Forced marriage

The definition of a Force marriage is "A marriage conducted without the valid consent of one or both parties, where duress is a factor".

There is a clear difference between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage. In arranged marriages the families of both parties take a leading role in arranging the marriage, but the choice as to whether or not to accept the arrangement remains with the prospective spouses.

Forced marriages are a form of domestic abuse and are dealt with as such by the police.

Sometimes it is parents forcing their child to get married or sometimes it can be the extended family or community.

It can happen between people in this country or between someone from this country with someone abroad.

Forced marriage itself is not a criminal offence, but the offences associated, including conspiracy, threatening behaviour, assault, kidnap, abduction, theft of the individuals personal belongings (often official documents such as a passport), threats to kill, imprisonment and murder are clearly offences. 

Sexual intercourse without consent is rape, regardless of whether this occurs within a marriage or not. A person who is forced into marriage is likely to be raped and may be raped over a number of years until she becomes pregnant. Often victims do not feel that they can report the matter to the police or even walk out of the marriage, as they would disgrace their family’s honour.

Forced marriage is primarily, but not exclusively, an issue of violence against women. Most cases involve young women and girls aged between 13 and 30-years-old, although there is evidence to suggest that as many as 15 per cent of victims are male.

Safety advice for those at risk of forced marriage

If you really don’t want to talk to the police or other agencies then please think about the following safety advice if you think you may be forced into a marriage in this country or abroad.

  • Keep a copy of your passport including dual nationality passports.
  • Tell a trusted friend if you are travelling abroad and give them addresses of where you will be staying and also details of your return flight so they can alert the police if you fail to return on that date.
  • Have a mobile to hand that you can be contacted on and leave the number with trusted people so you are contactable.
  • Memorise police phone numbers and those of trusted friends in case you have to call them in an emergency.
  • Have addresses of British Embassies available.