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9.5 Practice Guidance - Forced Marriage


This guidance is designed to provide professionals and practitioners in Swindon with information and advice about how to respond to indications that a young person is at risk of a Forced Marriage. This guidance is only to be used in conjunction with victims of forced marriage who are under 18.

The guidance is generally focussed on females. This is because 85% of those seeking help regarding forced marriage are females. Also, the consequences of Forced Marriage for females are different than those for males. However, much of the advice given also applies to men and men at risk should be provided with the same level of assistance and respect when they seek help to avoid or leave a forced marriage.

This guidance is based on Multi-agency practice guidelines: Handling cases of Forced Marriage; HM Government, 2009 and should be read in conjunction with South West Child Protection Procedures.


This chapter was updated in August 2016 with minor revisions to the text and updated links for sources of help.


  1. Purpose
  2. Definitions and Difference between Forced and Arranged Marriage
  3. Legislation
  4. Signs and Symptoms
  5. Do’s and Don’ts: First Steps
  6. Prompts to Ask and Information to Gather
  7. Children’s Social Care
  8. Sources of Help

1. Purpose

The threat of a possible forced marriage is something that many children find hard to talk about. They may not want to reveal details about their family or put themselves in a position where they may be separated from their family and community. However, many children in this position do want help and wish to be asked about their situation.

2. Definitions and Difference between Forced and Arranged Marriage

There is a clear distinction 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 whether or not to accept the arrangement remains with the prospective spouses. In forced marriages, one or both spouses do not (or, in the case of some vulnerable adults, cannot) consent to the marriage and duress is involved. Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure.

The government regards forced marriage as an abuse of human rights and a form of domestic abuse and, where it affects children under the age of 18, child abuse. It can happen to both males and females although most cases involve young women and girls aged between 13 and 30. There is no “typical” victim of forced marriage. Some may be under 18 years old, some may be over 18 years old, some may have a disability, some may have young children and some may be spouses from overseas.

Forced Marriage

A marriage in which one or both spouses do not (or, in the case of some adults with learning or physical disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and duress is involved. Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure”. Forced marriage cannot be justified on religious grounds; every major religion condemns it and freely given consent is a prerequisite of Christian Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh marriages.

Honour based violence

The terms “honour crime” or “honour-based violence” or “izzat” embrace a variety of crimes of violence (mainly, but not exclusively, against women), including assault, imprisonment and murder, where the person is being punished by their family or their community. They are being punished for actually, or allegedly, undermining what the family or community believes to be the correct code of behaviour. In transgressing this correct code of behaviour, the person shows that they have not been properly controlled to conform by their family. This is to the “shame” or “dishonour” of the family.

The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU)

The FMU is a joint Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Home Office unit which works with other government departments, statutory agencies and voluntary organisations to develop effective policy for tackling forced marriage. The FMU is always happy to talk to frontline practitioners handling cases of forced marriage at any stage in a case. It can offer information and advice on the range of tools available to combat forced marriage, including legal remedies, overseas assistance and how to approach victims. Staff from the FMU can also speak at conferences or run training workshops to teams of frontline practitioners, and provide free leaflets and posters.

3. Legislation

There is no specific criminal offence in England and Wales of “forcing someone to marry”. Criminal offences may nevertheless be committed.

Perpetrators - usually parents or family members - could be prosecuted for offences including threatening behaviour, assault, kidnap, abduction, theft (of passport), threats to kill, imprisonment and murder.

Sexual intercourse without consent is rape, regardless of whether this occurs within a marriage or not.

Under UK law, forced marriage of a child under 18 is child abuse.

Legal remedies to protect children

For a child who is in immediate danger, the police can use Powers of Protection and anyone including children’s social care can apply for an Emergency Protection Order (Children Act 1989).

An application for a care or supervision order can be made under the Children Act 1989 or ward ship proceedings may be issued in the High Court; especially if the child is being moved to a place of safety outside the care of their family of origin.

Forced Marriage Protection Orders can be sought under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007. The Act makes provision for protecting both adults and children at risk of being forced into marriage and offers protection for those who have already been forced into marriage.

Where a Forced Marriage has already taken place

A spouse who is the victim of a forced marriage can initiate nullity (as long as this is initiated within three years of the date of the marriage) or divorce proceedings to end the marriage.

The child should be informed that a religious divorce would not end the marriage under UK law.

A child can also take action to protect themselves under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, Family Law Act 1996 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. These orders include:

  • Forced marriage protection order;
  • Non-molestation order;
  • Occupation order;
  • Injunction against harassment.

Any young person who wishes to access any of the above legal remedies must be strongly advised to seek independent legal advice from an appropriately qualified and experienced solicitor.

