Dutch government to introduce tough legislation on forced marriage

Problem persists in ‘privacy of the family circle’

The Dutch government is to introduce new legislation from July 1st which will give it some of the toughest laws in Europe against forced marriage, for which hundreds of young women from ethnic minority backgrounds are sent abroad by their families each year.

Forced marriage is already illegal in the Netherlands, but the department of justice says the problem continues to persist "in the privacy of the family circle", and so new penalties are necessary to mark it "as a serious criminal offence which will not be tolerated in Dutch society".

Every resident of the Netherlands, nationals and foreign nationals, must be registered in the local town hall, but as things stand, parents have the right to remove a child’s name from the register if that child has gone to live outside the country, and the reasons do not have to be specified.

That “loophole” was identified by police and social workers as the biggest single problem in forcing parents to take responsibility for the whereabouts of their daughters – and it will now end.


The new law stipulates that everyone over the age of 12 will have to report personally to the town hall if they wish to be removed from the residents’ register – preventing parents, predominantly fathers, from removing their daughters’ names as an entitlement.

The legislation also warns that if a girl presents herself at her town hall but appears to be in some way reticent, officials will be required to call a domestic violence hotline and instigate an investigation.

On top of these changes, the maximum jail term for anyone convicted of enabling or facilitating a forced marriage – or “marital captivity” – will more than double from nine months to two years.

The legislation will also have a longer reach, specifying that “both Dutch and foreign nationals with a permanent place of residence in the Netherlands will be prosecuted, even if the marriage coercion is committed abroad.”

The department of foreign affairs and its embassies abroad have also been told that if they are approached by women or girls who are being forced into marriage or being “left behind” after a holiday, they are authorised to provide shelter, fast-track paperwork, and arrange repatriation.

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court