Forced Marriage


See HM Courts & Tribunals Service, Forced marriage Protection orders: How can they protect me? (FL 702).


HM Government, Multi-Agency guidelines: Handling cases of Forced Marriage

Forced marriage (GOV.UK)

Apply for a forced marriage protection order (GOV.UK)

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

Forced Marriage and Adults with Learning Disabilities (ADASS, 2011)


This chapter was amended in October 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.

This chapter is currently under review.

1. Definitions

A clear distinction must be made between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage. A forced marriage is a marriage conducted without the full consent of both parties and where pressure is a factor. Differences between forced and arranged marriages are outlined below:

  • In arranged marriages the families of both spouses take a leading role in the arrangements but the choice of whether or not to accept them remains with the young people;
  • In forced marriage one or both of the spouses do not consent and some element of pressure is involved. This can include physical and/or emotional strain;
  • Forced marriage is a human rights abuse and it falls within the Crown Prosecution Service's definition of domestic abuse. It can also constitute both child abuse and sexual abuse;
  • Forced marriage is not a private, personal, domestic, family, religious or cultural issue and fears that it is racist or culturally insensitive to condemn forced marriage are unsupported.

In 2004, the legal definition of domestic abuse was extended to include acts perpetrated by extended family as well as intimate partners. Consequently, acts such as forced marriage and other so called "honour crimes" which can include abduction and murder can now come under the definition of domestic abuse.

The scope of the problem:

  • Some 250 cases are reported to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office each year with many others going unreported. Male victims account for 15% of cases. Cases may occur at any age, with the majority being aged 15-24 and involving South Asian families. Some cases occur in the UK without any overseas element.

2. Motives Promoting Forced Marriage

Parents who force their children to marry often justify their behaviour as protecting their children, building stronger families, and preserving cultural or religious traditions. They do not see anything wrong in their actions. Forced marriage cannot be justified on religious grounds; every major faith condemns it and freely given consent is a requirement of Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh marriages.

Often parents believe that they are upholding the cultural traditions of their home country, when in fact practices and values there have changed. Some parents come under significant pressure from their extended families to get their children married. In some instances, an agreement may have been made about marriage when a child is in their infancy. Some of the key motives that have been identified are:

  • Controlling unwanted behaviour and sexuality (including perceived promiscuity, or being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender) - particularly the behaviour and sexuality of women;
  • Protecting 'family honour';
  • Responding to peer group or family pressure;
  • Attempting to strengthen family links;
  • Ensuring land, property and wealth remain within the family;
  • Protecting perceived cultural ideals (which can often be misguided or out of date);
  • Protecting perceived religious ideals which are misguided;
  • Preventing 'unsuitable' relationships, e.g. outside the ethnic, cultural, religious or caste group;
  • Assisting claims for residence and citizenship;
  • Fulfilling long-standing family commitments.

The Marriage Act 1949 and the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 govern the law on marriage in England and Wales. The minimum age at which a person is able to consent to marriage is 16; a person between the ages of 16 and 18 may not marry without parental consent (unless the young person is a widow/widower). Section 12c of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 states that a marriage shall be voidable if "either party to the marriage did not reasonably consent to it, whether in consequence of pressure, mistake, unsoundness of mind or otherwise". Voidable means the marriage is valid until it is challenged by one of the parties, at which time the court can award a decree of nullity cancelling the marriage.

Anyone threatened with forced marriage or forced to marry against their will can apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order. Such an order can be granted to prevent a marriage occurring or, where a forced marriage has already taken place, to offer protective measures. Orders may contain prohibitions (e.g. to stop someone from being taken abroad), restrictions (e.g. to hand over all passports and birth certificates and not to apply for a new passport), requirements (e.g. to reveal the whereabouts of a person or to enable a person to return to the UK within a given timescale) or such other terms as the court thinks appropriate to stop or change the conduct of those who would force the victim into marriage. A power of arrest may be added where violence is threatened.

Fifteen County Courts have been designated to deal with applications, including the Bradford and Leeds County Courts.

Third parties such as relatives, friends, voluntary workers and police officers can apply for a protection order with the leave of the Court. Since 1 November 2009, local authorities can apply for a protection order for a vulnerable adult or child without the leave of the court.

For further advice and information about how to make such an application, see the guidance for local authorities on applying for Forced Marriage Protection Orders, published by the Ministry of Justice in November 2009 and HM Courts & Tribunals Service, Forced marriage Protection orders: How can they protect me? (FL 702).

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.

