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article imageThe fight against polygamy and arranged marriage in France Special

By Michael Cosgrove     Jul 19, 2010 in World
A multicultural society means multicultural values. Here in Lyon, France, FIJI, an association which fights for the rights of women, their children and their families, confronts the practical aspects of this issue on a daily basis.
France has a population of 65 million, including an immigrant population of around 6 million. Most of them are Muslims from the northern African Maghreb countries Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, with the rest coming mainly from Sub-Saharan countries. These demographic characteristics occasionally lead to specific legal disputes stemming from cultural and religious practices.
Cécile Corso is a legal advisor for the FIJI, an association which deals with the legal aspects of the abuse of women due to discriminatory cultural and religious practices ranging from domestic abuse to divorce, from polygamy to forced marriages.
“The FIJI began its work in 2002 under an umbrella group of associations working on these issues and it became independent in 2007.” She says. “It was initially created as a response to the poor quality of the legal response to disputes both in France and on an international level.”
Polygamy has become an increasingly sensitive subject in France, and the national press regularly publishes stories on the subject. The legal problems involved can be complex and far-reaching, as Mme Corso explains.
“To give you an example, a Frenchman of Moroccan origin may marry a French woman here in France and go back to Morocco to marry a woman there in order to bring her back over to France. This causes problems here because one of those marriages must be annulled if the authorities become aware of it or if one of the wives contacts us.”
"These situations can lead to problems which stretch beyond the couple if children are involved and have to be taken into care, particularly as France does not recognize the principle of family regrouping for children born abroad in those circumstances.”
Forced marriage can also lead to complex legal situations says Mme Corso, and it can also lead to violence.
“We are sometimes confronted with situations of harassment and even violence” she affirms, adding that most of the problems that the FIJI has to deal with concern family disputes or the initial refusal of women to accept the marriage. These disputes can lead to violence and rape" she says.
“But things are improving in this area in penal terms. The government has just introduced much tougher sentencing laws for these crimes, and even violence committed outside of France can now be tried here once the couple returns. Another problem is that of stolen residence permits, which applies to victims of both polygamy and forced marriages. Some husbands steal their wives’ permits whilst they are on holiday abroad, which means that the women cannot come back to France.”
Another phenomenon that FIJI comes across is that of repudiation, which is not recognised in France. Mme Corso affirms that “Several countries on the African continent have repudiation laws which allow a man to divorce unilaterally if he married his wife in his country of origin and if he asks for divorce in that country. Divorces under those circumstances are immediately applicable (against a two-year-waiting period in France) which means that, papers in hand, he can return to France legally divorced.”
Women are referred to the FIJI in various ways.
Mme Corso explains that referrals come from three main sources. “Local women’s rights associations refer victims of discrimination to us, as do the authorities, particularly the Regional Delegation of Women’s Rights. But it’s rare that women undertake the necessary steps to solve their problems alone.”
She is cautiously optimistic on the subject of the future prospects for women who are discriminated against in France for whatever reason, and considers that reasonable progress has been made in terms of a judicial response to individual cases of abuse. But she hastens to add however that there is one area where progress remains to be made.
“Present dispositions concerning prevention measures are inadequate” she says. “More effort needs to be made so that women are aware of their rights and legal options.”
(The FIJI website contains more information on its activities, and Mme Corso would be pleased to forward PDF documents in French about the association and French law in this field upon request to relevant parties. The association speaks English.)
More about Womens rights, Polygamy, Forced marriage, France
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