6.8 Forced Marriage
This chapter outlines the key points in relation to forced marriage.
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Potential Warning Signs or Indicators
- 3. The "One Chance" Rule
- 4. What To Do if a Child or Young Person is Facing Forced Marriage
- 5. Legal Position
Nationally, hundreds of young people (particularly girls and young women) some as young as 13 are forced into marriage each year. Some are taken overseas to marry whilst others may be married in the UK.
Forced marriage is not the same as an arranged marriage in which both spouses can choose whether or not to accept the arrangement. In forced marriage one or both of the spouses do not consent to the marriage and duress is involved. Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure.
Refusing to marry can place a child or young person at risk of violence or even murder, sometimes also known as “Honour-based Violence".
Forced marriage is not sanctioned within any culture or religion.
The majority of cases in the UK involve South Asian families, but also involve families from East Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and the Traveller community.
Practitioners should be alert to the potential warning signs and consider (whilst being careful not to assume) that forced marriage may be the reason.
2. Potential Warning Signs or Indicators
- Surveillance by siblings or cousins at school;
- Decline in behaviour, engagement, performance or punctuality at school;
- Not allowed to attend extra curricular activities or go on to further/higher education;
- Illness of grandparents or relatives in country of origin;
- Request for extended leave of absence and failure to return from country of origin;
- Fear about forthcoming school/college holidays;
- Depression, self harm and eating disorders;
- Always being accompanied to doctor/clinics;
- Reports of domestic abuse, harassment or breaches of the peace at the family home;
- Threats to kill and attempts to kill or harm;
- Siblings and cousins marrying young;
- Running away from home;
- Unreasonable restrictions such as being kept at home by parents ("house arrest").
3. The "One Chance" Rule
All practitioners working with victims of forced marriage and honour-based violence need to be aware of the “one chance” rule. That is, they may only have one chance to speak to a potential victim and thus they may only have one chance to save a life. This means that all practitioners need to be aware of their responsibilities and obligations when they come across forced marriage cases. If the victim is allowed to walk out of the door without support being offered, that one chance might be wasted.
4. What To Do if a Child or Young Person is Facing Forced Marriage
- See the child or young person immediately in a secure and private place where the conversation cannot be overheard;
- See them on their own - even if they attend with others;
- Obtain details of the child or young person under threat including:
- Their full name;
- Age and date of birth;
- Passport details and nationality;
- Any travel plans and addresses of where they may be staying overseas.
- Try to find out the level of risk of harm the young person may be facing i.e. are they going overseas imminently, have there been threats of violence and what are the likely consequences if they go against the wishes of their parents, family or community;
- Contact the police by calling 999, if the child or young person is in imminent danger e.g. going overseas in the next 24 hours;
- Activate local child safeguarding procedures, refer to the Milton Keynes Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) on 01908 253169 or 253170 and the Police Enquiry Centre on 101 if the child or young person is not in imminent danger.
- Approach the family;
- Attempt to mediate.
If you are unsure about what you should do:
- Discuss the case in confidence with the Forced Marriage Unit on 020 7008 0151 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. The Forced Marriage Unit runs a public help line that provides confidential advice and support to victims, and to practitioners handling cases of forced marriage;
- Read the relevant chapter to your profession in the Forced Marriage Unit's guidance (Multi-agency practice guidelines: Handling Cases of Forced Marriage) as the document addresses specific areas where practitioners may inadvertently endanger a victim, and it gives advice on the steps practitioners can take to reduce the risk of harm to victims. The topics covered include the dangers of family counselling, mediation, arbitration and reconciliation, the importance of sharing information with other agencies, personal safety advice for victims, confidentiality, record keeping and the particular dangers facing young people who run away;
- Discuss the case with the designated lead on forced marriage within your organisation. Statutory guidance issued by HM Government stipulates that every organisation coming into contact with children and young people facing forced marriage should have a designated person who has undergone additional training who can be approached to discuss and direct difficult cases (The Right to Choose: Multi-agency statutory guidance for dealing with forced marriage, HM Government 2010);
- The Government has produced Multi Agency Practice Guidelines for practitioners covering forced marriage and learning disabilities.
5. Legal Position
The minimum age at which a person is able to give consent to marriage is 16; a person between the ages of 16 and 18 may not marry without consent from all those with Parental Responsibility (unless the young person is a widow or widower).
Legislation on Forced Marriage
The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (2014) makes it a criminal offence 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).
Forcing someone to marry can result in a prison sentence of up to seven years.
The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, which was implemented in November 2008, makes provision for protecting children, young people and adults from being forced into marriage without their full and free consent through Forced Marriage Protection Orders.
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. Under the Anti Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (2014), breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order is also a criminal offence. Disobeying a Forced Marriage Protection Order can result in a prison sentence of up to five years. Fifteen County Courts have been designated to deal with applications.
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 an Adult at Risk 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 (archived), published by the Ministry of Justice in November 2009.
Sexual intercourse without consent is rape, regardless of whether this occurs within the confines of a marriage.