Forced Marriage

Forced marriages are illegal in the UK as is removing someone from the country for the purposes of forcing them to marry in a different country.

As seen in the definition below, a forced marriage happens when someone (male or female) is faced with physical or emotional pressure to marry. The force may include threats of physical or sexual violence, financial abuse (e.g., the taking away of someone’s wages) and/or the individual being made to feel they are bringing shame on the family by refusing to marry. Forced marriage is illegal in the UK. Many forced marriage victims are children who are still at school.

Definition of forced marriage

A forced marriage is where one or both people do not (or in cases of people with learning disabilities or reduced capacity, cannot) consent to the marriage as they are pressurised, or abuse is used, to force them to do so. It is recognised in the UK as a form of domestic or child abuse and a serious abuse of human rights.

Forced Marriage Guidance

Quotation marks

The criminal offence of forced marriage includes taking someone overseas to force them to marry (whether or not the marriage takes place) or marrying someone who lacks the mental capacity to consent to the marriage (whether or not they are pressurised).

Forcing someone to marry can result in a 7-year prison sentence. The legal age to marry in England and Wales is 18 (this changed in February 2023). It’s now a crime to do anything that would mean that a child is married before their 18th birthday, even if there is no violence, threats or other forms of coercion involved. As with all laws relating to forced marriage, this applies to non-binding, unofficial ‘marriages’ as well as legal marriages.

No major faith in the UK advocates forced marriage. Freely given consent is a pre-requisite of Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Islamic and Sikh marriages.

Prevalence

Statistics from the Forced Marriage Unit show that, in 2020, the 6 most prevalent focus countries for forced marriage (i.e. the country where the spouse lives or the marriage has or is due to take place in) were:

  • Pakistan
  • Bangladesh
  • UK
  • India
  • Afghanistan
  • Somalia

However, it is a largely hidden crime, so statistics may not reflect the full scale of the abuse.

Vulnerable groups

Forced marriage can be hard to identify as families may not talk about their plans. Girls and boys can both be victims, however, some groups are more vulnerable and these include children and young people:

  • with learning difficulties;
  • who feel pressured to observe the traditions of a community;
  • are pressured to keep family values and honour;
  • identifying as LGBTQ+.

Many victims are still in school or college.

Spot the signs

The risks are present throughout the year, however, there is a substantial increase in children being taken abroad to be married during the summer holidays.  Therefore absences from school, requests for extended leave, and children/young people talking about long trips abroad to their family’s country of origin or talking about the upcoming holidays with fear can all be potential indicators of forced marriage taking place.

Other potential indicators include:

  • changes in behaviour;
  • deterioration in mental health;
  • deterioration in behaviour and/or attainment (and unexpected poor exam results);
  • running away from home.

What to do

If you are worried about a child or young person you must report it (initially to your designated safeguarding lead). You or the designated lead can get advice from the Forced Marriage Unit (fmu@fcdo.gov.uk / +44 (0) 20 7008 0151). If necessary, they can obtain a Forced Marriage Protection Order to protect the young person and prevent them from leaving the UK. In certain circumstances, the government can also extract UK nationals from other countries if they have been taken there for the purposes of being forced to marry.

Ensure children/young people know the risks.

Check children and young people have safe relationships.

Spot the signs and know what to do.

Take action and keep taking action until children and young people are safe.

Resources

  • Forced marriage – government website

    The government website contains up to date contact details for the Forced Marriage Unit and more information about how to put processes in place to stop a perceived forced marriage.

  • The right to choose: government guidance on forced marriage

    This multi-agency document comprises statutory guidance for heads of safeguarding organisations and non-statutory guidance for front-line professionals.

  • What is forced marriage?

    This short booklet sets out what forced marriage is and what can be done.

  • Forced marriage: a survivor’s handbook

    This short booklet gives survivors useful and practical information to help them take control of their lives and focus on the future.

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  • Training resources for DSLs to use in team meetings
  • Reference documents for additional information
  • Handout for staff summarising forced marriage
  • Quiz to test staff understanding
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