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Definition

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.

In a forced marriage, one or both spouses do not consent to the arrangement of the marriage and some elements of duress are involved. Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure. Forced Marriage is an abuse of human rights and, where a child is involved, an abuse of the rights of the child.

Forced marriage involving anyone under the age of 18 constitutes a form of child abuse. A child who is forced into marriage is likely to suffer Significant Harm through physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Forced marriage can and does have a negative impact on a child’s health and development, and can also result in sexual violence including rape.

If a child is forced to marry, he or she may be taken abroad for an extended period of time which could amount to child abduction. In addition, a child in such a situation will be absent from school resulting in the loss of educational opportunity, and possibly also future employment opportunity. Even if the child is not taken abroad, they are likely to be taken out of school so as to ensure that they do not talk about their situation with their peers.


Risks

One serious consequence of forced marriage is the increased likelihood of domestic abuse and sexual abuse. Any child forced into marriage faces an increased risk of rape and sexual abuse as they may not wish to consent, or may not be the legal age to consent to a sexual relationship. This in turn may result in unwanted pregnancies or enforced abortions.

Under the age of 16 marriage in the United Kingdom is illegal.

Female Genital Mutilation may also be a factor in cases of forced marriage. See also Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Safeguarding Practice Guidance.

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.

The risks of emotional abuse through being stigmatised by family and the wider community are also present; these in turn may lead to serious consequences for the individual in terms of their mental health or self-harming behaviour.

Children are also deprived of the normal range of opportunities and experiences available to their peers when they are pressurised into marriage against their will.


The Motives Prompting Forced Marriage

Parents who force their children to marry may justify their behaviour as protecting their children, building stronger families and preserving cultural or religious traditions. However, this is misguided as every major faith condemns it, and freely given consent to marriage is a pre-requisite of all religions.

Other key motives include:

  • Controlling unwanted behaviour and sexuality, including perceived promiscuity or being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender;
  • Controlling behaviour such as wearing make-up or using drugs/alcohol or behaviour that is perceived as being in an unwanted “westernised manner”;
  • Preventing “unsuitable“ relationships e.g. outside the ethnic, religious or “caste” group;
  • Protecting family honour “izzat”;
  • Responding to peer group, family or community pressure;
  • Strengthening family links;
  • Achieving financial gain;
  • Ensuring that land, property and wealth remain in the family;
  • Ensuring care for a child with special needs when existing carers are unable to fulfil that role;
  • Assisting claims for UK residence and citizenship; and
  • Long standing family commitments and agreements.

In addition to this there may be circumstances which place children at increased risk of being forced into marriage. These circumstances may include:

  • When a parent / carer dies, particularly the father and the remaining parent / carer feels an urgency to ensure the children are married;
  • When a step parent moves into the household;
  • When families believe that their child may be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and that marriage will “cure” them;
  • When an older child refuses to marry; a younger sibling may be forced to marry to fulfil the agreement and protect family honour;
  • When there has been a disclosure of sexual abuse and the family feels this has brought shame on the child which can be restored through marriage and which will also end the abuse;
  • When they believe their child has formed a relationship with someone they do not regard as suitable e.g. from outside of their community.

N.B. some children will have grown up with the knowledge from a very early age that they are “promised” in marriage to someone; these children may be unaware that they have a right to choose their spouse.


Indicators

Warning signs that a child may be at risk of forced marriage or may have been forced to marry may include:

  • Extended absences from school/college, truancy, drop in performance, low motivation, excessive parental restriction and control of movements and history of siblings leaving education early to marry;
  • A child talking about an upcoming family holiday that they are worried about, fears that they will be taken out of education and kept abroad;
  • Evidence of self-harm, treatment for depression, attempted suicide, social isolation, eating disorders or substance abuse;
  • Evidence of family disputes/conflict, domestic abuse or running away from home;
  • Unreasonable restrictions such as being kept at home by their parents/carers (’house arrest’) or being unable to complete their education;
  • A child being in conflict with their parents/carers;
  • A child going missing/running away;
  • A child always being accompanied including to school and doctors’ appointments;
  • A child directly disclosing that they are worried s/he will be forced to marry;
  • Contradictions in the child’s account of events.

See also the Multi-agency Practice Guidelines on Forced Marriage Chart of Potential Warning Signs or Indicators.


