1.4.24 Forced Marriage
RELEVANT GUIDANCE AND ADVICE
The GOV.UK website contains information and practice guidance for professionals on how to protect, advise and support victims of forced marriage.
The Forced Marriage Unit can help if you are trying to stop a forced marriage:
Forced Marriage Unit - Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7008 0151
AMENDMENTThis chapter was amended in December 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.
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.
A forced marriage is where one or both people do not (or in cases of people with learning disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and some elements of pressure or abuse are used. Forced Marriage is an appalling and indefensible practice and is recognised in the UK as a form of violence against women and men, domestic/child abuse and a serious abuse of human rights, which cannot be justified on religious or cultural grounds.The pressure put on people to marry against their will can be physical (including threats, actual physical violence and sexual violence) or emotional and psychological (for example, when someone is made to feel like they're bringing shame on their family). Financial abuse (taking your wages or not giving you any money) can also be a factor.
Forced Marriage is primarily an issue of violence against women. Most cases involve young women and girls aged between 13 and 30, although there is evidence to suggest that as many as 15% of victims are male. See Section 3, Legal Position for legal position in relation to children under 16.
There have been cases involving families from East Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. Some forced marriages take place in the UK with no overseas element, while others involve a partner coming from overseas or a British citizen being sent abroad.
2. Reasons given for Forced Marriages
- Cultural or religious traditions;
- As a means of controlling unwanted behaviour including promiscuity or being gay or lesbian;
- 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 religious and cultural ideas 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.
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.
3. 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. HM Courts and Tribunals Service have produced an information leaflet for people being forced into marriage or already in a forced marriage, explaining how Forced Marriage Protection Orders work. To see the leaflet (in a range of languages), please click here.
The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 made 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).
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. The Young Person
Isolation is one of the biggest problems facing those trapped in, or under threat of, a forced marriage. Many young people who face a forced marriage will not even discuss their worries with their friends for fear their families may find out. Only rarely will they disclose fear of forced marriage.
A young person in this situation, however, may show signs that are noted at school or by friends of their own age group.
These can often be a noticeable change from previous behaviour.
Typical indicators are:
- Decline in performance or punctuality;
- Low motivation at school;
- Poor exam results;
- Being withdrawn from education by those with Parental Responsibility and/or requests for extended leave;
- Not allowed to attend extra-curricular activities;
- Self harm and attempted suicide;
- Female Genital Mutilation;
- Eating disorders;
- Social Isolation;
- Siblings forced to marry;
- Family disputes;
- Unreasonable restrictions e.g. house arrest;
- Other young people within the family reported missing;
- Reports of domestic violence or abuse or breaches of the peace at the family home;
- The individual reported for offences e.g. shoplifting or substance misuse;
- Unreasonable financial control, for example confiscation of wages/income;
- Contradictions in the child's accounts of events.
Forced marriage places young people and vulnerable adults at risk of rape and possible physical harm. Some cases have resulted in murder. All agencies working with children and families need to be aware of Forced Marriages.
Information or a referral about forced marriage may be received from the young person or from a friend or relative, or from a statutory, voluntary or faith organisation. Forced marriage may also become apparent when other family issues are addressed such as domestic violence or abuse, self-harm, child abuse or neglect, family and adolescent conflict or missing children or runaways.
It is important that staff of all agencies understand the difficulties that young people face in challenging a forced marriage. They are likely to have no experience of living outside the family and may face rejection and harassment by the family and by the community.
Forced marriage involves complex and sensitive issues; where information is available to any agency which gives rise to concerns about a forced marriage involving a young person under 18 it should be referred to Children's Social Care Services in accordance with the Referrals Procedure.
All referrals must be responded to and further advice may be sought from the local Safeguarding and Reviewing Unit and/or the Forced Marriage Unit in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
For additional reading refer to the Multi Agency Practice Guidelines: Handling Cases of Forced Marriages, HM Government.
6. The Role of the Police
It is a criminal offence to force someone to marry (see Section 3, Legal Position).
A person fleeing a forced marriage, or the threat of a forced marriage, should be referred to the police if:
- There is any suspicion that they have been the victim of a crime; or
- The person is under the age of 18; or
- There are any concerns about their safety, or about the safety of their siblings or children.
If the person is under 18, the Police will:
- Consult the Police Child Abuse Investigation Unit;
- Inform Children's Social Care Services;
- Check if the child is the subject of a Child Protection Plan;
- Ensure that an Appropriate Adult and, if needed, an accredited interpreter is in attendance at all interviews members of the extended family or community leaders are not appropriate in this situation.
7. The Role of Children's Social Care
Children's Social Care Services will carry out an assessment of the child's circumstances and needs and make a detailed record of any reported history of abuse.
When assessing the risk of harm, a full family history must be taken to consider any forced marriage and abuse of any other member of the family as well as a secret boy or girlfriend, pregnancy, and self harming.
Children's Social Care Services must:
- Give the young person advice on personal safety;
- Consider the possible need for immediate protection and placement away from the family;
- Discuss with police any concerns for the safety of any other child or young person and any suspicion that a crime may have been committed.
N.B. Cases involving suspicions of a forced marriage are NOT suitable for a Family Group Conference to be arranged because of the risk of physical danger and emotional manipulation which the young person may experience as a result.
8. Information, Record-Keeping and Confidentiality
It is important for Children's Social Care Services to obtain as much information as possible when a young person is first referred, as there may not be another opportunity. A record should be taken of the young person's immediate personal details and the family details including any information about the need for an interpreter.
