21.22 Forced Marriage
Last reviewed in Jan 2022
Next review Jan 2025
See the Government guidance published in November 2013 entitled "The Right to Choose - Multi Agency Guidance in Relation to Forced Marriage".
See also the Multi Agency Practice Guidance: Handling Cases of Forced Marriages(published by the Forced Marriage unit in June 2009).
Please also see Forced Marriage Guidance for Local Authorities on Applying for Protection Orders, published by the Ministry of Justice in November 2009.
Further advice can be sought from the Forced Marriage Unit in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which provides confidential information and assistance to potential victims and concerned professionals - see National Contact Details.
Please also see: Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007
In September 2015, a link was added to Forced Marriage Protection Orders – A guide to the Court Process in the Related Guidance section.
- Definition and Legal Position(Jump to)
- Recognition(Jump to)
- Response(Jump to)
- Assessment(Jump to)
- Intervention(Jump to)
Definition and Legal Position
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.
The pressure put on people to marry against their will may be:
Forced marriages of children may involve non-consensual and/or underage sex, emotional and possibly physical abuse and should be regarded as a child protection issue and referred to Children's Social Care.
Forced marriage is primarily, but not exclusively, an issue of violence against girls and young women: "Most cases involve young women aged between 13 and 30, although there is evidence to suggest that as many as 15% of victims are male" Young people and vulnerable adults facing forced marriage: Practice Guidance for Social Workers ADSS 2004. If the concerns relate to a person aged 18 or over, a referral should be made under the Adult Safeguarding Procedures.
Whilst the majority of cases encountered in the UK involve South Asian families, partly reflecting the composition of the UK population, there have been cases involving families from East Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. Some forced marriages take place in the UK with no overseas element, whilst others involve a partner coming from overseas or a British citizen being sent abroad.
Anyone threatened with forced marriage or forced to marry against their will can apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order. Such an order can be granted to prevent a marriage occurring or, where a forced marriage has already taken place, to offer protective measures. Orders may contain prohibitions (e.g. to stop someone from being taken abroad), restrictions (e.g. to hand over all passports and birth certificates and not to apply for a new passport), requirements (e.g. to reveal the whereabouts of a person or to enable a person to return to the UK within a given timescale) or such other terms as the court thinks appropriate to stop or change the conduct of those who would force the victim into marriage.
Third parties such as relatives, friends, voluntary workers and police officers can apply for a protection order with the leave of the Court. Since 1 November 2009, local authorities can apply for a protection order for a vulnerable adult or child without the leave of the court.
For further advice and information about how to make such an application, see theForced Marriage Guidance for Local Authorities on Applying for Protection Orders, published by the Ministry of Justice in November 2009.
The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, made it a criminal offence, with effect from 16 June 2014, to force someone to marry. This includes:
Forcing someone to marry can result in a sentence of up to 7 years in prison.
Disobeying a Forced Marriage Protection Order can result in a sentence of up to 5 years in prison.
Victims of existing or prospective forced marriages may be fearful of discussing their worries with friends and teachers, but may come to the attention of professionals for various behaviours or circumstances consistent with distress. These may include:
This information may come from the following:
Forced marriage may also become apparent when other family issues are addressed, such as domestic violence, self-harm, child abuse or neglect, family / young person conflict, a child not attending school or a missing child / runaway.
Staff should not make assumptions that a child is at risk solely on the basis of an imminent extended family holiday. All efforts should be made to establish the full facts from the child at the earliest opportunity, without making assumptions. Professionals should discuss cases of forced marriage with, and seek advice from, a designated professional or another statutory agency.
The child must be provided with the opportunity to speak on their own, in a private place. The child may face Significant Harm if their family learn tha they have sought help or advice and mediation should not be attempted.
The needs of victims of forced marriage vary. They may need help to avoid a threatened forced marriage or dealing with the consequences of a forced marriage that has already taken place.
Staff should seek consultation and advice from the designated / named professional and the Forced Marriage Unit see National Contact Details.
Where there is information of an existing or prospective forced marriage of a child aged less than 18 years, child protection issues should be addressed by a referral to Children's Social Care, without prior discussion with the family or community.
All referrals to Children's Social Care involving suspected forced marriage (either actual or prospective) can involve complex and sensitive issues and social workers should inform their first line manager and consult the senior child protection manager.
Where there are concerns for an individual under 18 (or for their children) a Strategy Discussion / Meeting with the Safeguarding Investigations Unit and other relevant agencies must be initiated to decide whether the young person is suffering, or at risk of suffering Significant Harm and if a Section 47 Enquiry should be initiated.
Allegations received by the police should be dealt with by the Safeguarding Investigations Unit.
Information to obtain in these cases includes:
In all cases efforts should be made to see the child immediately, on their own, in a secure and private place, even if the child is with others or the police have been called to the home.
The social worker and / or police officer should not attempt to act as a mediator with the family.
Information to be obtained in discussion with the child includes:
The child should be reassured of confidentiality and the allegations must not be shared with the child's family, friends or influential people within the community without the express consent of the child (and even then with due consideration of the implications to her / his safety).
NB. Cases involving suspicions of a forced marriage are NOT suitable for a Family Group Conference to be arranged because of the risk of physical danger and emotional manipulation which the young person may experience as a result.
If the individual is going overseas and there is concern that they may be forced into a marriage the following information is required:
In order to make sensitive and informed professional judgements about the child's needs, it is important that professionals are sensitive to differing family patterns and lifestyles and to child-rearing patterns that vary across different racial, ethnic and cultural groups. At the same time they must be clear that child abuse cannot be condoned for religious or cultural reasons.
If the child does not want Children's Social Care to intervene, the social worker will have to consider whether the child's safety (or that of others) requires that further action be taken.
Where a child spouse has come to the UK from overseas without their family and states they were forced into marriage and do not want to remain with their spouse, Children's Social Care should consider the young person in the same manner as an unaccompanied asylum-seeking minor, and should accommodate them, unless the needs assessment reveals an alternative response would be more appropriate.
If the risk of forced marriage is immediate, it may be necessary to take emergency action to protect the child e.g. Police Protection or Emergency Protection Orders
If there is an overseas dimension Children's Social Care and police should liaise closely with the Forced Marriage Unit.