Forced Marriage


Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007

The Right to Choose: Multi-Agency Statutory Guidance for Dealing with Forced Marriage (November 2008)

Guidance for local authorities as relevant third party and information relevant to multi-agency partnership working (Ministry of Justice - October 2009)

Forced Marriage Unit: Forced Marriage and Learning Disabilities: Multi Agency Practice Guidelines (2011)

Please also see further information from the Forced Marriage Unit in relation to Forced Marriage and Adults with Learning Disabilities (circulated by ADASS)

Multi-Agency practice guidelines: Handling cases of forced marriage 2014 - Step-by-step advice for frontline workers. Essential reading for health professionals, educational staff, police, children's social care, adult social services and local authority housing.


This chapter was amended in May 2023 to reflect that the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 raised the age of marriage and civil partnership to 18 in England and Wales, with effect from 26 February 2023.

1. Background

Forced marriage is an issue that affects young people, predominantly but not exclusively female, young men (15% of cases) 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 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

There is a clear difference 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 of whether or not to accept the arrangement remains with the young people.

In a forced marriage, one or both spouses do not consent to the arrangement of the marriage and some elements of duress are involved. Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure. Forced Marriage is an abuse of human rights and, where a child is involved, an abuse of the rights of the child.

Forced marriage involving anyone under the age of 18 constitutes a form of child abuse. A child who is forced into marriage is likely to suffer Significant Harm through physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Forced marriage can have a negative impact on a child's health and development, and can also result in sexual violence including rape. If a child is forced to marry, he or she may be taken abroad for an extended period of time which could amount to child abduction. In addition, a child in such a situation would be absent from school resulting in the loss of educational opportunities, and possibly also future employment opportunities. Even if the child is not taken abroad, they are likely to be taken out of school so as to ensure that they do not talk about their situation with their peers.

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. Risks and Indicators


One serious consequence of forced marriage is the increased likelihood of domestic abuse and abuse and sexual abuse. Anyone forced into marriage faces an increased risk of rape and sexual abuse as they may not wish to consent, or may not be the legal age to consent to a sexual relationship. This in turn may result in unwanted pregnancies or enforced abortions.

Female Genital Mutilation may also be a factor in cases of forced marriage. See also Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Procedure.

Circumstances can change quickly and increase the risk to the victim and any friends/family members supporting the victim - especially following a disclosure to the police. Perpetrators may respond by moving the victim or bringing forward a forced marriage.

Perpetrators will use controlling and coercive methods to control the victim.

Women, men and younger members of the family can all be involved in perpetrating the abuse.  Offences that may be committed include; common assault, grievous bodily harm, harassment, false imprisonment, kidnap, threats to kill and murder. There may be instances of child trafficking.

Perpetrators may take victims abroad for the purpose of forced marriage, under the pretext of a family holiday, a wedding or illness of a grandparent/family member.

The risks of emotional abuse through being stigmatised by family wider community are also present; these in turn may lead to serious consequences for the individual in terms of their mental health or self-harming behaviour.

Children are also deprived of the normal range of opportunities and experiences available to their peers when they are pressurised into marriage against their will.


Warning signs that a child or young person may be at risk of forced marriage or may have been forced to marry may include:

  • Extended absences from school/college, truancy, drop in performance, low motivation, excessive parental restriction and control of movements and history of siblings leaving education early to marry;
  • A child talking about an upcoming family holiday that they are worried about, fears that they will be taken out of education and kept abroad;
  • Evidence of self-harm, treatment for depression, attempted suicide, social isolation, eating disorders or substance abuse;
  • Evidence of family disputes/conflict, domestic abuse or running away from home;
  • Unreasonable restrictions such as being kept at home by their parents ('house arrest') or being unable to complete their education;
  • A child being in conflict with their parents;
  • A child going missing/running away;
  • A child always being accompanied including to school and doctors' appointments;
  • A child directly disclosing that they are worried s/he will be forced to marry;
  • Contradictions in the child's account of events.

See also the Multi-agency Practice Guidelines on Forced Marriage Chart of Potential Warning Signs or Indicators

7. Legal Position

Anyone threatened with forced marriage or forced to marry against their will can apply for 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  seek a protection order for Adults at Risk 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. (This is available at the Justice website).

The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 made it a criminal offence, with effect from 16 June 2014, 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).

Breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order is also now a criminal offence. The civil remedy of obtaining a Forced Marriage Protection Order through the family courts, as set out above,  continues to exist alongside the criminal offence, so victims can choose how they wish to be assisted.

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.

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 raised the age of marriage and civil partnership to 18 in England and Wales with effect from 26 February 2023.

