4.3 Forced Marriage: Guidance

This procedure was updated on 05/06/23 and is currently uptodate.

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A forced marriage is where one or both people do not (or in cases of people with learning disabilities or reduced capacity, cannot) consent to the marriage as they are pressurised, or abuse is used, to force them to do so. It is recognised in the UK as a form of domestic or child abuse and a serious abuse of human rights.

The pressure put on people to marry against their will may be:

  • physical: for example, threats, physical violence or sexual violence
  • emotional and psychological: for example, making someone feel like they are bringing ‘shame’ on their family

Financial abuse, for example taking someone’s wages, may also be a factor.


'Honour based abuse' 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 BSCP procedures for responding to abuse or neglect.


In 2020 figures from the National Forced Marriage Unit showed that 79% 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).

Person without a learning disability

Person with a learning disability

Duress always a factor.

Duress may manifest itself differently, the person may even appear happy about the forthcoming marriage as they may not appreciate the consequences.

Victim often reports themselves that they may be or have been forced into marriage.

May report themselves or may need support to report. May be reliant on others to recognise what is happening and report or take action. By far the majority of cases come to the attention of statutory agencies through a third party.

More females than males reported to be forced into marriage. Most support services for forced marriage focused on meeting needs of females.

In the case studies identified through this research, proportions of males and females with learning disabilities being forced into marriage are similar. Services need to address needs of males and females.

Capacity to give or withhold informed consent to marriage.

May lack capacity to give consent to marriage. May not understand they are being forced into marriage. May be more easily coerced into marriage.

May be able to obtain support themselves if they leave family or community (to find work, apply for benefits, housing, medical needs and so on), though they are often supported in accessing accommodation and other support services, particularly in the short term.

Often need ongoing support from a range of professionals in order that daily living needs are met (may include personal care, helping to eat, shopping, finances, social and leisure activities, work and so on). May need specific and specialist support if placed in a refuge. Males may find it difficult to obtain place of safety given limited availability of refuges to meet needs of males with or without a learning disability.


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:

  • obtaining a carer for the person with a learning disability
  • obtaining physical assistance for ageing parents
  • obtaining financial security for the person with a learning disability
  • believing the marriage will somehow ‘cure’ the disability
  • a belief that marriage is a ‘rite of passage’ for all young people
  • mistrust of the ‘system’, mistrust of external (e.g. social care/health) carers
  • a fear that younger siblings may be seen as undesirable if older sons or daughters are not already married
  • The marriage being seen as the only option or the right option (or both).

Legal Aspects


The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (2014) makes it a criminal offence 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).

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 and can lead up to 12 months imprisonment when dealt with summarily and up to 5 years imprisonment on indictment.


Forcing someone to marry 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 assault, kidnap, abduction, theft (of passport), threats to kill, imprisonment and murder(not exhaustive). For those under 16 other criminal offences including cruelty to persons under 16 and child abduction may also be involved. The police are responsible for investigating any criminal offences suspected and will refer cases to the Crown Prosecution who are responsible for making the decision for which offence(s) the perpetrator(s) should be prosecuted for.

 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:



  • Absence and persistent absence
  • Request for extended leave of absence and failure to return from visits to country of origin
  • Fear about forthcoming school holidays
  • Surveillance nceby siblings or cousins at school
  • Decline in behaviour, engagement, performance, or punctuality
  • Poor exam results
  • Being withdrawn from school by those with parental responsibility
  • Removal from a day centre of a person with a physical or learning disability
  • Not being allowed to attend extra-curricular activities
  • Sudden announcement of engagement to a stranger, either to friends or on social media
  • Being prevented from going on to further/higher education




  • Being accompanied to GP surgery, clinics, maternity and/or mental health appointments 
  • Self-harm/attempted suicide.
  • Eating disorders.
  • Depression/low self-esteem
  • Isolation
  • Substance misuse.
  • Early/unwanted pregnancy


