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Learning from Child Safeguarding Practice Reviews – Forced Marriage

Date: Thursday, 29th Jun 2023 | Category: General


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.

Is it legal?

The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (2014) made it a criminal offence in England, Wales and Scotland 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 are pressured to or not).

What are the signs of a forced marriage?

  • Young people who are persistently absent from school, college or university
  • Requests for extended leaves of absence, particularly if overseas travel is involved
  • Inflexibility with arrangements and future planning. Victims of forced marriage are often subjected to strict controls over their movements
  • A woman who is often accompanied by male members of their family
  • Evidence of domestic abuse or depression
  • Young people who are prevented from continuing into higher education
  • Financial abuse, for example taking someone’s wages, may also be a factor
  • Young people who are anxious about school holidays

How can people be protected?

A Forced Marriage Protection Order can help if:

  • A person is being forced into marriage, or
  • A person is already in a forced marriage

Applications for Forced Marriage Protection Orders can be made at the same time as a police investigation or other criminal proceedings. Someone who disobeys a court order can be sent to prison for up to two years for contempt of court; but breach of a Forced Marriage Protection Order is also a criminal offence with a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment.

The ‘One Chance Rule’

All professionals providing services to victims of forced marriage and ‘honour’-based abuse need to be aware of the “one chance” rule. That is, they may only have one chance to speak to a potential victim, and that chance may be the only opportunity to save a life. All professionals working within statutory agencies need to be aware of their responsibilities and obligations when they encounter forced marriage cases. If the victim is allowed to walk out of the door without support being offered, that one chance might be lost.

For more information visit the Guidance Section on the website for resources, case studies, training and downloadable videos.

Forced Marriage Unit website