The "One Chance" Rule

Practitioners who become aware that a child may be at risk of forced marriage need to bear in mind that they may have only one chance to speak to a potential victim. This means that all practitioners working within statutory agencies need to be aware of their responsibilities when they come across forced marriage cases. If support is not offered immediately, that one chance might be wasted. Children are likely to be fearful of the consequences of talking to anyone and may be very anxious as to who they can trust.

Therefore:

  • Do not involve members of the family or attempt mediation as this could be dangerous;
  • Do not use friends, relatives or community members as interpreters;
  • Do not overlook possible breaches of confidentiality from within your own organisation;
  • Do not share information with the family, community, members of the public or the media without the express consent of the child.

However:

  • DO find an opportunity to talk to the child that doesn’t draw attention to the reason why you wish to talk to them;
  • DO provide a confidential, secure space to talk to the child, which is not in public view;
  • DO ensure you have a safety plan and means of contact for the child that provides a safety net e.g. a code that ensures that you are speaking to the child and not a family member if you need to contact them by phone;
  • DO use an accredited interpreter if you need one.

Allegations of plans and arrangements to force a child to marry will inevitably be divisive for the family and possibly the wider community. Therefore attempts to discuss this with the family could potentially place a child at greater risk.

Professionals should not:

  • Underestimate the potential risk of harm;
  • 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 or inform the child's family, friends or members of the community that the victim has sought help as this is likely to increase the risk to the victim significantly;
  • Share information outside child protection information-sharing protocols without the express consent of the child;
  • Attempt to be a mediator. This has in the past resulted in the victim being removed from the country and not traced / or murdered.

Protection and Action to be Taken

Forced marriage is child protection issue and should be dealt with in accordance with the Hull Safeguarding Children Board Core Procedures with the following additional considerations:

  • Ensure a robust risk assessment and safety plan is in place (where concerns have arisen because the young person formed a relationship with another young person of whom the family and community disapprove; consideration needs to be given to the safety of that young person as well);
  • Information on the child must be restricted as to who has access;
  • Professionals should not attempt to “mediate” between the child and family;
  • Professionals should always consider the need for immediate protection, as disclosure of the forced marriage may be the direct consequence of the impending event. Children’s Social Care will work with the Police to ensure the safety of the victim and any other family members;
  • Legal advice will be needed to inform the Strategy Discussion/Meeting as legal action may be necessary;
  • Attendance at Strategy Meetings and Child Protection Conferences should be limited to those who need to be involved. Parents / carers and family members should not be invited;
  • The same Independent Conference and Reviewing Officer (ICRO) should chair all meetings;
  • Where an interpreter is required, they should be fully independent of the family. (See Working with Interpreters Safeguarding Practice Guidance).

Additional Considerations

Children may require support from workers of the same gender and if possible the same cultural background. Where interpreters and translators are used, care must be taken to ensure that they have no connections with the immediate community of the child.

A child arriving in this country for the purposes of a forced marriage or one who has recently married abroad may be extremely isolated and feel threatened and abused. The legal right to remain may be in question and the consequences of returning home may also be very serious.


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. Local authorities can seek a protection order for Adults at Risk and children without leave of the court. For more information on how to apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order, and how they can help people anyone who is being forced to marry against their will, please see GOV.UK.

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.


Further Information

Multi-Agency practice guidelines: Handling cases of forced marriage 2014 - Step-by-step advice for frontline workers. Essential reading for health professionals, educational staff, police, children’s social care, adult social services and local authority housing.

The Forced Marriage Unit – website providing a wide range of practical help and resources. Contact the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) if you’re trying to stop a forced marriage or you need help leaving a marriage you’ve been forced into.

Home Office – Information and practice guidelines for professionals protecting, advising and supporting victims. This includes Multi-Agency Statutory Guidance for dealing with forced marriage.

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

Protocol on the handling of ‘so-called’ Honour Based Violence/Abuse and Forced Marriage Offences between the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Crown Prosecution Service

Karma Nirvana - Tel: 01332 604 098

National Survivors Network - Tel: 0800 999 247


Amendments to this Chapter

In July 2017, this chapter was updated with further detail in the Risks and Indicators sections, to reflect relevant points from the ‘Protocol on the handling of ‘so-called’ Honour Based Violence/Abuse and Forced Marriage Offences between the National Police Chief’s Council and the Crown Prosecution’ (November 2016). In Further Information, links were added to Multi-Agency practice guidelines: Handling cases of forced marriage 2014 and to Apply for a forced marriage protection order (GOV.UK)

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