4. Signs and Symptoms

Warning signs of actual/potential victim of Forced Marriage

  • Absence and persistent absence from School or College;
  • Request for extended leave of absence from School or College and failure to return from visits to country of origin;
  • Siblings forced to marry;
  • Early marriage of siblings;
  • Self-harm or suicide of sibling;
  • Running away from home;
  • Accompanied to doctors or clinic;
  • Self-harm;
  • Attempted suicide;
  • Being withdrawn from school by those with parental responsibility and not being provided with suitable education at home;
  • Sudden announcement of engagement to a stranger;
  • A girl may report that she has been taken to the doctor's, to be examined to see if she is a virgin;
  • Cut or shaved hair as a form of punishment for being disobedient.

Less common warning signs

  • Some women have presented with symptoms associated with poisoning;
  • In certain communities, it is important that women undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) before they marry. Usually this will be performed during childhood but there have been reports of young girls or young women undergoing FGM just before a forced marriage. FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1987 and it is also a criminal offence to take someone overseas for the purposes of FGM. Click here for more information on FGM.

5. Do’s and Don’ts: First Steps

What to do

Forced Marriage places individuals at risk of rape and possible physical harm. Some cases have resulted in the reluctant spouse being murdered. Where an allegation of Forced Marriage is raised, by a young person or a third party, the following steps should be taken:

Do Not:

  • Send the individual away in the belief that it is not being taken seriously;
  • Inform the victim's family, friends or members of the community that the victim has sought help; or
  • Attempt to be a mediator (this could greatly increase the risk to the young person, there have been instances where the young person has been murdered during attempts to mediate it could also further expose the young person to emotional abuse and unwarranted pressure);
  • Breach confidentiality (i.e. inform their family of the disclosure).


  • See the individual immediately in a secure and private place;
  • See the individual on their own - even if they attend with other;
  • Obtain and record as much information as possible as this may be the one chance to do so!
  • If the person is under 18 refer them to your agencies designated lead for safeguarding children before you refer to children's social care;
  • Ask them sensitively how things are at home;
  • Don't be afraid to ask direct questions regarding your concerns, e.g. Where are they going on holiday? How long for? Do they want to go? Has anyone discussed marriage with them?
  • Recognise and respect the individual's wishes;
  • Remind them that they have the right to enter into a marriage with their full and free consent and the right to make decisions about their lives;
  • Establish a means of contacting the person discreetly in the future;
  • Following initial contact safety measures will need to be discussed, this will include establishing a means of contact and code word as you suggest but also a cover story:
    • If someone else picks up the phone who are you?
    • If victim is followed and seen with you what should she say?
    • If you are confronted at a meeting who are you?
    • You must agree a cover story.

5. Prompts to Ask and Information to Gather

Information to be gathered

The following information will be needed when dealing with a disclosure of Forced Marriage in order to ensure that the relevant agencies i.e. Police, Children's Social Care, are able to act to protect the young person. If possible attempt to gather the information detailed below. If this is not possible still make the referral.

  • Details of the person making the allegation; their contact details; their relationship to the young person under threat. Date of the allegation/disclosure. Details of the young person, including:
    • Name;
    • Address;
    • Nationality;
    • Age;
    • Date and place of birth;
    • Immigration status (is the young person a British National, do they have dual nationality, are they a foreign national and have leave to remain in the UK);
    • Passport details;
    • School details;
    • Employment details;
    • Full details of the allegation;
    • Name and address of parents or those with parental responsibility;
    • National Insurance number (if they have one);
    • Driving licence number (if they have one);
    • A list from the person under threat of all friends and family who can be trusted, including their contact details.
  • Background information including:
    • Schools attended;
    • Previous involvement with children’s social care or Team Around the Child;
    • Doctors;
    • Other Health Services (e.g. CAMHS).
  • Details about any threats, abuse or other hostile action against the person, whether reported by the young person or a third party;
  • If possible obtain a recent photograph or other identification documents;
  • Record any distinguishing features, e.g. birthmarks, tattoos, etc.
  • Establish the nature and level of risk to the safety of the young person. For example:
    • Is she pregnant (consider the potential risk to the unborn baby)?
    • Do they have a secret boyfriend or girlfriend? (if this is the case there may also be a risk to the boyfriend and a referral may also need to be considered to ensure that they are protected).
  • Establish if there are any other family members at risk of forced marriage or if there is a family history of forced marriage or abuse.

