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Forced marriage

What is a forced marriage?

A forced marriage is where one (or both) of the spouses does not want to get married and is forced or coerced into it. In cases where someone has disabilities, they may not have the capacity to consent to marry. Coercion can include physical, psychological, emotional, sexual and financial pressures and abuse.

Forced marriage is not condoned by any of the major religions (consent is a prerequisite for marriage in all Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh and Jewish marriages) and is a violation of human rights as well as a form of domestic violence.

Is a forced marriage the same as an arranged marriage?

No, an arranged marriage is different from a forced marriage. In an arranged marriage the family of both spouses are involved in finding the partners and arranging the marriage. However, the spouses still have a choice about whether the marriage goes ahead.

Does forced marriage only happen in South Asian families?

Forced marriage is sometimes seen as exclusively an issue for Asian communities. Yet there are large numbers of young people being forced to marry in other communities too. These include gypsy/travellers, Middle Eastern, African, South American and Eastern European communities.

Why are people forced into marriage?

Forced marriage is recognised as a form of domestic violence – it is a form of exerting power and control over a person’s choices. There are strong links between forced marriage and so-called ‘honour-based’ violence. This is where a person who does not consent is seen to be dishonouring or shaming the family.

There are a wide range of reasons given by parents and the wider family and community for forcing young people into marriages. Parents say that they are protecting their cultural heritage, building stronger family links or religious traditions.

Other major reasons include: controlling young people’s sexuality, especially young women who are perceived to be promiscuous or young people who are LGBT; ensuring that land or property remains within the family or gaining financially; preventing seemingly ‘unsuitable’ relationships (outside of caste, religion or culture) and provision of long-term care for a child who has a disability (learning or physical).

Is forced marriage a criminal offence?

Yes, on June 16, 2014, the law on forced marriage came into effect and it is now 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)
  • breaching a forced marriage protection order is also a criminal offence.

How can you safely help someone who is being forced to marry?

  • Encourage them to report to the police and to the Forced Marriage Unit to help them to be safe
  • If they are worried about being taken overseas, help them to make a copy of their passport and keep it in a safe place
  • Speak to the specialist organisations in the contacts section
  • Help them to make a safety plan  to keep themselves safe

Supporting resources​

If you are in immediate risk call 999 or 101 (from a mobile) for the Police

Local support services

  • Ashiana Network - 020 8539 0427
    Forced Marriage, Honour Based Violence, Domestic violence and Female Genital Mutilation, no recourse to public funds

National/London services

  • Forced Marriage Unit - 020 7008 0151
    Tel from overseas: +44 (0)20 7008 0151
    (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm)
    Out of hours: 020 7008 1500 (ask for the Global Response Centre)
  • Iranian, Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation -  020 7920 6460
    Forced Marriage, Honour Based Violence, Domestic Violence and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)
  • Southall Black Sisters - 020 8571 0800
  • Karma Nirvana - 0800 5999 247