Norway: Marrying the mentally retarded

This article deals a lot with forced marriages and what is common here or there.  However it seems to dance around the basic issue: immigration from Pakistan to Norway today is practically impossible.  If a girl is given the option of marrying a mentally retarded man in exchange for being able to build a life for herself in the West, with a husband who would probably not stand in her way for anything she does and make sure her family in Pakistan is taken care of - how many will jump at the chance?  It might mean a decade or two of helping out a retarded man, but the possible benefits might overrule.


Last year a Norwegian-Pakistani man with Down's Syndrome got married in Pakistan.

"I remember that I met the boy just after the wedding - in Pakistan.  He was very proud and happy," says Aslam Ahsan of the resource center for Pakistani children.

He is aware that mentally handicapped immigrants get married, also in arranged marriages.  Ahsan had been involved in several such cases, because child welfare wanted to know what happens if the pair had children.

"I knew cases which had been problematic.  But people should remember that the extended family takes part.  I think it is a human right to have your wish fulfilled if it is fairly realistic.  I naturally don't justify proforma marriage, but in this concrete case I don't believe it was proforma.  And the girl's family must surely have taken this into consideration," says Ahsan.

Aftenposten spoke to one of the guests at the wedding, who stressed that nobody tried to hide that the man had Down's Syndrome.  He functions very well and has a job.  In Pakistani society it is very common for people to get married even if there's a retardation.  Marriage is one of the obligations of the family.

Aftenposten also made contact with the family, who did not wish to comment.

Current the pair is waiting for their case to go through the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) so they can come to Norway.

If a Norwegian-Pakistani man or woman marries a Pakistani citizen the spouse can ask for family reunification and come to Norway.  both spouses must go through an interview at the police or embassy.

UDI confirms that they have refused family reunification in which one of the spouses was mentally retarded.

"It happens that we get applications where one party has mental retardation.  We then consider if the person in question is able to understand what is implied in a marriage.  We also consider in such a case particularly if there was coercion, therefore if the family had decided to go forward, that the person in question themselves understand what is implied or if it proforma.  For example, such that the main aim is that the spouse will get care," says vice-manager Elisabeth Tombre Neergaard, of the UDI, who is responsible for family reunifications from Pakistan.  He says that the cases he knows of where one of the spouses was mentally retarded were rejected.

In all cases, the person who is mentally retarded lives in Norway and the other spouse is fully healthy.

"They aren't rejected because they have mental retardation.  Our role is to consider if the people in question can understand what is implied in a marriage and if this is what they wish.  We rejected because it was proforma marriage, forced marriage or both parts," says Neergaard.

He adds that there have been a few such cases where the person who came from aboard was doing so to take care of the Norwegian.

Marit Hoff is a member of Child Welfare in Alna, a neighborhood of Oslo.  She isn't aware of the concrete case but know of the problematics.

She says that in minority society there are sometimes arrangements for marriage between families.  It then happens sometimes that somebody who is  mentally retarded and who is treated as helpless, gets married.  Some parents don't understand that this can be difficult, especially when there are children.  Other times it's a question if the children will get married.

Child Welfare needs to file a report in every such case.  The outgoing point it is a basis for concern when mentaklly retarded have children.  If just one partner is mentally retarded we consider if the other spouse can compensate.  This depends among other things on how bad the retardation is.

Researcher Torunn Arntsen Sørheim of the Norwegian Center for Minority Health Research, says that he knows of Pakistanis who have married mentally retarded people and says that with the extended family structure it is not unusual, since marriage sometimes also comes to provide care.

She cautions against seeing this necessarily as a forced marriage.  She also thinks that different societies define retardation differently and that people can raise kids even without knowing how to deal with money or running a household.

Source: Aftenposten 1, 2 (Norwegian), h/t Hodja (Danish)

No comments: