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Forced Marriage and Honour based Violence

A ‘forced’ marriage is defined as one, which is conducted without the valid consent of at least one of the parties and where duress is a factor. Duress cannot be justified on religious or cultural grounds. Forced marriage is primarily, but not exclusively, an offence of violence against women. Most cases involve young women between 13 and 30, although evidence suggests as many as 15% of victims are male.

A clear distinction must be made 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 whether to accept the arrangement remains with the individuals.

Honour crimes, which include assault, imprisonment and murder, are punishments of the individual for undermining what the family or community believes to be the correct code of behaviour. An individual may be subject to an honour crime if they find out that an individual is seeking help to avoid a forced marriage. It is therefore vital that the confidentiality of the victim is maintained at all cost and only shared on a “need to know” basis .

Both forced marriages and honour crimes are human rights abuses and fall within the government’s definition of domestic violence.

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 Indicators of a possible forced marriage include:

  • Family history of older siblings leaving education early and marrying early
  • Child self harming/attempted suicide or family history of self harm/attempted suicide
  • Unreasonable confinement of the child within the home
  • Child always being accompanied to school and doctor’s appointments
  • Child being worried about a planned family holiday, being taken out of education or being kept abroad
  • Request for extended leave of absence and failure to return from visits to country of origin
  • Sudden announcement of engagement to a stranger

Professionals involved with cases of forced marriage should bear in mind that the response of mediation can be extremely dangerous. Refusal to go through with a forced marriage has been linked in the past to murder of the non-consenting, usually female, person and young people have been murdered while mediation is ongoing as their refusal to marry is seen as dishonouring the family.

Young people living within a forced marriage, or under threat of one, may face significant harm if their families become aware that they have sought assistance from outside the family. There may only be one opportunity to speak to a potential victim and the initial response is therefore very important. If anyone has concerns that a child is in a forced marriage or danger of a forced marriage ring the police on 999.

Children’s Social Care should:

Speak to the child privately where the conversation cannot be overheard , gather as much information as possible about the child immediately, including a traceable overseas address in case the child is removed from the country.

DO NOT inform the child’s family, friends or members of their wider community that the child has sought help.


Consider the need for immediate protection and placement away from the family. If the child is placed away from the family, they must not be placed with a family member or member of the same community as that may place them at risk of significant harm from other family members or individuals acting on the family’s behalf and must never be allowed unsupervised contact with the family even if they request it.

Contact the Forced Marriage Unit – Tel: 020 7008 0151 where experienced caseworkers will be able to offer support and guidance.

Consider application for a Forced Marriage Protection Order which can prevent forced marriages from taking place.

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