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1.5.1 Forced Marriage


  1. Background
  2. Definition
  3. The role of the Forced Marriage Unit
  4. Prevention of Forced Marriage
  5. Procedures
  6. Warning Signs
  7. Taking Action
  8. Mediation
  9. First contact: Concerns about Forced Marriage
  10. First Contact: Imminent Travel Overseas
  11. Action to be taken by Agencies after First Contact
  12. Persons over 18/Adults at Risk

    Appendix 1: Local and National Contacts

1. Background

Forced marriage is an issue that affects young people, predominantly but not exclusively female, from many different backgrounds. No religion condones forced marriage and it is considered a serious abuse of human rights - sometimes involving child abuse, rape and/or enforced pregnancy. It is also a breach of children's rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

All agencies have a moral and legal responsibility to ensure a child's safety. The Children Act, 1989 and Working Together to Safeguard Children (2015) place a duty on all those involved with a child to work together to meet his/her needs. The issue of forced marriage has been given further recognition by Parliament as a result of the passing of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007. The Act came into force in November 2008 and has been accompanied by revised statutory guidance to key agencies. These agencies must have procedures and practice arrangements in place to enable their front line practitioners to handle cases of forced marriages effectively. Their 'lead person' with overall responsibility for safeguarding children should also lead on forced marriage.

Further, local authorities have been named as 'relevant third parties' enabling them to make court applications on behalf of individuals thought to be at risk of being forced into marriage or where a forced marriage has already taken place. Other legal remedies may also be available.

2. Definition

In forced marriage, one or both spouses do not consent to the marriage and duress is involved. Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure.

Forced marriage is not to be confused with arranged marriage. Arranged marriage is celebrated amongst many cultures - the tradition of which means that the families of both the man and the woman take a role in choosing the future spouse, but the final decision is with the individuals getting married.

3. The role of the Forced Marriage Unit

The Forced Marriage Unit is located in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It offers assistance with individual cases - providing confidential advice to potential victims and professionals. It works with partners within the UK and overseas to ensure that all appropriate action is taken to prevent a forced marriage taking place.

4. Prevention of Forced Marriage

All services, agencies and relevant voluntary groups have a responsibility to raise awareness of the issues surrounding forced marriage, with both operational staff within their area and the local community they serve. It is the intention of the local authority and its partners to regularly consult with local faith and community groups about how to go about this.

Young people need to be made aware of the different types of marriage. The responsibility for this does not rest alone with education professionals; it also rests with police, health, voluntary and community groups and others. Creating an open and supportive environment is vital, where relevant information is readily displayed. The Guidelines for Schools, Colleges and Universities (contained in pp 54 - 61 of the Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines (June 2009) give examples of resources that may be useful when introducing the subject of forced marriage into the curriculum.

5. Procedures

All professionals who come into contact with young people need to know they have a responsibility to act if a child is found to be in danger of entering a forced marriage. Equipping staff with the appropriate knowledge and skills is vital in securing a child's safety. Professionals may only get 'one chance' to act and the consequences for a young person could be extremely serious if information is not acted upon.

It is essential that reference is made to the Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines as soon as a potential case of forced marriage is suspected. These contain guidance for:

  • Health professionals;
  • Schools, colleges and universities;
  • Police officers;
  • Children's Social Care;
  • Adult Social Care;
  • Housing.

Much of the information contained in the guidelines will also be of use to those working in other agencies with responsibilities for safeguarding children and protecting adults.

Partnership working is essential. Multi-agency training on forced marriage is available.

6. Warning Signs

All professionals who come into contact with young people need to be made aware of possible signs that may indicate a young person fears entering a forced marriage. Examples are below but these are not exhaustive (see fuller information on page 15 of the statutory guidance and practice guidelines). However, it is important that professionals are made aware that these warning signs could be indicative of other forms of abuse/neglect and not only forced marriage.


  • Non school attendance;
  • Decline in performance or punctuality;
  • Low motivation at school;
  • Poor exam results;
  • Being withdrawn from school by those with parental responsibility;
  • Not allowed to attend extra-curricular activities;
  • Always being accompanied to school;
  • History of older siblings leaving education early and marrying early.


