International Research Collaboratives

Marriage as Enslavement: Historical and Legal Entanglements


Annie Bunting and Joel Quirk

In 2017 the International Labour Organization published a major report which estimated that around 40.3 million people were subject to “modern slavery” and human trafficking. This total was divided into two main categories, with around 24.9 million people said to be subject to forced labour and 15.4 million, or 38% of the overall total, said to be subject to forced marriage as a specific form of slavery. This interdisciplinary project will explore socio-legal connections between marriage, slavery, and trafficking to build a more robust understanding of how they have been brought together, on what terms, and with what kinds of political and legal effects. The project is global in focus, but is also features contributors with specific geographic expertise on the Caucasus (especially Georgia), Central Asia (in particular Kyrgyzstan), Sub-Saharan Africa (especially Sierra Leone, Uganda, and South Africa). Accordingly, the key questions to be considered by this IRC are as follows:  1) How and why have enslavement and marriage been compared or connected in different historical contexts and by different actors? 2) How have legal reforms and legal proceedings affected this relationship? How do forms of legal pluralism effect how specific practices are either prohibited or permitted?  3) How have legal efforts to regulate the colonial family and/or transnational migration been implicated in these entanglement between marriage and enslavement? 4) How have marriage, slavery and related concepts such as “forced marriage” and “trafficking” been linked in international law and international social movements?   5) What are the main similarities and differences which define experiences of enslavement and marriage in different geographic regions and historical contexts?

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