skip to Main Content

This guidance was endorsed by Peterborough Safeguarding Children Board on 19 December 2007 and revised December 2008. It was updated in 2009 and 2010 to include links to relevant government guidance documents, which are in Section 2, Legal Position and Section 6, General Guidelines for all Cases.

It was updated in May 2012 to include a link to the document published by the Forced Marriage Unit: Forced Marriage and Learning Disabilities: Multi Agency Practice Guidelines (2011).

1. Introduction

Forced marriage is an issue that is often misunderstood and misrepresented. It is often confused with arranged marriages. Forced marriage is an abuse of human rights. A clear distinction should be made between forced and arranged marriages.

Forced marriages cannot be justified on religious or cultural grounds. Every faith condemns it and freely given consent is a prerequisite of Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh marriages.

The difference between forced and arranged marriages. In the tradition of arranged marriages, the family of both spouses take a leading role in arranging the marriage, but the choice whether or not to accept the arrangement remains with the young people and can be exercised at any time. In forced marriages, one or both spouses do not consent to the marriage and some element of duress is involved. Duress can range from physical, emotional and psychological pressure to threatening behaviour, abduction and imprisonment, physical violence and murder. Forced marriage is primarily, but not exclusively, an issue of violence against women. Most cases involve young women and girls but there is evidence to suggest this can also happen to young men and boys.

Some young British Nationals have travelled abroad either to visit families and for a specific event where they have found themselves in completely different, unexpected and unacceptable circumstances, including being forced into marriage under duress. Violence and confiscation of passport and air tickets have all been used to force the compliance of reluctant ‘spouses to be’.

Loving manipulation is common in many cases, where parents genuinely feel that they are acting in the best interest of child and family. They believe that they are protecting their children, building stronger families, and preserving cultural or religious traditions. This is not justified on religious or cultural grounds.

2. Legal Position

The minimum age of consent to marriage is sixteen. A person between sixteen and eighteen years of age cannot marry without the consent of their parents unless they are a widow or widower. Although there isn’t a criminal offence of ‘forcing someone to marry’ within England and Wales a number of criminal offences may be committed including:

  • Threatening behaviour;
  • Assault;
  • Kidnap, abduction and/or imprisonment;
  • Sexual intercourse without consent is rape.

The existing legal framework offers a great deal of protection to children at risk of being forced into marriage, for example through the Children Act or the court’s inherent wardship jurisdiction. In addition, the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, which was implemented in November 2008, makes provision for protecting children, young people and adults from being forced into marriage without their full and free consent (through Forced Marriage Protection Orders).

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.

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 guidance for local authorities on applying for Forced Marriage Protection Orders, published by the Ministry of Justice in November 2009.

We need to tackle this problem in a wider partnership, not just with communities, but with every relevant agency. It is an issue of immense complexity that needs to be addressed from every angle.

3. The Impact on Children and Young People

The implications of a forced marriage for the young person are often extreme. Isolation is a major problem. They may feel they have no-one to talk to about their situation and fear being ostracised by their community if they complain. A young person who faces a forced marriage may be withdrawn from school and may not be allowed to go out with friends or to social activities. They may feel they cannot tell anyone or seek help to escape a forced marriage, consequently they may suffer emotionally, leading to depression and self harm. In some reported cases where young people have tried to escape a forced marriage by running away, the families have solicited hired help ‘bounty hunters’ to find them and in a number of tragic cases the young person has been murdered.

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. Many women forced into a marriage suffer for many years from domestic violence and feel unable to leave because of their children, lack of family support, economic pressures and other social circumstances. Some victims may be vulnerable adults. They may have a disability or learning difficulty and be unable to challenge the situation.

School based staff members need to be aware that a young person facing a forced marriage may face Significant Harm if their families become aware that they have sought assistance from school or another agency. Confidentiality must be considered paramount.

4. Possible Symptoms and Indicators

The factors set out in the diagram below collectively or individually may be an indication that a young person fears that they may be forced to marry, or that a forced marriage has already taken place.

Forced Marriage Symptoms and Indicators

5. Motives

The following are some possible motives:

  • Controlling unwanted behaviour and sexuality (including perceived promiscuity, or being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender) – particularly the sexuality and behaviour of women;
  • Protecting the family honour;
  • Responding to peer group or family pressure;
  • Attempting to strengthen family links;
  • Ensuring land, property and wealth remain within the family;
  • Debt repayment;
  • Alleviation of poverty;
  • Protecting perceived cultural ideals;
  • Protecting perceived religious ideals;
  • Preventing unsuitable relationships, e.g. outside the ethnic, cultural, religious or caste group;
  • Assisting claims for residence and citizenship;
  • Fulfilling long-standing family commitments;
  • Appease/placate an aggrieved family.

Cases of forced marriage can involve complex and sensitive issues that should receive the attention of a worker’s first-line manager and be reported to the police child abuse investigation unit (CAIU).

Cambridgeshire Police has established a dedicated helpline for victims of honour based violence. In addition specially trained officers can come and give advice and assistance.

6. General Guidelines for all Cases

Do not:

  • Do not treat such allegations merely as a domestic issue and send the young person back to the family home as part of routine child protection procedures;
  • Do not ignore what the young person has told you or dismiss out of hand the need for immediate protection;
  • Do not approach the young person’s family, friends or those people with influence within the community, without the express consent of the young person, as this will alert them to your enquiries;
  • Do not contact the family in advance of any enquiries, either by telephone or letter;
  • Do not share information outside child protection information-sharing protocols, except in consultation with the line manager and the Child Abuse Investigation Unit. The reason should be recorded and signed;
  • Do not breach confidentiality except where necessary in order to ensure the young person’s safety;
  • Do not attempt to be a mediator.

Please refer to Government guidance on Forced Marriages:

The Right to Choose – Multi Agency Statutory Guidance for Dealing with Forced Marriage.

Information and practice guidelines for professionals protecting, advising and supporting victims.

Forced marriage: information leaflets, statutory guidance, practice guidelines for support organisations

And the following practice guidance published by the Forced Marriage Unit in June 2009:

Multi Agency Practice Guidance: Handling Cases of Forced Marriages (2009)

Forced Marriage and Learning Disabilities: Multi Agency Practice Guidelines (2011).

7. Contacts

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Police Choice Helpline 0800 5999 818.

Translate »
Back To Top
Close search