  • Self harm;
  • Attempted suicide;
  • Eating disorders;
  • Depression;
  • Isolation;
  • Substance misuse;
  • Always being accompanied to doctors' appointments.

Police involvement:

  • Other young people within the family reported missing;
  • Reports of domestic violence or breaches of the peace at the family home;
  • Female genital mutilation;
  • Reports of offences e.g. shoplifting or substance misuse.


  • Poor performance;
  • Poor attendance;
  • Limited career choices;
  • Not allowed to work;
  • Unable to attend business trips;
  • Unreasonable financial control e.g. confiscation of wages/income.

Family History:

  • Siblings forced to marry;
  • Early marriage of siblings;
  • Family disputes;
  • Running away from home;
  • Unreasonable restrictions e.g. "house arrest".

7. Taking action

Guidance for all professionals making 'first contact' is outlined below: guidance for assisting young people who have concerns about entering into a forced marriage and those who have concerns and are travelling overseas imminently are given separately. All relevant contact numbers are given in Appendix 1: Local and National Contacts. Social workers and the police will need to take action after first contact, according to Child Protection Procedures. All other professionals are advised against carrying out investigative work, which goes beyond the information obtained at 'first contact.'

8. Mediation

Mediation, reconciliation and family counselling as a response to forced marriage can be extremely dangerous. There have been cases of young people being murdered by their families whilst mediation was being undertaken. Arranging a meeting between a young person and their family may lead to undue pressure being placed upon them to return home. However, if the young person wishes to go home or talk to their family the risks need to be explained and a strategy put in place to monitor their ongoing safety.

9. First contact: Concerns about Forced Marriage

For detailed information, see Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines: Handling Cases of Forced Marriage.

If a young person seeks help with concerns about being forced to marry, or if there are concerns about a young person being forced to marry:

  • Take the issue seriously;
  • See the young person on his/her own in a private place, where the conversation cannot be overheard;
  • Gather as much information as possible - it may be the only opportunity;
  • Perform a risk assessment and consider the need for immediate protection;
  • If an incident occurs at school/college, liaise with the designated child protection teacher;
  • Advise them not to travel overseas;
  • Inform the local police and Children's Social Care to establish if any incidents concerning the family have been reported, e.g. missing persons or domestic violence;
  • Do not approach the young person's family or those with influence within the community, without the consent of the young person, as this may place the young person in danger.
Where there are concerns about the safety of a child or young person, it is the responsibility of any person who has knowledge of, or a suspicion that a child or young person is suffering abuse or neglect to refer their concern to Children's Social Care or the police. If a referral is made against a young person's wishes, the professional needs to inform the young person.

10. First contact: Imminent Travel Overseas

For detailed information, see Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines: Handling Cases of Forced Marriage.

If a young person is going overseas imminently and he/she has concerns they are being forced to marry, discreetly gather as much information as possible. This should include:

  • A detailed description of the young person, and where possible obtain a photocopy of the young person's passport. Encourage the young person to keep details of his/her passport number and the place and date of issue. If the person is a foreign or dual national then they can travel within Europe with their national ID card and the same guidance applies as per passports;
  • Information about the young person's family: full name and date of birth of the young person, father's name, overseas addresses, potential spouse's name, name of potential spouse's father, date of proposed wedding and addresses of extended family in UK and overseas;
  • Information that only the young person would be aware of. (This is in case another person appears in an official capacity, pretending to be the young person);
  • Details of any travel plans and people likely to accompany the young person;
  • Names and addresses of any close relatives in the UK;
  • An estimated return date from overseas. Young people must contact a named person when they return;
  • Obtain a written statement by the young person explaining that he/she wants the police/Children's Social Care/third party to act on his/her behalf if he/she does not return/make contact by a certain date.


  • Give the young person contact details of the Local Authority;
  • Ask them to memorise contact details of the nearest British High Commission/Embassy;
  • Inform the Forced Marriage Unit.

Remember - this could be the only opportunity to protect the victim.

11. Action to be taken by Agencies after First Contact

Children's Social Care and the Police will work together, following the Core Inter Agency Safeguarding Procedures (see Part 1, Assessing Need and Providing Help of the manual). Further action by other agencies is not advised.

