17.3 Forced Marriage of a child

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Last reviewed in July 2023

Next review July 2025




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:

  • physical – for example, threats, physical violence or sexual violence
  • emotional and psychological – for example, making someone feel like they are bringing ‘shame’ on their family
  • Financial abuse, for example taking someone’s wages, may also be a factor.

A 'forced' marriage, as distinct from a consensual 'arranged' one, is a marriage conducted without the full consent of both parties and where duress is a factor. Duress cannot be justified on religious or cultural grounds.


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. If the concerns relate to a person aged 18 or over, a referral should be made under the Adult Safeguarding Procedures.


Although primarily an issue of violence against girls and young women, forced marriage also effects men and boys. Approximately 20% of calls to the Forced Marriage Unit relate to male victims. Men may be particularly reluctant to seek help because they feel embarrassed or fear they won’t be believed. Men with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to forced marriage, as parents may decide their son needs a wife to care for him.


Anyone threatened with forced marriage or forced to marry against their will can apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO). 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 the Forced 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:

  • Taking someone overseas to force them to marry (whether or not the forced marriage takes place);
  • Marrying someone who lacks the mental Capacity to consent to the marriage (whether they’re pressured to or not);
  • Breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order is also now a criminal offence and can result in a sentence of up to 5 years in prison. The civil remedy of obtaining a Forced Marriage Protection Order through the family courts, as set out above, continues to exist alongside the criminal offence, so victims can choose how they wish to be assisted.

Forcing someone to marry can result in a sentence of up to 7 years in prison.


The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 raised the age of marriage and civil partnership to 18 in England and Wales on the 26 February 2023. The new law expands the criminal offence of forced marriage to automatically recognise children, on account of their age, as victims of forced marriage. Children will no longer be required to prove they were coerced or pressured to marry.


The offence captures all child marriages, including those that are not religious and/or not legally recognised. This means that 16 to 17-year-olds will no longer be able to marry or enter a civil partnership under any circumstances. Previously, forced marriage was only an offence if the person used a type of coercion to cause someone to marry, or if the person lacked capacity to consent to marry under the Mental Capacity Act. The forced marriage offence will continue to include ceremonies of marriage which are not legally binding, for example in community or traditional settings.



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.


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 indicators are not intended to be an exhaustive list.


  • Absence and persistent absence
  • Request for extended leave of absence and failure to return from visits to country of origin
  • Fear about forthcoming school holidays
  • Surveillance by siblings or cousins at school
  • Decline in behaviour, engagement, performance or punctuality
  • Poor exam results
  • Being withdrawn from school by those with parental responsibility
  • Removal from a day centre of a person with a physical or learning disability
  • Not being allowed to attend extra-curricular activities
  • Sudden announcement of engagement to a stranger, either to friends or on social media
  • Being prevented from going on to further/higher education

 Family History

  • Older siblings forced to marry
  • Early marriage of siblings
  • Self-harm or suicide of siblings
  • Death of a parent
  • Family disputes
  • Running away from home
  • Unreasonable restrictions, e.g. being kept at home by parents


  • Being accompanied to GP surgery, clinics, maternity and/or mental health appointments
  • Self-harm/attempted suicide
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression/low self-esteem
  • Isolation
  • Substance misuse
  • Unwanted or late pregnancy


  • Victim or other siblings within the family reported missing
  • Reports of domestic abuse, harassment or breaches of the peace at the family home
  • Female genital mutilation
  • The victim reported for offences, e.g. shoplifting or substance misuse
  • Threats to kill and attempts to kill or harm
  • Reports of other offences such as rape or kidnap

There have been occasions when women have presented with less common warning signs such as cut or shaved hair as a form of punishment for disobeying or "dishonouring" her family

There have also been reports of women presenting in the NHS with symptoms associated with poisoning.

This information may come from the following:

  • The child/young person themselves;
  • One of the child's peer group;
  • A relative or member of the child's local community;
  • Another professional.

There is evidence to suggest that there may be factors that increase the risk of  being forced into marriage, including bereavement within the family. Occasionally, when a parent dies, especially the father, the remaining parent and/or wider family members may feel there is more of an urgency to ensure that the children are married.

A similar situation may arise within single parent households or when a step-parent moves in with the family. If an older child (particularly a daughter) refuses to marry then younger female siblings may be forced to marry in order to protect the ‘family honour’ or to fulfil the original contract. This is also known as becoming the ‘replacement bride or groom’.

