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Forced Marriages

A forced marriage is defined as:
'that which is conducted without the valid consent of both parties, where duress is a factor. It is a violation of internationally recognised Human Rights and cannot be justified on religious or cultural grounds.'

No major world faith condones forced marriage. The freely given consent of both parties is a prerequisite of all religious beliefs including Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu faiths.

The issue of forced marriages in Britain primarily affects girls and young women. They may be taken abroad and then forced to marry, or brought to this country as a result of forced marriage to a person living in the UK. Forced marriages also occur in Britain. However, evidence suggests that 15% of victims are male.

The force used when an individual's right to refuse a partner is disregarded is an act of violence. It can be in the form of emotional pressure exerted by close family members and the extended family, or may include threatening behaviour, abduction, imprisonment, physical violence, rape and in some extreme cases may result in murder. Forced marriage is not an issue faced exclusively by South Asian women. There are cases in England and Wales involving families from East Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

Working Together to Safeguard Children 20062 reiterates the fact that forced marriage and other so-called 'honour crimes' come under the definition of domestic violence. This follows the Government's definition of domestic violence being extended in 2004 to include acts perpetrated by extended family members as well as intimate partners.

Forced Marriage

The difference between Arranged and Forced Marriages

Arranged marriages are those that are arranged by families of the two individuals concerned. The marriage is solemnised with the freely given consent of the individuals and all parties.

In a Forced marriage one or both parties do not consent to the marriage and some element of duress is involved, that involves emotional or physical threats or blackmail.

Motives Prompting Forced Marriages

Parents who force their children to marry often justify their behaviour as protecting their children, building stronger families and preserving cultural or religious traditions. Some parents come under significant pressure from their extended families to get their children married. In some instances, agreements have been made about marriage when the children were very young.

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Some of the key motives that have been identified are:

Family honour Peer group or family pressure Maintaining and strengthening family links Ensuring land, property and wealth remain within the family Protecting perceived cultural ideas (which can be misguided or out of date) Protecting religious ideals that are misguided Preventing 'unsuitable' relationships, e.g. outside the ethnic, cultural religious or caste group Long standing family commitments Controlling unwanted behaviour and sexuality (including perceived promiscuity or being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender) Purpose of claims for residence and citizenship. Although parents feel they are doing nothing wrong and only adhering to family, religious, or traditional values or ideas it is important to have an understanding of these but should not be accepted as justification for such acts that break the law.

Effects of Forced Marriage

Young people forced into marriage often become estranged from their families. Sometimes they become trapped in the cycle of abuse with serious long-term consequences including self-harm and suicide. Research shows high instances of suicides amongst young women from Asian communities in particular.
Many women forced into marriage suffer further domestic violence. These women feel unable to leave because of the lack of family support, economic pressure and other social circumstances.
Isolation is one of the biggest problems facing victims of forced marriage. They feel they have no one to whom they can talk.
Many young women run away and the lucky ones end up in safe home but many return for fear of serious reputations if they did not
They live in fear, and suffer because they have to leave behind family, friends and all that is familiar to them. Some families may resort to 'honour based violence' as the woman is seen to have dishonoured the family and often employ people or send male relatives to find her and bring her back or kill her in the name of 'honour', if found could be sent back to country of origin.
Law and legal redress

In response to the problem of forced marriages in the UK, the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 was passed, which enables the victims of forced marriage to apply for court orders for their protection.

Forced Marriage and Child Protection

A forced marriage of a young person under the age of 18 is a child protection issue, because it is likely to cause significant harm. It impairs a young person's health and development; it may also involve underage sex or rape as such as a young person may have not consented to the marriage.

Those taken out of school to be married overseas suffer the loss of educational and future employment opportunities. As their marriages are not recognised in the UK many are kept overseas until they turn sixteen. Some young women may not be allowed to return home until they become pregnant, thus making it even more difficult for them to escape the relationship. Some may give birth whilst abroad and may be forced to return to England without their newborn child to make application for UK residence and until the Indefinite Leave To Remain has been completed she may not see her child again.

