Report Abuse Report Abuse

2.17 Forced Marriage


This procedure takes into account the Guidance for local authorities on applying for Forced Marriage Protection Orders, published by the Ministry of Justice in November 2009 - for further information, see Section 5, Legal Position.

Also please see:

Further advice can be sought from the Forced Marriage Unit (GOV.UK) in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office


Section 1.4: Think Family / Whole Family Approach

Domestic Abuse / Violence Procedure


This chapter was updated in September 2017 with new sections; Section 3, Risks and Section 4, Indicators which reflect relevant points from the ‘Protocol on the handling of ‘so-called’ Honour Based Violence/Abuse and Forced Marriage Offences between the National Police Chief’s Council and the Crown Prosecution’ (November 2016). In Related Guidance, links were added to Multi-Agency practice guidelines: Handling cases of forced marriage 2014 and to Apply for a forced marriage protection order (GOV.UK).


  1. Definition
  2. Reasons/Underlying Pressures for Forced Marriage
  3. Risks
  4. Indicators
  5. Legal Position
  6. The Young Person
  7. Referrals
  8. The Role of the Police
  9. The Role of Children's Social Care Services
  10. Information, Record Keeping and Confidentiality
  11. Required Action

1. Definition

There is a clear difference between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage. In arranged marriages, the families of both spouses take a leading role in arranging the marriage but the choice of whether or not to accept the arrangement remains with the young people.

In a forced marriage, one or both spouses do not consent to the arrangement of the marriage and some elements of duress are involved. Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure.

Forced Marriage is an abuse of human rights and, where a child is involved, an abuse of the rights of the child and cannot be justified on religious or cultural grounds.

Forced Marriage is primarily an issue of violence against women. Most cases involve young women and girls aged between 13 and 30, although there is evidence to suggest that as many as 15% of victims are male (FCO 2009). See Section 5, Legal Position for legal position in relation to children under 16.

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, while others involve a partner coming from overseas or a British citizen being sent abroad.

2. Reasons/Underlying Pressures for Forced Marriage

  • Preserving religious and cultural traditions;
  • Controlling unwanted behaviour including promiscuity or being gay or lesbian;
  • Protecting 'family honour';
  • Responding to peer group or family pressure;
  • Attempting to strengthen family links;
  • Ensuring land, property and wealth remain within the family;
  • Preventing 'unsuitable' relationships e.g. outside the ethnic, cultural religious or caste group;
  • Assisting claims for residence and citizenship;
  • Fulfilling long-standing family commitments;
  • Ensuring care for a child or adult with special needs or other disabilities.

Professionals may have only 'one chance' to save a life by speaking to a potential victim. If a victim is allowed to walk out of the door without support being offered, that chance is wasted.

3. Risks

One serious consequence of forced marriage is the increased likelihood of domestic violence and abuse and sexual abuse. Anyone forced into marriage faces an increased risk of rape and sexual abuse as they may not consent, or may not be the legal age to consent to a sexual relationship. This in turn may result in unwanted pregnancies or enforced abortions.

Female Genital Mutilation may also be a factor in cases of forced marriage. See also Safeguarding Children at Risk of Abuse through Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Procedure.

Circumstances can change quickly and increase the risk to the victim and any friends/family members supporting the victim - especially following a disclosure to the Police. Perpetrators may respond by moving the victim or bringing forward a forced marriage.

Perpetrators will use controlling and coercive methods to control the victim.

Women, men and younger members of the family can all be involved in perpetrating the abuse.  Offences that may be committed include; common assault, grievous bodily harm, harassment, false imprisonment, kidnap, threats to kill and murder. There may be instances of child trafficking.

Perpetrators may take victims abroad for the purpose of forced marriage, under the pretext of a family holiday, a wedding or illness of a grandparent/family member.

The risks of emotional abuse through being stigmatised by family wider community are also present; these in turn may lead to serious consequences for the individual in terms of their mental health or self-harming behaviour.

Children are also deprived of the normal range of opportunities and experiences available to their peers when they are pressurised into marriage against their will.