4. Warning Signs

The following factors collectively or individually may be an indication that a young person fears they may be forced to marry or that a forced marriage has already taken place. However it is important not to assume that because a young person is facing forced marriage simply on the basis that they present with one or more of these signs. It is important for Social Workers and other professionals working with young people to assess the young person's situation using the Framework for the assessment of Children in Need and their families:

Caption: Forced Marriage
Education Employment
  • Truancy;
  • Low motivation;
  • Poor exam results;
  • Withdrawal from School.
  • Poor performance/attendance;
  • Limited career choices;
  • Unreasonable financial control.
Family History Health
  • Siblings forces to marry;
  • Family disputes;
  • Domestic abuse;
  • Running away;
  • Unreasonable restrictions.
  • Self-Harm;
  • Attempted suicide;
  • Eating disorders;
  • Depression;
  • Isolation.

Female Genital Mutilation may also be a factor in cases of Forced Marriage. See also Female Genital Mutilation 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 retain power over 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 also 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.

5. What To Do

Forced marriage places Adults at Risk and children at risk of rape and possible physical harm. Some cases have resulted in the reluctant spouse being murdered. Where an allegation of forced marriage or intended forced marriage is raised, the following steps should be taken:

  • See the young person on their own in a secure and private place;
  • Explain all the options to the young person and recognise and respect their wishes. If the young person does not want children's social care to intervene, the professional will need to consider whether the young person's wishes should be respected or whether the young person's safety requires that further action be taken. This decision must be taken in consultation with a named or designated professional/ Child protection Advisor for the organization. Decisions not to make a referral must be recorded;
  • Following agreement with the young person, advise from the named child protection advisor, as appropriate, make a referral to children's social care using the agreed LSCP procedures outlined in Handling Individual Cases where there are concerns about a child's safety and welfare: Introduction;
  • Children's Social care should initiate a strategy discussion with the Police under child protection procedures and the need for immediate protection and placement away from the family considered;
  • A referral to the Police must be made if there is any suspicion that a crime has been committed;
  • Children's Social Care must involve the young person in all discussions and provide details of the action which agencies will undertake.

6. What Not To Do

Do not:

  • Treat such allegations merely as a domestic issue and send the young person back to the family home as part of routine child protection procedures;
  • Ignore what the young person has told you or dismiss out of hand the need for immediate protection;
  • Approach the young person's family, friends or those people with influence within the community, without the express consent of the young person, as this will alert them to your enquiries;
  • Contact the family in advance of any enquiries, either by telephone or letter;
  • Breach confidentiality except where necessary in order to ensure the young person's safety.

Do not attempt to be a go-between. Mediation, reconciliation and family counselling as a response to forced marriage can be extremely dangerous. Some cases have resulted in the reluctant spouse being murdered.

7. Information Requirements

Subject to the need for safety and confidentiality in making enquiries, the following information and documentation should be acquired. It is important to get as much information as possible when a case is first reported, as there may not be another opportunity for the individual reporting to make contact. The case may be reported by a third party or the young person under threat. Whoever reports the case, you should:

  • Obtain details of the individual making the report, their contact details, and their relationship with the young person;
  • Obtain details of the young person under threat including:
  • Date of report;
  • Name of individual under threat;
  • Nationality;
  • Age;
  • Date and place of birth;
  • Passport details;
  • School details;
  • Employment details;
  • Full details of the allegation;
  • Name and address of parents;
  • Obtain a list from the young person under threat of all those friends and family who can be trusted;
  • Establish a code word to ensure you are speaking to the right person;
  • Establish a way of contacting them discreetly in the future that will not put them at risk of harm;
  • Record details about any threats or hostile actions against the young person, whether reported by the victim or a third party;
  • Obtain a recent photograph and other identifying documents. Document any other distinguishing features such as birthmarks and tattoos etc.;
  • Establish the nature and level of risk to the safety of the individual (e.g. are they pregnant, do they have a secret boyfriend/girlfriend, are they self-harming, are they already secretly married);
  • Establish if there are any other family members at risk of forced marriage or if there is a family history of forced marriage and abuse.

The case should be reported to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who will offer further advice and assistance. This is possible even in circumstances where the young person is already overseas or the marriage has already taken place.

8. Further Advice

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)
Community Liaison Unit (CLU)
G55 Old Admiralty Building

Tel: 020 7008 0135
Tel: 020 7009 0230
Tel: 020 7008 8708 (all office hours 09:00-17:30)
Tel: 020 7008 1500 (out of hours/emergency)
Email: (Tel: 020 7008 8706/0230/0135)

The Forced Marriage Unit can be contacted for advice and support on:

Tel: 020 7008 0151 (Monday-Friday 09:00 - 17:00)
Tel: 020 7008 1500 (Out of Hours)


Young People and Adults at Risk Facing Forced Marriage - Practical Guidance for Social Workers

Available free of charge from CLU on 020 7008 0151 and in PDF Form on the ADASS website.

Dealing with Cases of Forced Marriage - Guidelines for Police

Available from CLU on 020 7008 0151 and on the website of the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC).

Leaflet for Young People

Forced Marriages Abroad - Your Right to Choose

Available free of charge from CLU on 020 7008 0151