This means that 16 to 17-year-olds will no longer be able to marry or enter a civil partnership under any circumstances, including with parental or judicial consent from 26 February 2023. It will not be possible for anyone under 18 to marry or enter a civil partnership after this date.

Previously, forced marriage was only an offence if the person used a type of coercion, for example threats, to cause someone to marry, or if the person lacked capacity to consent to marry under the Mental Capacity Act. The Act therefore also expands the criminal offence of forced marriage in England and Wales to make it an offence in all circumstances to do anything intended to cause a child to marry before they turn 18. It is therefore now an offence to cause a child under the age of 18 to enter a marriage in any circumstances, without the need to prove that a form of coercion was used. The forced marriage offence will continue to include ceremonies of marriage which are not legally binding, for example in community or traditional settings.

8. 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 2: 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.'

9. 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.

10. First Contact: Concerns about 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 abuse;
  • 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.

11. 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.

12. 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 Partnership: 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.

13. Transition from Children's to Adults' Services

Victims of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)/Forced Marriage/So-called 'Honour' Based Abuse who are younger than 18 years or over 18 years of age will require agencies to safeguard and promote their welfare. Agencies are responsible for:

  • Pdentifying vulnerable children, young people and vulnerable adults;
  • Taking children into protective custody where necessary;
  • Protecting the lives of children, young people and vulnerable adults; and
  • Ensuring the welfare of the child is paramount.

The Care Act 2014 imposes a safeguarding obligation in relation to vulnerable adults similar to the pre-existing obligation towards children. Adults who are already vulnerable (for example, because they lack capacity) may be at particular risk from coercive conduct such as Forced Marriage. In upholding the safeguarding obligation, agencies should be particularly sensitive to this risk, and should work in partnership with each other to protect against it.

Adult services should protect adults who have needs for care and support (whether or not the Local Authority is meeting any of those needs), and are experiencing, or are at risk of, abuse or neglect, and to prevent those adults within its area from becoming at risk of abuse or neglect.

If a young person is only a day away from their 18th Birthday it is the responsibility of children's services/agencies to work with that young person and engage adult services accordingly.

14. 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.

15. Response for Young People who have been Subject to Forced Marriage

Some forced marriages are only brought to agencies attention after the marriage has taken place, when legal remedies may prove more difficult. Young people who seek assistance following a forced marriage should be regarded as children in need under Section 17 of the Children Act, 1989. Any response should be based on a holistic assessment of their situation and clear understanding of the action that they wish to take.

A young person who has already been married has limited choices. They may:

  • Stay with the marriage;
  • Flee the marriage;
  • Confront their family and seek their backing;
  • Or try to prevent a visa application for a spouse being brought to the UK.

If the young person chooses to stay with the marriage, information about support and counselling services should be provided to the young person and referrals made for appropriate support.

If the young person chooses to leave the marriage support should be given and an exit strategy devised between the young person and the professional. Assistance will be required to access safe housing and benefits as well as counselling and appropriate support services within the new community. Information regarding accessing legal advice should be provided if they wish their marriage annulled. This must be undertaken within 3 years of the marriage taking place.

Confronting the family may be extremely risky for the young person. They may not get the support they hope for even with the support of agencies.

Although young people may try to prevent a successful visa application for their spouse, in reality, this is not possible to do without all parties being aware of the young person's reasons for not wanting to sponsor their spouse's visa application. In all cases young people need to be made aware of the possible consequences of their actions.

16. Response to Report by Third Party of a Young Person Having been Taken Abroad for the Purpose of a Forced Marriage

Some children and young people are taken overseas on the pretext of a holiday, the wedding of a relative or the illness of a grandparent, for example. On arrival their passport and documents may be taken away from them.

In such cases the Police and Children's Social Care should gather intelligence, and work closely with the Community Liaison Unit at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

It is not advisable to contact an overseas organisation to make enquiries. If the family becomes aware that enquiries are being made, they may move the child or young person to another location or expedite the forced marriage.

Once a child or young person has left the country, legal options are limited. Efforts can be made to seek the return of them to the jurisdiction of England and Wales by making them a Ward of Court. An application can be made to the High Court Family Division by a relative, friend or the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (CAFCASS). Children's Social Care is not able to make a child a Ward of Court.

17. Response for a Young Person Repatriated to the UK from Overseas

Sometimes the Foreign and Commonwealth Office may ask Children's Social Care for assistance when a child or young person is repatriated to the UK. They may be extremely traumatized. They may have been held against their will, suffered physical emotional and sexual harm and sometimes will have risked their life to escape

The choices available to the child or young person are limited:

  • To leave their family and live in hiding;
  • To leave their family and seek a prosecution against them;
  • To return to their family in the hope that the situation can be resolved.

