated and secular. However, as nearly half the world's population is female and a vast majority are religiously affiliated, there's a shift towards more “inclusive” peace processes, the report said.

“Through the unique agency of the church and the strategic position held by policymakers, change is possible, and indeed already underway. This is an encouragement — as well as an invitation to join in,” the report said.

Open Doors advises the global Church to "[a]cknowledge the extent of violence against Christian women and girls" to enhance protection and justice for women and girls.

Helene Fisher, a gender persecution specialist with Open Doors USA, told The Christian Post in a 2019 interview that in most cases, persecution against women often revolves around the idea of ruining their sexual purity. Meanwhile, men tend to suffer from forms of economic harassment that can impact their place in society.

That year, the most common trend in the gender-specific persecution of Christians was the “targeted” raping of women solely for the purpose of bringing shame upon their families and community.

“When they are sexually assaulted, there is a shame that is brought upon them in society's views. And they are therefore viewed as tainted, having no future and their family also lose this honor,” Fisher explained. “And sometimes their whole Christian community is seen as less valuable, less pure.”

While there are many cases in which Christian girls and women have been abducted and forced into marriage, girls and women who convert to Christianity can often be forced into marriages by their own families, she said.

“Forced marriage is used by a family whose daughter has decided on her own through some kind of exposure to Christianity, maybe via satellite or a friend somewhere or maybe she's had a vision she has turned to Jesus and her family has found out,” Fisher explained. “[They will] marry her to somebody from the mainstream religion, and then it becomes more or less his problem to make sure that she adheres to the mainstream religion.” 

Originally published by The Christian Post