  • Victim or other siblings within the family reported missing.
  • Reports of domestic abuse, harassment or breaches of the peace at the family home.
  • Female genital mutilation.
  • The victim reported for offences, e.g. shoplifting or substance misuse.
  • Threats to kill and attempts to kill or harm.
  • Reports of other offences such as rape or kidnap

Family history

  • Older siblings forced to marry.
  • Early marriage of siblings.
  • Self-harm or suicide of siblings.
  • Death of a parent.
  • Family disputes.
  • Running away from home.
  • Unreasonable restrictions, e.g. being kept at home by parents


  • Poor performance
  • Poor attendance
  • Limited career choices
  • Not being allowed to attend work trips
  • Being unable to work 
  • subject to financial control, e.g., confiscation of wages
  • Wages being paid into account not belonging to the victim
  • Leaving work accompanied
  • Unable to be flexible in their working



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:

  • see them immediately in a secure and private place where the conversation cannot be overheard.
  • see them on their own – even if they attend with others.
  • Listen to and acknowledge their wishes.
  • contact, as soon as possible, the Forced Marriage Unit based at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office: fmu@fco.gov.ukfco.gov.uk/forcedmarriage, 020 7008 0151, or 020 7008 5000 if out of hours.
  • if the young person is under 18 years of age, refer them to the designated person with responsibility for safeguarding children and activate local safeguarding procedures. A strategy meeting should be held following this referral. The strategy meeting will include representatives from agencies involved with the young person and this would include children's services, health, police and education as an example. It is important that the person who has identified the concern is available to attend this meeting. The strategy meeting allows all information to be shared and safeguarding actions to be put in place.
  • reassure them about confidentiality, i.e. practitioners will not inform their family.
  • establish a way of contacting them discreetly in the future.
  • consider the need for immediate protection and placement away from the family
  • Where there is an immediate safeguarding risk or threat to life contact the police.

Do not:

  • send them away
  • approach members of their family or the community unless they expressly ask you to do so
  • breach confidentiality unless it is with the information sharing protocol
  • attempt to be a mediator
  • automatically use family members to act as translators.

Additional steps:

  • if necessary, record any injuries and arrange a medical examination
  • give them personal safety advice
  • develop a safety plan in case they are seen, i.e. prepare another reason why you are meeting
  • establish if there is a family history of forced marriage, e.g. siblings forced to marry
  • advise them not to travel overseas
  • discuss the difficulties they may face
  • identify any potential criminal offences and refer to the police if appropriate
  • give them advice on the action you are taking and what will happen next
  • ensure that they have the contact details for the trained specialist
  • maintain a full record of the decisions made and the reason for those decisions
  • information from case files and database files should be kept strictly confidential and preferably be restricted to named members of staff only
  • signpost or refer them, with their consent, to appropriate local and national support groups, counselling services and women’s groups that have a history of working with survivors of domestic abuse and forced marriage
  • where a case of forced marriage has resulted in the serious harm of a child or young person, practitioners should also consider undertaking a Serious Case Review
  • make full records of any conversation with the young person and ensure that you complete an accurate account of what is said.

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.



  • Circumstances may be more complex if the young person is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
  • British Embassies and High Commissions can only help British nationals or, in certain circumstances, EU or Commonwealth nationals. This means that if a non-British national leaves the UK to be forced into marriage overseas, the British Embassy or High Commission will not be able to assist them.
  • If in doubt, ask the Forced Marriage Unit for advice.

National guidance and advice


Professionals working in this field should be familiar with:

The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) is Government’s central unit dealing with forced marriage casework, policy and projects. The FMU provides 

  • confidential information and assistance to potential victims and concerned professionals. FMU staff can offer advice and assistance to individuals who:
    • fear they will be forced into a marriage (in UK or overseas)
    • fear for a friend or relative who may be forced into a marriage (in the UK or overseas)
    • have been forced into a marriage and do not want to support their spouse’s visa application.

Related Policies, Procedures, and Guidance

This page is correct as printed on Friday 12th of July 2024 08:49:36 PM please refer back to this website (http://bscb.procedures.org.uk) for updates.