Full details of the allegation should be recorded, including details of any threats or hostile actions against the young person.
A record should also be made of the details of the person making the initial referral, including contact details and their relationship to the young person.
Concerns about forced marriage should not be discussed with the young person's family or friends, and/or information should not be shared with other agencies without the express consent of the young person, unless it is necessary to protect the young person and is in accordance with the Information Sharing Procedure.
The worker must think very carefully about the need to disclose information and to whom it may be disclosed. Disclosure may lead to the young person's estrangement from the family and increase the likelihood of them suffering Significant Harm. If approached, parents may deny that the young person is being forced to marry, move the young person, expedite any travel arrangements and bring forward the forced marriage.
All agencies should take particular care to ensure that members of their staff do not:
- Underestimate the potential risk of harm;
- Use family members, friends, neighbours or community leaders as interpreters;
- Speak to the child on the telephone (to ascertain if they are being held against their will) – the family may be present or it may be a different person speaking on the telephone;
- Approach the young person's family or friends or others within the young person's community without the young person's explicit consent;
- Notify the family in advance of enquiries;
- Attempt to mediate between the young person and the family except at the young person's specific request;
- Breach the young person's confidentiality, unless this is necessary to ensure their safety;
- Attempt to be a mediator. This has in the past resulted in the victim being removed from the country and not traced / or murdered;
- Make arrangements for a Family Group Conference because of the risk of physical danger and emotional manipulation which the young person may experience as a result.
When a referral is received, the young person should be interviewed in a secure and private place, on their own. The young person may want to be seen by a person of the same gender, and may also want to talk to someone from their own community - or to avoid talking to someone from their own community.
When arranging to see the young person, thought should be given to where and when this should happen, for example, if the young person is coming to an office, consider arranging the appointment out of hours to minimise risks to the safety of the young person.
The person interviewing the young person should:
- Discuss the range of options available to them and the possible consequences of each course of action;
- Signpost them to an appropriate adviser and/or make the young person aware of the right to seek legal advice and representation;
- Develop a "cover story" - a plausible alternative reason for the young person to be at the social work office, police station etc, in case they are seen there.
At all times confidentiality and discretion are vitally important.
Information about the young person and their whereabouts must be kept confidential. Access should preferably be restricted to named members of staff. This includes both paper-based and computer records.
Before making any enquiries, the worker should consider whether there is a risk that the family will become aware that these enquiries are being made.
When considering disclosure of confidential information to another person or agency, the young person should be informed, the reasons explained, and their consent sought.
Workers should be aware that some families will be intent on finding the young person, and often private investigators have been used to do this. Many times the family may approach a third party such as a local Councillor or MP with an apparently reasonable request to contact the young person; do not provide information without checking with a manager and the young person first.
9. Required Action
A Strategy Discussion/Meeting will be needed to deal with this issue; the Police, Housing Services, Children's Social Care Services, Health and voluntary organisations must work together to address the young person's need for information, protection, financial support, accommodation and emotional support. Legal advice will be needed to inform the Strategy Discussion as legal action may be necessary.
Where an Initial Child Protection Conference is convened, great care must be taken to manage information about the whereabouts of the young person. The social worker and their manager must discuss the arrangements with the Conference Chair and consider whether the family should be present or not, or at the same time as the young person, as threats may be made. An interpreter fully independent of the family should be present at all times.
If the young person wishes to remain in the family home it is essential to devise a way of contacting them there discreetly without placing them at increased risk of harm. This should include a code word to ensure that contact has been made with the right person.
A safety plan should be put in place with the young person; looking at how to raise the alarm if there are concerns about increased risk to safety; having access to emergency money; having an escape plan.
Consideration should be given to the possibility that written communications including emails may be intercepted and that telephone communications may be detected, for example, through the phone bill.
A young person who wishes to leave the family home will need a leaving strategy. This will include issues such as:
A young person arriving in the UK for the purpose of a forced marriage, or following a forced marriage, will be in an extremely vulnerable position. They may have no contacts in the country, who are not involved in the forced marriage. They may not have indefinite leave to remain in the UK, but if they were to return to their country of origin they may be ostracised and exposed to a high risk of violence. In many cases they may not speak the language and will not have knowledge about local resources. They may require a range of support services.
A young person may be going on a family holiday overseas and suspect that they will be forced to marry. Any such concerns should be taken seriously, but the arrangement of an extended holiday should not be assumed to imply that a forced marriage is planned. As much of the following information as possible should be gathered so that action can be taken, if necessary:
The person interviewing the young person should:
If there is a clear risk of forced marriage, and the risk is imminent, it may be necessary to take emergency action to remove the young person from home in order to protect them and prevent the travel abroad.
Young people who leave home to escape a forced marriage or the threat of one face particular difficulties. Agencies may be criticised for providing support and protection to a young person who has run away from home, and for failing to share information about the young person's whereabouts with the family. The first consideration must be for the young person's safety and welfare.
Any young person who has run away from home should be interviewed on their own to establish why they ran away. Issues related to forced marriage may come to light at this time. If the young person is at risk of being forced into a marriage, it may not be in their best interests to disclose any information to their family, friends, or members of their community until their continued safety has been secured.If there are concerns that a child or young person is in danger of a forced marriage, local agencies and professionals should contact the Forced Marriage Unit in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.