4.3 Forced Marriage: Guidance
- Forced marriage and children with learning disabilities
- Legal Aspects
- National guidance and advice
- Related Policies, Procedures, and Guidance
A ‘forced’ marriage (as distinct from a consensual ‘arranged’ marriage) is a marriage in which one or both spouses do not and/or cannot consent to the marriage and duress is involved. Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure. Duress cannot be justified on religious or cultural grounds.
Honour-based violence may be a feature of forced marriage
Possible consequences of forced marriage include taking of dowry, forced repatriation, female genital mutilation, acid attacks, blood feuds, honour killings, abduction and homicide.
Many of these acts fall within the definition of domestic violence and abuse.
Forced marriages of children may involve non-consensual and/or under-age sex, emotional and possibly physical abuse, and should be regarded as a child protection issue and referred to Children’s Social Care in line with BSCB procedures for responding to abuse or neglect.
National guidance states that 85% of those seeking help concerning forced marriage are women and so this issue is primarily, but not exclusively, an issue of violence against girls and young women.
Whilst the majority of cases encountered in the UK involve South Asian families, partly reflecting the composition of the UK population, there have been cases involving families from East Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Norway 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.
Forced marriage and children with learning disabilities
Research indicates that the forced marriage of children and adults with learning disabilities is likely to be vastly under-reported and can differ from the way in which forced marriage presents generally (see table below).
There are additional factors which may make someone with a learning disability more vulnerable. Some key motives for forcing people with learning disabilities to marry include:
The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (2014) makes it a criminal offence to force someone to marry This includes:
The Forced Marriage Act (2007) was brought in to protect those forced into marriage, whether children, teenagers or adults – and irrespective of background, gender, race or religion. The Act gives the courts a wide discretion to deal flexibly and sensitively with the circumstances of each individual case, employing civil remedies that will offer protection to victims without criminalising members of their family.
The Act gives victims the power to get Forced Marriage Protection Orders from the courts in whatever circumstances they find themselves. Under the Act, the court can order those forcing another into marriage to stop; or impose requirements upon them. If a person fails to comply with the court order they could be sent to prison for contempt of court.
Not all victims will be able to apply personally to the courts for protection. Some might not want to take court action against members of their own family. Where this happens the intention is that other people or organisations can step in on their behalf.
The civil remedy of obtaining a Forced Marriage Protection Order through the family courts continues to exist alongside the newer criminal offence, so victims can choose how they wish to be assisted.
Breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order is also a criminal offence.
Forcing someone to marry can result in a sentence of up to seven years in prison. Disobeying a Forced Marriage Protection Order can result in a sentence of up to seven years in prison.
In addition to the specific offences of forced marriage, there are still a number of other offences that may be committed. Perpetrators – usually parents or family members – may also be prosecuted for offences including threatening behaviour, assault, kidnap, abduction, theft (of passport), threats to kill, imprisonment and murder. For those under 16 other criminal offences including cruelty to persons under 16 and child abduction may also be involved. The Crown Prosecution Service is responsible for making the decision for which offences(s) the perpetrator(s) should be prosecuted. Sexual intercourse without consent is rape, regardless of whether this occurs within a marriage or not. A woman who is forced into marriage is likely to be raped and may be raped until she becomes pregnant.
The Mental Capacity Act 2005 aims to empower people to make decisions about their own lives where possible and protects those who lack capacity. If a person does not consent or lacks capacity to consent to a marriage, that marriage must be viewed as a forced marriage whatever the reason for the marriage taking place.
Victims of existing or prospective forced marriages may be fearful of discussing their worries with friends and teachers; however they may come to the attention of professionals, those working in community groups or in a voluntary capacity due to various behaviours or circumstances consistent with distress. These may include factors relating to:
The ‘one chance’ rule: You may only have one chance to speak to a potential victim and thus may only have one chance to save a life. This means that all practitioners working within statutory agencies, community workers and volunteers need to be aware of their responsibilities and obligations when they identify potential forced marriage cases. If the victim is allowed to walk out of the door without support being offered, that one chance might be wasted.
First steps in all cases:
Anyone threatened with forced marriage or forced to marry against their will can apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order. Third parties, such as relatives, friends, voluntary workers and police officers, can also apply for a protection order with the leave of the court. Fifteen county courts deal with applications and make orders to prevent forced marriages. Local authorities can now seek a protection order for vulnerable adults and children without leave of the court. Guidance published by the Ministry of Justice explains how local authorities can apply for protection orders and provides information for other agencies.
National guidance and advice
Professionals working in this field should be familiar with: