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Forced Marriage and Honour based Violence

How to protect, advise and support victims of forced marriage – information and practice guidelines for professionals.

Recognise a forced marriage

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.

Understand the legislation on forced marriage

The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 made it a criminal offence in England, Wales and Scotland to force someone to marry. (It is a criminal offence in Northern Ireland under separate legislation).

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 are pressured to or not)

Forcing someone to marry can result in a sentence of up to 7 years in prison.

It is also possible for victims or those at risk to apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO). As a civil law measure, an application for a FMPO would be made in the family court. Read guidance from the Ministry of Justice on taking out an FMPO

Failure to comply with the requirements or terms set out in a FMPO granted by the Family Court, is a criminal offence and can result in a sentence of up to 5 years in prison.

Worried and need help?


 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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