Forced marriage

This happens when someone (male or female) is faced with physical or emotional pressure to marry, it may include threats of physical or sexual violence or the individual being made to feel they are bringing shame on the family by refusing to marry. Forced marriage is illegal in England and Wales. The majority of forced marriage victims are children who are still at school.


‘A forced marriage is one in which one or both spouses do not (or, in the case of some adults with learning or physical disabilities or mental incapacity, cannot) consent to the marriage and violence, threats, or any other form of coercion is involved. Coercion may include emotional force, physical force or the threat of physical force, and, financial pressure.’

(Source :Forced Marriage Statistics 2016, March 2017, Foreign and Commonwealth Office)

It includes taking someone overseas to force them to marry (whether or not the marriage takes place) and 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. No major faith in the UK advocates forced marriage. Freely given consent is a pre-requisite of Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Islamic and Sikh marriages.


The focus country is the one to which the forced marriage risk relates, it could be the country where the marriage is expected to take place or the country in which the spouse is residing. 69 countries were represented in the 2016 statistics but the most prevalent were:

  • Pakistan (43% of cases)
  • Bangladesh (8% of cases)
  • India (6% of cases)
  • Somalia (3% of cases)
  • Afghanistan (3% of cases)
  • Saudi Arabia (1% of cases)

Forced marriage is a largely hidden crime and so statistics may not reflect the full scale of the abuse. In 2016 the Forced Marriage Unit gave advice or support in 1,428 cases. Young children may be promised a marriage in the future but in 2016 the Forced Marriage Unit dealt with 220 cases of children under 15 being referred as at risk of forced marriage. There were 151 cases involving 16-17 year olds.

spotting the signs

Forced marriage can be hard to identify as families may not talk about their plans. Some vulnerabilities include:

  • Young people with learning difficulties
  • Feeling pressured to observe the traditions of a community
  • Pressure to keep family values and honour
  • LGBT young people

Young people should have someone to talk to in the school who takes responsibility to listen to them, to talk to family (if this is not likely to increase the risk to the child) and other teachers, and who can take action to keep them safe. In cases of likely forced marriage talking to parents prior to involving other agencies may not be appropriate as it may precipitate action or result in the child being removed from the school.

We should not rely on young people to identify their own abuse – often they don’t know they are being abused, or are unable to tell us for whatever reason. Look for the following potential indicators of risk:

  • Young people who talk of marriages which have been arranged for them
  • Young people whose freedom to mix with others is monitored or curtailed by family
  • Planned overseas travel

What you can do

If you are worried about a young person you must report it. You could speak to the Forced Marriage Unit , they can then raise a Forced Marriage Order to protect the young person. These are individual orders and will be written to meet the circumstances and immediate risk.

Ensure young people know the risks – talk about Forced Marriage at an age appropriate level from the later years of primary school in the same way we do about drugs. Remind young people they have the right to choose who they marry.

Check young people have safe relationships – in their family, with their peers and with your staff. Create the environment where it’s ok to talk even about the most difficult things.

Spot the signs & know what to do – use the checklists above, your safeguarding procedures and be confident in raising force marriage as a possibility.

Take action – and keep taking action until you know they’re safe. In some cases a Forced Marriage Protection Order can be taken out to prevent the marriage, and where the young person has already been removed from this country it may be possible to bring them back.

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