4. Indicators

Warning signs that a child or young person may be at risk of forced marriage or may have been forced to marry may include:

  • Extended absences from school/college, truancy, drop in performance, low motivation, excessive parental restriction and control of movements and history of siblings leaving education early to marry;
  • A child talking about an upcoming family holiday that they are worried about, fears that they will be taken out of education and kept abroad;
  • Evidence of self-harm, treatment for depression, attempted suicide, social isolation, eating disorders or substance abuse;
  • Evidence of family disputes/conflict, domestic violence/abuse or running away from home;
  • Unreasonable restrictions such as being kept at home by their parents (’house arrest’) or being unable to complete their education;
  • A child being in conflict with their parents;
  • A child going missing/running away;
  • A child always being accompanied including to school and doctors’ appointments;
  • A child directly disclosing that they are worried s/he will be forced to marry;
  • Contradictions in the child’s account of events.

See also the Multi-agency Practice Guidelines on Forced Marriage Chart of Potential Warning Signs or Indicators.

5. Legal Position

The minimum age at which a person is able to give consent to marriage is 16; a person between the ages of 16 and 18 may not marry without consent from all those with Parental Responsibility (unless the young person is a widow or widower).

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. 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.

Disobeying a Forced Marriage Protection Order can result in a sentence of up to 5 years in prison.

Sexual intercourse without consent is rape, regardless of whether this occurs within the confines of a marriage.

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. A power of arrest may be added where violence is threatened. Breaches of such orders are not criminal offences but will be dealt with as contempt of court and the court will have a full range of sanctions, including imprisonment.

Fifteen County Courts have been designated to deal with applications, including Leicestershire.

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 an Adult at Risk or child without the leave of the court.

6. The Young Person 

Isolation is one of the biggest problems facing those trapped in, or under threat of, a forced marriage. Many young people who face a forced marriage will not even discuss their worries with their friends for fear their families may find out. Only rarely will they disclose fear of forced marriage.

A young person in this situation, however, may show signs that are noted at school or by friends of their own age group. 

These can often be a noticeable change from previous behaviour. 

Typical indicators are:

  • Absconding or running away from home;
  • Truancy;
  • Decline in performance or punctuality;
  • Low motivation at school;
  • Poor exam results;
  • Being withdrawn from education by those with Parental Responsibility and /or requests for extended leave;
  • Not allowed to attend extra-curricular activities;
  • Self-harm and attempted suicide;
  • Female Genital Mutilation;
  • Eating disorders;
  • Depression;
  • Social Isolation;
  • Siblings forced to marry;
  • Family disputes;
  • Unreasonable restrictions e.g. house arrest;
  • Other young people within the family reported missing;
  • Reports of domestic violence or breaches of the peace at the family home;
  • The individual reported for offences e.g. shoplifting or substance misuse;
  • Unreasonable financial control, for example confiscation of wages/income.

Click here to view the Forced Marriages Chart

School and college based staff should be alert to the indicators above as they may be the first professionals to become aware that one of their students may be at risk of a forced marriage. They should also be aware that a pupil at risk of a forced marriage may face significant harm if their families find out that they have disclosed/ sought assistance from school or another agency. However they should provide opportunities for a child to disclose but confidentiality must be considered paramount and action taken as outlined in Section 7, Referrals.

7. Referrals

Professionals may have only 'one chance' to save a life by speaking to a potential victim. If a victim is allowed to walk out of the door without support being offered, that chance is wasted.

Forced marriage places young people and Adults at Risk of rape and possible physical harm. Some cases have resulted in the reluctant spouse being murdered. All agencies need to be aware of Forced Marriages and understand how they should respond to this issue.

Information or a referral about forced marriage may come from the young person or from a friend or relative, or from a statutory, voluntary or faith organisation. Concerns around forced marriage may also emerge when other family issues are addressed such as domestic violence, self-harm, child abuse or neglect, family and adolescent conflict or missing children or runaways.

It is important that staff of all agencies understand the difficulties that young people face in challenging a forced marriage. They are likely to have no experience of living outside the family and may face rejection and harassment by the family and by the community.

Forced marriage involves complex and sensitive issues; where information is available to any agency which gives rise to concerns about a forced marriage involving a young person under 18 it should be referred to Children’s Social Care Services in accordance with the Referrals to Children's Social Care Procedure.

All referrals must be responded to and further advice may be sought from the local Safeguarding Unit and/or the Forced Marriage Unit (GOV.UK) in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

For additional reading refer to the

Multi Agency Practice Guidance: Handling Cases of Forced Marriages (published by the Forced Marriage Unit in June 2009).

