What is ‘forced marriage’?
Individuals have a right to choose whether they get married or not, whom they get married to and when. Forced marriage is when an individual faces physical pressure to marry (including threats or violence) or emotional and psychological pressure (e.g. made to feel that they are bringing shame on their family). Forced marriage is very distinct from an arranged marriage. There is a clear distinction 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 still remains with the prospective spouses. However, in forced marriage, one or both spouses do not consent to the marriage but are coerced into it. Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure. According to government statistics, approximately 9,000 forced marriages of British citizens take place every year.
Forced Marriage and Safeguarding
Forced marriage can affect children as young as 9 and is a safeguarding issue. Forced marriage is illegal in England under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, and an abuse of human rights. For children, it takes away their freedom, education and often health. It essentially brings about an untimely end to their childhood. Forcing someone to get married can result in a prison sentence of up to 7 years. It is an offence to:
- Take someone overseas to force them to marry, whether or not the forced marriage takes place; and
- Marry someone who lacks the mental capacity to consent to the marriage, whether they are pressured to or not.
Someone at risk of forced marriage can seek a protection order from the courts.
What are the signs?
Suspicions that a child may be forced into marriage may arise in a number of ways to professionals working with them, including:
- A family history of older siblings leaving education early and marrying early;
- Depressive behaviour including self-harming, eating disorders and even attempted suicide;
- 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 or running away;
- A child always being accompanied including to school and doctors’ appointments so they don’t get the chance to talk;
- 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;
- Request for absence from school outside of holidays and not returning on time;
- Surveillance by siblings or cousins at school;
- Not being allowed to join in with extra-curricular activities;
- Sudden announcement of an engagement to a stranger; or
- A child directly disclosing that they are worried s/he will be forced to marry.
How to respond
Forced marriage is abuse and a safeguarding issue if it happens to a child. Anyone who suspects a child is at risk or has already been forced into marriage should make a referral to the Child Protection and Assessment Team (CPAT). If there is immediate risk, or danger, call the police on 999.
Guidance for practitioners
Guidance for practitioners on responding to this safeguarding issue is in Chapter 24 of the London Child Protection Procedures, 5th Edition, 2017. Further information on safeguarding children affected by domestic abuse and violence in is Chapter 28 and Chapter 23 relates specifically to so-called ‘honour based’ violence.
The Government also issued comprehensive multi-agency statutory guidance for dealing with forced marriage and practice guidelines in 2014.
Forced Marriage Unit (FMU)
The FMU offers advice and guidance on how to recognise the signs of forced marriage. Trained professionals provide guidance to those at risk on what action to take, where to seek support from and what their rights are.
Tel: 020 7008 0151 (Monday to Friday, 09:00 to 17:00) or 020 7008 1500 (ask for the Global Response Centre) evenings and weekends. From overseas: +44(0)207008 0151
Awareness of Forced Marriage eLearning Module, HM Government. This module is free and aims to raise awareness of forced marriage, challenge perceptions and inform professionals of what action to take if they suspect someone is at risk. Information about other free elearning courses can be found here on the website.
Forced Marriage Unit film, 2015 – short film demonstrating the impact of forced marriage on victims and their families. The film aims to raise public awareness of the issue and warns of the criminal consequences.
Forced Marriage – A survivors handbook, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, 2013
My Marriage My Choice Case Study Collection – Lerning rom case studies of forced marriage of people with learning disabilities, University of Nottingham et al, 2018