Children's Social Care should consider the following actions:

  • Arrange for someone to met the child or young person at the airport;
  • Inform the police in case the family try to locate the child or young person;
  • Organise safe accommodation;
  • Consider whether it is appropriate to apply for an Emergency Protection Order or Interim Care Order.

18. Response for a Spouse who has Come to the UK from Overseas

Some young people who are not British citizens are brought to the UK after they have been forced to marry overseas. Often these young people are not aware of the support to which they are entitled. The choices available to the young person are limited:

  • To stay within the marriage;
  • To leave the marriage and apply to be allowed to remain in the UK;
  • To leave the marriage and return to their country of origin.

The young person may be frightened by contact with statutory agencies, as they may have been told that the authorities will deport them. For many young people returning to their country of origin is not an option. They may be ostracised, subjected to violence or even killed for bringing perceived shame on to the family.

Children's Social Care should:

  • Consider any young person under the age of 18 in the same manner as an unaccompanied asylum seeking minor and accommodate the young person under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989;
  • Assist the young person in seeking immigration advice if this is required;
  • Inform the police;
  • Record any injuries and arrange a medical examination. Inform the doctor that there may be an immigration application.

19. Involvement of Family Members

The Children Act states that Children's Social Care need to work in partnership with families. In situations of forced marriage this should be balanced with the principal of the welfare of the child being paramount. A forced marriage is a feature of domestic abuse that involves extreme coercion. Mediation is not sought in domestic abuse cases and should not be an immediate option in forced marriage cases. The safety of the child or young person should always be the first priority. Victims of forced marriage will frequently have tried mediation themselves; they turn to statutory organisations for help as a last resort and agencies need to respond quickly and appropriately.

In circumstances where safe accommodation is provided for a young person over 16 years, information should be provided to the family that this has occurred, but they should not be told where they have been placed. Information should also be provided to SYP Control Room (0114 220 2020) in case the young person is reported as missing from home. In all cases liaison should take place with legal services regarding the sharing of information with family members. Intervention needs to be such that it does not totally isolate young people from their family. A dialogue should be maintained which will enable the young person to re-establish links with their family in the future, should they so wish.

Appendix 1: Emergency Kit

Children and young people who are at risk of, or want to leave, a forced marriage should keep the following safe if possible, in case they need to leave home in an emergency. It is important to remember that some young people may have children of their own.

  • Find somewhere you can quickly and easily use a phone (friends or keep a spare mobile phone);
  • Always carry a list of numbers for an emergency. Include friends, local police, Women's Aid, (even well known numbers can be forgotten in a panic);
  • Try to save some money for bus, train or cab fares;
  • Have an extra set of keys for house, flat, and/or car;
  • Keep the keys, money and a set of clothes for you packed ready in a bag and leave it with a friend you can trust. Also pack a spare set if you have a child, and nappies, bottles etc as appropriate.

If you have more time to plan, do as much as possible of the following:

  • Leave when family members are not around;
  • Take any legal and financial papers, marriage or birth certificates, court orders, national health cards, passports, driving licence, child credit books, address book, bank books, cheque books, credit cards, etc;
  • Take any of your personal possessions which you do not want to lose - photographs or jewellery for example;
  • Take clothing for at least several days;
  • Take any medicine you (or your children) might need.

If you do leave and later discover you've forgotten something, you can always arrange for the protection of a police escort to return home to collect it.

Appendix 2: Local and National Contacts

Caption: Local 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

Pan Bedfordshire LSCP Training Unit

0300 300 6676
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 abuse, including forced marriage.
01234 261 228
Free Choice
(Helpline run by Luton All Women's Centre and their dedicated Forced Marriage / So-called 'Honour' Based Abuse)
0300 365 0551
Luton Women's Aid
(Monday to Friday 10.00 to 17.00) Advice, support and emergency accommodation for victims of domestic abuse 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 abuse;
  • 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 So-called 'Honour' Based Abuse.
 0800 5999 247

Freephone 24 Hour National domestic abuse 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

Appendix 3: Further Information

Forced Marriage Unit (GOV.UK) - Contact the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) if you're trying to stop a forced marriage or you need help leaving a marriage you've been forced into.

Home Office – Information and practice guidelines for professionals protecting, advising and supporting victims This includes Multi-Agency Statutory Guidance for dealing with forced marriage.

Apply for a forced marriage protection order

So-Called Honour-Based Abuse and Forced Marriage: Guidance on Identifying and Flagging cases