8. The Role of the Police

Forced marriage involves criminal offences. Although there is no specific criminal offence of "forcing a person to marry", perpetrators may be prosecuted for a variety of offences, such as threatening behaviour, conspiracy, assault, kidnap, abduction, rape and murder, theft of passport.

A person fleeing a forced marriage, the threat of a forced marriage or honour based violence should be referred to the Police if:

  1. There is any suspicion that they have been the victim of a crime; or
  2. The person is under the age of 18; or
  3. There are any concerns about their safety, or about the safety of their siblings or children.

If the person is under 18, the Police will:

  • Consult the Police Child Abuse Investigation Unit;
  • Consider whether to refer the young person to the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC);
  • Inform Children’s Social Care Services;
  • Check if the child is the subject of a Child Protection Plan;
  • Ensure that an Appropriate Adult and, if needed, an accredited interpreter is in attendance at all interviews - do not use members of the extended family or community leaders under any circumstances.

9. The Role of Children’s Social Care Services

Children's Social Care Services will carry out an assessment of the child's circumstances and needs and make a detailed record of any reported history of abuse.

When assessing the risk of harm, a full family history must be taken. Consideration should be given to any other incidents of forced marriage or 'honour based' violence and abuse of any other member of the family e.g. siblings. The assessment should also consider if there is secret boyfriend or girlfriend, pregnancy and / or self harm.

Children’s Social Care Services must:

  • Give the young person advice on personal safety;
  • Consider the possible need for immediate protection and placement away from the family;
  • Discuss with Police any concerns for the safety of any other child or young person and any suspicion that a crime may have been committed.

NB. Cases involving suspicions of a forced marriage are NOT suitable for a Family Group Conference because of the risk of physical danger and emotional manipulation which the young person may experience as a result.

10. Information, Record-Keeping and Confidentiality

It is important for Children’s Social Care Services to obtain as much information as possible when a young person is first referred, as there may not be another opportunity. A record should be taken of the young person’s immediate personal details and the family details including any information about the need for an interpreter.

Full details of the allegation should be recorded, including details of any threats or hostile actions against the young person.

A record should also be made of the details of the person making the initial referral, including contact details and their relationship to the young person. A risk assessment should be conducted and recorded.

Concerns about forced marriage should not be discussed with the young person's family or friends, and/or information should not be shared with other agencies without the express consent of the young person, unless it is necessary to protect the young person and is in accordance with the Information Sharing and Confidentiality Procedure

The worker must think very carefully about the need to disclose information and to whom it may be disclosed. Disclosure may lead to the young person’s estrangement from the family and increase the likelihood of suffering Significant Harm to the young person. If approached, parents may deny that the young person is being forced to marry, move the young person, expedite any travel arrangements and bring forward the forced marriage.

All agencies should take particular care to ensure that members of their staff do not:

  • Use family members, friends, neighbours or community leaders as interpreters;
  • Send the young person back to the family home against their wishes;
  • Approach the young person’s family or friends or others within the young person’s community without the young person’s explicit consent;
  • Notify the family in advance of enquiries;
  • Attempt to mediate between the young person and the family except at the young person’s specific request;
  • Breach the young person’s confidentiality, unless this is necessary to ensure their safety;
  • Make arrangements for a Family Group Conference because of the risk of physical danger and emotional manipulation which the young person may experience as a result.

When a referral is received, the young person should be interviewed in a secure and private place, on her or his own. The young person may want to be seen by a person of the same gender, and may also want to talk to someone from her or his own community - or to avoid talking to someone from her or his own community. It should be noted the young person may be confused about who they wish to talk to and should be advised about ensuring their own safety.

When arranging to see the young person, thought should be given to where and when this should happen, for example, if the young person is coming to an office, consider arranging the appointment out of hours to minimise risks to the safety of the young person.

The person interviewing the young person should:

  • Discuss the range of options available to her or him and the possible consequences of each course of action;
  • Facilitate contact with an appropriate adviser and/or make the young person aware of the right to seek legal advice and representation;
  • Develop a “cover story” - a plausible alternative reason for the young person to be at the social work office, Police station etc, in case she/he is seen there.

At all times confidentiality and discretion are vitally important.

Information about the young person and her/his whereabouts must be kept confidential. Access should preferably be restricted to named members of staff. This includes both paper-based and computer records.

Before making any enquiries, the worker should consider whether there is a risk that the family will become aware that these enquiries are being made.