Women and girls may also face an increased risk of forced marriage if they have disclosed sexual abuse. Her family may feel that this has brought shame on her and that ensuring she is married may be the only way to restore ‘honour’ to the family. They may also feel that marriage will put a stop to the abuse.

A person may be at a greater risk if they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBTQ+), as their wider family may feel that by forcing the individual into marriage, their sexuality or gender identity will not be questioned. Parents may also do this out of a mistaken belief that this will “cure” their son or daughter of what they perceive to be abnormal sexual practices.


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 that 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 Forced Marriage Unit on 020 7008 0151 or email: fmu@fco.gov.uk


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- Making a Referral, 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 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:

  • Details of referrer and relationship with child;
  • Details of individual child under threat (including nationality, date of birth, passport details, school and employment details);
  • Full details of the allegation;
  • Name and address of those with Parental Responsibility;
  • Background family information and any history of forced marriage.

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 or immediately encourage mediation, reconciliation, arbitration or family counselling.

In addition:

  • Do provide the child, wherever possible, with the choice of race and gender of social worker and / or police officer;
  • Make sure you inform the child of their right to seek legal advice and representation;
  • Do liaise with the legal department;
  • Do consult the Forced Marriage Unit, which provides confidential information and assistance to potential victims and concerned professionals, see also The right to choose: government guidance on forced marriage - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)
  • Do create a restricted entry in the police force intelligence system (police);
  • Ask police and Children's Social Care to check their records for past referrals of family members;
  • Record any injuries and arrange any required medical examination (police);
  • Provide personal safety advice (police);
  • Identify potential criminal offences, secure evidence and submit a crime report, if applicable (police);
  • Provide advice on service to be expected, contact details and other sources of help e.g. forced marriage unit, advocacy service and try to obtain agreement for referrals to local / national support groups';
  • Do not treat an allegation of a prospective or actual forced marriage as a domestic issue and send the child back to the family home;
  • Do not contact the family in advance of enquiries by telephone or letter;
  • Do not allow unsupervised contact.

Information to be obtained in discussion with the child includes:

  • List of any friends and family to be trusted;
  • Possible code to ensure you are communicating with the right person in future (e.g. in telephone calls);
  • Background details of family including experiences of other family members of forced marriage, abuse or domestic violence;
  • Nature and level of risk (e.g. existence of secret boyfriend / girlfriend, pregnancy, already secretly married);
  • Details of any perceived threats including potential spouses name, date of any proposed wedding, name of potential spouse's father (if known);
  • Possibility of obtaining a recent photograph and other identifying documents - if they are going abroad a photocopy of the passport, passport number and date of issue;
  • Obtain any social media handles e.g. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc;
  • School and any employment details;
  • Involvement of other agencies;
  • Document any distinguishing marks.

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 their safety).

The Right to Choose: Multi-agency statutory guidance for dealing with forced marriage and Multi-agency practice guidelines: Handling cases of forced marriage states: 

‘A dilemma may occur because someone facing a forced marriage may be concerned that if confidentiality is breached and their family finds out that they have sought help they will be in danger. On the other hand, those facing forced marriage are often already facing significant danger because of domestic or ‘honour’-based abuse, rape, imprisonment and/or other acts of threatening or menacing behaviour. Therefore, in order to protect them, it may be necessary to share information with other agencies such as the police.’


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:

  • Photocopy of the individual's passport (they should also keep details of their passport number, place and date of issue);
  • Gather as much information as possible about the family – ensure this is gathered discreetly – which needs to include:

     o Full name and date of birth of the person under threat

     o Father’s and/or mother’s name

     o Address where they may be staying overseas and name of the head of this household (if known)

    o Potential spouse’s name (if known)

    o Date of the proposed wedding (if known)

    o Name of the potential spouse’s father (if known)

    o Addresses of the extended family in the UK and overseas

  • Information that only the individual would be aware of (may assist in case another person is produced pretending to be the individual);

  • Details of any travel plans and people likely to accompany them.

  • Names and addresses of any close relatives remaining in the UK

  • Safe means of contact e.g. mobile phone that will work overseas

  • Details of a third party with whom to maintain contact;

  • Estimated return date when they should be asked to contact the police without fail;

  • A written statement by the individual requesting the police, Children's Social Care or third party act on their behalf if they do not.



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.



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 - Making a Referral  , without prior discussion with the family or community.


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, Forced Marriage Unit on 020 7008 0151 or email: fmu@fco.gov.uk

This page is correct as printed on Sunday 23rd of June 2024 12:11:29 AM please refer back to this website (http://sussexchildprotection.procedures.org.uk) for updates.