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1.4.25 Forced Marriages


In July 2018, this chapter was given a general refresh and links to national guidance updated.


  1. Definition
  2. Reasons given for Forced Marriage
  3. Legal Position
  4. The Young Person
  5. Referrals
  6. The Role of the Police
  7. The Role of Children's Social Care
  8. Information, Record Keeping and Confidentiality
  9. Required Action
  10. Relevant Guidance

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.

Forced Marriage is a violation of a person’s human rights 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. See Section 3, 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 given for Forced Marriages

  • Cultural or religious 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;
  • Protecting religious and cultural ideas which are misguided;
  • Preventing 'unsuitable' relationships e.g. outside the ethnic, cultural religious or caste group;
  • Assisting claims for residence and citizenship;
  • Fulfilling long-standing family commitments.

Female Genital Mutilation may also be a factor in cases of forced marriage. See also Female Genital Mutilation 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.

3. 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).

Section 12(c) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 states that a marriage is voidable if either party to the marriage did not validly consent to it, whether as a consequence of duress, mistake, unsoundness of mind or otherwise. A voidable marriage exists and is valid until a decree of nullity is obtained. The proceedings must be instituted within 3 years of the date of the marriage or the Court must extend the time limit.

The term "honour crime" or "honour-based violence" embraces a variety of crimes of violence. Perpetrators, usually parents or family members, could be prosecuted for offences including threatening behaviour, conspiracy, assault, kidnap, abduction, false imprisonment, harassment, child cruelty, trafficking and, in worst cases, murder.

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

The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 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.

Nationally, 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. Local authorities can apply for a protection order for an Adult at Risk or child without the leave of the court.

For further advice and information about how to make such an application, see GOV.UK - Apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order.

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.

4. 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:

  • 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.

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

5. Referrals

Forced marriage places young people and vulnerable 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 the possibility of dealing with the issue.

Information or a referral about forced marriage may be received from the young person or from a friend or relative, or from a statutory, voluntary or faith organisation. Forced marriage may also become apparent 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 One Call in accordance with the Referrals Procedure.

All referrals must be responded to and further advice may be sought from the local Safeguarding Unit and/or the Forced Marriage Unit in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office - see National Contact Details.

For additional reading refer to the Multi Agency Practice Guidance: Handling Cases of Forced Marriages (2014).

6. 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. 

A person fleeing a forced marriage, or the threat of a forced marriage, 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;
  • 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 - members of the extended family or community leaders are not appropriate in this situation.

7. 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 to consider any forced marriage and abuse of any other member of the family as well as a secret boy or girlfriend, pregnancy, and self harming.

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.

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

8. 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

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 risk of 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:

  • Underestimate the potential risk of harm;
  • Speak to the child on the telephone (to ascertain if they are being held against their will) – the family may be present or it may be a different person speaking on the telephone;
  • 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.

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;
  • Signpost her or him to 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. Many times the family may 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.

9. Required Action

A Strategy Discussion/Meeting will be needed to deal with this issue; 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 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 at all times.


If the young person wishes to remain in the family home it is essential to devise a way of contacting them there 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; 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.

Consideration should be given to the possibility that written communications including emails 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.
9.3 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. 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, but the arrangement of an extended holiday should not be assumed to imply that a forced marriage is planned. 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.
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 persons whereabouts with the family. The first consideration must be for the young persons 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 may come to light at this time. If the young person is at risk of being forced into a marriage, it may not be 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 in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office - see National Contact Details

10. Related Guidance

Multi-Agency practice guidelines: Handling cases of forced marriage 2014 - Step-by-step advice for frontline workers. Essential reading for health professionals, educational staff, police, children’s social care, adult social services and local authority housing.

Forced Marriage Unit (GOV.UK) - Contact the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) if you’re trying to stop a forced marriage or you need help leaving a marriage you’ve been forced into.

Home Office – Information and practice guidelines for professionals protecting, advising and supporting victims. This includes Multi-Agency Statutory Guidance for dealing with forced marriage.

Apply for a forced marriage protection order (GOV.UK)

Protocol on the handling of ‘so-called’ Honour Based Violence/Abuse and Forced Marriage Offences between the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Crown Prosecution Service (NPCC)