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 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.

Definition of forced marriage

A forced marriage is one entered into without the full and free consent of one or both parties and where violence, threats or any other form of coercion is used to cause a person to enter into a marriage.

Keeping Children Safe in Education

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.

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 show most prevalent focus countries (i.e. the country where the spouse lives or the marriage is likely to take place) are:

  • Pakistan
  • Bangladesh
  • India
  • Somalia
  • Afghanistan
  • Saudi Arabia

It is a largely hidden crime and 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 young people:

  • with learning difficulties
  • feeling pressured to observe the traditions of a community
  • pressured to keep family values and honour
  • identifying as LGBTQ+

Many victims are still in school or college.

Spotting 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 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:

  • Change in behaviour
  • Deterioration in mental health
  • Deterioration in behaviour and / or attainment (and unexpected poor exam results)
  • Running away from home

What you can do

If you are worried about a young person you must report it (initially to your designated lead). You or the designated lead can get advice from the Forced Marriage Unit (fmu@fco.gov.uk), and 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.

Resources

  • Forced marriage – government website

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

  • Right to choose

    Link to page on government website which contains more information about forced marriages and also films illustrating individual’s rights to choose.

  • What is forced marriage?

    Short booklet setting out what forced marriage is and what can be done.

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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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