This protocol is linked to protocols previously endorsed by the Local Safeguarding Children Board: Information Sharing to Safeguard Children and Safeguarding Children: Joint Working Protocol - Police and Social Services.

If a referral is made when a young person is not in the UK, information should be discreetly gathered about the young person, their family and their location. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Forced Marriage Unit) must be contacted.


  1. Send the victim away and dismiss the allegation of forced marriage as a domestic issue;
  2. Inform the victim's family, friends or members of the community that the victim has sought help;
  3. Attempt to be a mediator.

12. Persons over 18 / Adults at Risk

Persons over 18 may apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order and / or a relevant third party or person with permission of the court may apply for such an order on their behalf.

For further information, see Guidance for local authorities as relevant third party and information relevant to Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines: Handling Cases of Forced Marriage (June 2009).

If such cases come to the attention of any agency, the police should be contacted.

Appendix 1: Local and National Contacts

Local Contacts

Bedfordshire Police

Forced Marriage & Honour Based Abuse Unit Bedfordshire Police

Ring 101 and ask for the Forced Marriage & Honour Based Abuse Unit.
If in immediate danger, call 999  
Bedford Borough Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub
01234 718 700
Central Bedfordshire Access and Referral Hub  0300 300 8585
Luton Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub
(Monday to Thursday 08.45 to 17.20, Friday 08.45 to 16.25)
01582 547 653
Emergency Duty Team for Bedford Borough, Central Bedfordshire and Luton
(Monday to Thursday 17.00 to 09.00 and 16.00 Friday to 09.00 Monday)
0300 300 8123
Luton Housing Department (out of hours service) 01582 720 703
Bedford Borough Council Housing (Office hours) 01234 718 058
Central Bedfordshire Housing (Office hours) 0300 300 8302
Asian Women's Refuge 
Accommodation and support to women and their children fleeing domestic violence, including forced marriage.
01234 261 228
Free Choice
(Helpline run by Luton All Women's Centre and their dedicated Forced Marriage / Honour based violence.)
0300 365 0551
Luton Women's Aid
(Monday to Friday 10.00 to 17.00) Advice, support and emergency accommodation for victims of domestic violence and their children.
01582 391 856
Luton All Women's Centre
(Monday to Friday 09:00 to 17.00) Offers support, advice and counselling to women.
01582 416 783
Luton Law Centre 
(Monday to Friday 9.30 - 17.30) Free confidential legal services.
01582 481 000 / 482 000
National Contacts

Forced Marriage Unit
(Monday to Friday - 09.00 to 17.00)

Out of hours emergencies with an overseas dimension (ask to speak to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Global Response Centre). 

0207 008 0151

0207 008 1500

Heathrow Travel-Care
(Monday to Friday 09.00 to 17.00)

Gatwick Travel-Care
(Monday to Friday 09.00 to 17.00, Saturday and Sunday 09.00 to 16.00)

02087 457495

01293 504 283

Muslim Women's Helpline
(Monday to Friday, 10.00 to 16.00) Confidential telephone helpline offers information and advice for Muslim women from any ethnicity. Some face to face counselling.
02089 048 193 / 02089 086 715

Asian Child Protection Helpline

Child Protection Helpline

  • Confidential service for anyone concerned about children at risk of harm offering counselling, information and advice;
  • Connects vulnerable young people, particularly runaways, to services that can help.

0800 096 7719

0808 800 5000

Text Phone
0800 056 0566


Southall Black Sisters
(Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 10.00 to 12.30 and 13.30 to 1600)

  • Resource centre offering information, advice, advocacy, practical help, counselling and support to black and minority women experiencing domestic violence;
  • Specialise in forced marriage, particularly in relation to South Asian women.
02085 719 595
Karma Nirvana

(Monday to Friday - 09.00 to 17.00)

105-106 The Old Court House,
18-22 St Peters Church Yard,

  • Registered charity which supports victims of forced marriage and honour based violence.
 0800 5999 247

Freephone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence Helpline

  • Run in partnership by Women's Aid and Refuge - staffed by fully trained helpline support workers and volunteers;
  • Confidential support and information to women experiencing domestic abuse and to those seeking help on a woman's behalf.
0808 2000 247