It is important for frontline professionals to understand in forced marriages there is no discussion with the young people involved nor are their views listened to. Forced marriage involves discussions between old relatives of both families but excludes the young person who is to be married. It is especially very difficult for young woman who is to be married to an older man or someone who is a close relative. These young people who feel unable to go against the wishes of their parents suffer emotionally, often leading to depression and self-harm. Young people with disabilities or mental health problems are more vulnerable to the pressures as they are less likely to be consulted or to give informed consent.

Forced marriages do not always take place abroad but also in the UK. The needs of victims of forced marriage will vary widely. They may need help avoiding a threatened forced marriage or help dealing with the consequences of a marriage that has already taken place. All agencies must be aware that young people living within a forced marriage, or those under threat of one, may face significant harm if their families become aware that they have sought external assistance from either statutory agencies or from community/voluntary based organisations.

Response for Young People who have been

Subject to Forced Marriage

Some forced marriages are only brought to agencies attention after the marriage has taken place, when legal remedies may prove more difficult. Young people who seek assistance following a forced marriage should be regarded as children in need under Section 17 of the Children Act, 1989. Any response should be based on a holistic assessment of their situation and clear understanding of the action that they wish to take.

A young person who has already been married has limited choices. They may:

Stay with the marriage
Flee the marriage
Confront their family and seek their backing
Try to prevent a visa application for a spouse being brought to the UK.
If the young person chooses to stay with the marriage, information about support and counselling services should be provided to the young person and referrals made for appropriate support. There should be continual monitoring if the young person agrees with it.

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Referral Action

The strategy meeting should:

1. Share available information and the young person should be made aware of this

2. Decide whether child protection enquiries under Section 47 of the Children Act, 1989 should be continued or if an assessment under Section 17 would be the most appropriate response

3. Plan how enquiries/investigation/assessment should be carried out, and by whom, including whether it is to be carried out jointly by the Police and Children's Social Care

4. Consider the need for an interpreter - whether the interpreter is known/has family/community knowledge/a victim of forced marriage should be taken into account.

5. Decide how to proceed that will not place the young person, or others, at risk of harm

6. Agree what immediate action is needed to safeguard the young person and/or provide interim services or support

7. Consider other children who may be affected by any action taken i.e. the safety of siblings

8. Consider the safety of the workers involved in the assessment/investigation

9. Decide what information, if any, is to be shared with the family and the timing of this.

10. Arrange a date for a strategy review meeting.

Young Adults forced into Marriage

Young people over the age of 18 who are facing or have been subject to forced marriage should be referred to the Adult Protection Officer within Social Care or the police. The Adult Protection Officer should arrange a meeting and will co-ordinate the assessment and service provision in line with Government guidance.

References and further information and Contacts:

Eleanor Stobart - Draft Multi-Agency Practices Guidelines: Handling Cases of Forced Marriage: 1st Edition – 9thFebruary 2009; FCO
Foreign and Commonwealth Office 2004 - Young People and Vulnerable Adults facing Forced marriage: Practice Guidance for Social Workers
Foreign and Commonwealth Office – 2007 - Dealing with Cases of Forced Marriage: Practice Guidance for Health Professionals
Foreign and Commonwealth Office - 2005 - Dealing with Cases of Forced Marriage: Practice Guidance for Police Officers
HM Government - 2006 - 'Working Together to Safeguard Children'

'What is a forced marriage?' (PDF)


A 'wicked and cruel' mother has been jailed for three years after forcing her two young daughters to marry their cousins in Pakistan. Read more...

Other Contacts

Forced Marriage Unit, Foreign and Commonwealth Office +44 (0)20 7008 0151 between 9.00am and 5.00pm Monday to Friday (UK time). Outside these hours call +44 (0)20 70081500 and ask for Foreign and Commonwealth Office Response Centre. Email:

ACCM (UK) +44 (0)1234 356910; Email:

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