Forced Marriage

What is Forced Marriage

There is a clear distinction between a ‘forced’ marriage and an ‘arranged’ marriage. In arranging marriages, the families of both spouses take a leading role in arranging the marriage, but the choice whether or not to accept the marriage remains with the prospective spouses.

A ‘forced’ 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.

Motives Prompting Forced Marriage

Parents who force their children into marriage may often justify their behaviour as protecting the child, building stronger families and preserving cultural or religious traditions. They often do not see anything wrong with their actions, however, forced marriage cannot be justified on religious grounds; every major faith condemns it and freely given consent is a prerequisite of all religions.

Some parents may also come under significant pressure from their extended family or community to ensure their children marry; some agreements of marriage may have been made when a child is only an infant.

Some key motives which have been identified are:

  • Controlling unwanted behaviour and sexuality (including perceived promiscuity, or being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) – particularly the behaviour and sexuality of women
  • Controlling unwanted behaviour, for example, alcohol and drug use, wearing make-up or behaving in what is perceived to be a ‘westernised manner’
  • Preventing ‘unsuitable’ relationships e.g. outside the ethnic, cultural, religious or caste group
  • Protecting family honour or ‘izzat’
  • Responding to peer group or financial pressure
  • Attempting to strengthen family links
  • Achieving financial gain
  • Ensuring land, property and wealth remain within the family
  • Protecting perceived cultural ideals
  • Protecting perceived religious ideals which are misguided
  • Ensuring care for a child or adult with special needs when parents or existing carers are unable to fulfil that role
  • Assisting claims for UK residence and citizenship
  • Long standing family commitments

Consequences of Forced Marriage

  • Domestic abuse: taking of dowry, forced repatriation, Female Genital Mutilation, acid attacks, blood feuds, honour killings, abduction, homicide
  • Sexual abuse: non-consensual and/or underage sex
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical abuse

Legal position

As of 2014 forced marriage is a criminal offence under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. The offence of forcing someone to marry 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 into it or not)
  • Breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order. The process of obtaining the Order through the family courts continues to exist.

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.

Force Marriage Unit (FMU)

The FMU is a joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office unit which was set up in January 2005 to lead on the Government’s forced marriage policy, outreach and casework. It operates both inside the UK, where support is provided to any individual, and overseas, where consular assistance is provided to British nationals, including dual nationals.

The FMU operates a public helpline to provide advice and support to victims of forced marriage as well as to professionals dealing with cases. The assistance provided ranges from simple safety advice, through to aiding a victim to prevent their unwanted spouse moving to the UK (‘reluctant sponsor’ cases), and, in extreme circumstances, to rescues of victims held against their will overseas.

The FMU undertake an extensive outreach and training programme of around 100 events a year, targeting both professionals and potential victims. The FMU also carry out media campaigns, such as 2012’s ‘right to choose’ summer campaign, where the FMU commissioned three short films to raise awareness amongst young people at risk of being taken overseas for forced marriage.

Who to contact

MASH: 01403 229 900

OUT OF HOURS DUTY TEAM: 0330 222 6664

FORCED MARRIAGE UNIT: 0207 008 0151

Supporting documents