When considering disclosure of confidential information to another person or agency, the young person should be informed, the reasons explained, and their consent sought.

Workers should be aware that some families will be intent on finding the young person, and often private investigators have been used to do this. Families may also approach a third party such as a local Councillor or MP with an apparently reasonable request to contact the young person; do not provide information without checking with a manager and the young person first.

11. Required Action

A Strategy Discussion/Meeting should be set up including; the Police, Housing Services, Children’s Social Care Services, Health and voluntary organisations must work together to address the young person’s need for information, protection, financial support, accommodation and emotional support. Legal advice will be needed to inform the Strategy Discussion as legal action may be necessary.

Where an Initial Child Protection Conference is convened, great care must be taken to manage information about the whereabouts of the young person. The social worker and his/her manager must discuss the arrangements with the Conference Chair and consider very carefully whether the family should be present or not, or at the same time as the young person, as threats may be made. An interpreter fully independent of the family should be present if required.


If the young person wishes to remain in the family home it is essential to devise a way of contacting them discreetly without placing them at increased risk of harm. This should include a code word to ensure that contact has been made with the right person. 

A safety plan should be put in place with the young person such as; looking at how to raise the alarm if there are concerns about increased risk to safety; having access to emergency money; having an escape plan including keeping their passport in a safe place.

Consideration should be given to the possibility that written communications including e-mails may be intercepted and that telephone communications may be detected, for example, through the phone bill.


A young person who wishes to leave the family home will need a leaving strategy. This will include issues such as -

Where could they go in an emergency?

If the young person is in immediate danger, it may be necessary to consider admission to local authority accommodation, an Emergency Protection Order or Police Protection. In this situation, it is not appropriate to rely on the extended family to provide a place of safety unless the young person can identify a relative in whom they have absolute trust. It may be necessary to place the young person outside her or his community and in a different local authority area.

11.3 A young person arriving in the UK for the purpose of a forced marriage, or following a forced marriage, will be in an extremely vulnerable position. They may have no contacts in the country, who are not involved in the forced marriage. They may not have indefinite leave to remain in the UK, but if they were to return to their country of origin they may be ostracised and exposed to a high risk of violence or death. In many cases they may not speak the language and will not have knowledge about local resources. They may require a range of support services. 

A young person may be going on a family holiday overseas and suspect that they will be forced to marry. Any such concerns should be taken seriously, and a referral should be made (for further information please see Referrals to Children's Social Care Procedure). As much of the following information as possible should be gathered so that action can be taken, if necessary.

  • Any addresses where the young person may be staying while overseas;
  • Potential spouse’s name;
  • Date of proposed wedding;
  • Addresses of extended family members in UK and overseas;
  • Details of travel plans, including estimated return date, and people likely to accompany the young person.

The person interviewing the young person should:

  1. Keep a separate note of their passport number and the date and place of issue;
  2. Give the young person the address and phone number of the British Embassy in the country to which they are travelling;
  3. Establish a safe means to make contact with the young person, e.g. a mobile phone that will work overseas;
  4. Encourage the young person to memorise at least one telephone number and e-mail address;
  5. Ask the young person for details of a trusted person in the UK with whom they will keep in contact whilst overseas, who will act on their behalf and who can be approached if they do not return;
  6. Take a written statement from the young person that they want the social worker (or another person) to act on their behalf if they do not return by a certain date;
  7. Ask the young person to make contact without fail on their return;
  8. Record some information that only the young person will know this may help later in confirming their identity;
  9. Keep an up to date photograph.

If there is a clear risk of forced marriage, and the risk is imminent, it may be necessary to take emergency action to remove the young person from home in order to protect them and prevent the travel abroad.


Young people who leave home to escape a forced marriage or the threat of one face particular difficulties. Agencies may be criticised for providing support and protection to a young person who has run away from home, and for failing to share information about the young person's whereabouts with the family. The first consideration must be for the young person's safety and welfare.

Any young person who has run away from home should be interviewed on their own to establish why they ran away. Issues related to forced marriage or 'honour based' violence may come to light at this time. If the young person is at risk of being forced into a marriage, it is not in their best interests to disclose any information to their family, friends, or members of their community until their continued safety has been secured.

If there are concerns that a child or young person is in danger of a forced marriage, local agencies and professionals should contact the Forced Marriage Unit (GOV.UK) in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.