Information to be gathered if young person is going abroad

  • A photocopy of their passport for retention. Encourage them to keep details of their passport number and the place and date of issue;
  • As much information as possible about the family, including:
    • Full name and date of birth of the person under threat;
    • Their parents’ names;
    • Any address where they may be staying overseas;
    • Potential spouse’s name (if known);
    • Date of the proposed wedding (if known);
    • The names of the potential spouse’s parents (if known);
    • Addresses of the extended family in the UK and overseas and any known phone numbers.
  • Information that only they would be aware of (if the victim is a British national, this may assist any subsequent interview at an Embassy/British High Commission in case another person of the same age and gender is produced pretending to be them);
  • Details of any travel plans and people likely to accompany them;
  • Names and addresses of any close relatives remaining in the UK;
  • A safe means by which to contact them e.g. a mobile telephone that will function overseas. Record the number;
  • Details of the third party in order to maintain contact in case the person contacts them whilst overseas or on her return;
  • An estimated return date. Ask that they contact you without fail on their return;
  • A written statement by the person explaining that they want the police, children’s social care, a teacher or a third party to act on their behalf if they do not return by a certain date.

7. Children’s Social Care

Children's social care (Local Authority) has a duty to make enquiries where it is alleged that a child has been or is likely to suffer abuse or neglect under S.47 Children Act 1989. Forced Marriage is child abuse and places children and young people at risk of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Actions to be taken on receipt of a referral regarding Forced Marriage

  • Any referral received from another agency alleging Forced Marriage must be immediately treated as a child protection referral and appropriate enquiries undertaken.

    Enquiries should include:
    • Discussion of the allegation with the forced marriage unit;
    • Checks of police and social care records (including adult care) for past referrals of family members to include domestic violence/missing person referrals (See 'signs and symptoms');
    • Talk to the young person about whether they can avoid being taken overseas where this is the particular concern if unavoidable gather relevant information see 'prompts to ask and information to gather';
    • Liaise with the school, college to identify any concerns;
    • Consider implications of dual nationality;
    • Seeking advice from the legal department;
    • If the risk to the young person is immediate consider obtaining a court order or it may be necessary for the police to use their powers of protection (see Legal advice);
    • Ensure that the young person is provided with accommodation that will ensure that they are safe;
    • When providing a young person with accommodation (e.g. foster care) be mindful that the young person may not wish to be placed with someone from the same community/ ethnic background as they may continue to feel vulnerable.

Do Not:

  • Attempt to mediate or involve the family in any enquiry, to do so could place the young person at significant risk of harm;
  • Visit the family to ask them whether it is true that they are planning to force their son/daughter into a forced marriage;
  • Write to the family to invite them to a meeting to answer the allegation that they are forcing their child to marry;
  • When using transport including taking a young person to new or emergency accommodation do not use taxi's (informal networks of taxi drivers have been used to provide information regarding the whereabouts of young people to family members this would place the young person at risk).

Where the Young Person (under 18) has been brought into the UK by their spouses family as part of a Forced Marriage and does not wish to remain in the marriage children's social care should:

  • Consider the young person in the same manner as an unaccompanied asylum seeking minor;
  • Provide the young person with accommodation under S.20 Children Act 1989;
  • Even if the young person has children of their own they should be still regarded as an unaccompanied child.

In all cases the team manager will hold an immediate telephone strategy discussion with the police. Because of the complexity and very high risk of these cases this will need to be followed up by a strategy meeting within 48 hours.

Provision of accommodation

Children and young people who have been forced to marry and those that have become estranged from their families due to their refusal to accept a forced marriage will often require accommodation for a long period to enable them to establish a life away from their families. Accommodation provided to young people must be safe and be able to protect them from attempts to trace them by family through formal and informal means. The Police (CAIT) should always be consulted and would be the lead agency in making arrangements for the safe provision of alternative accommodation whenever there is a need to provide alternative safe accommodation for a young person. Planning for the provision of safe accommodation for a young person must be done by a service manager and the Detective Inspector responsible for CAIT.

S.20 Children Act 1989 requires every local authority to provide accommodation for any child in need within their area who has reached the age of 16 and whose welfare the local authority considers is likely to be seriously prejudiced if they do not provide them with accommodation.

The local authority also has the power to provide accommodation under s.17 if there is not a need for the young person to be 'looked after'. However, the use of this power is almost always used to provide accommodation for a child with their family. Provision of accommodation under this power is unlikely to provide a young person with the necessary level of protection they need. However, the young person may not wished to be 'looked after and alternative accommodation should be considered where this is the case (e.g. refuge, hostel accommodation).

When a young person is estranged from their family or at risk because of their refusal to accept a forced marriage (even if this marriage has already occurred) the local authority should provide accommodation under s.20.

Where the young person is under 16 they can be offered accommodation under s.20 as an alternative to becoming subject of a Care Order. However, parental responsibility remains with their parents until they reach 16 and the local authority will not be able to provide the same level of protection afforded by a Care Order.

Where a person has been provided with emergency accommodation and then seeks to move to more independent accommodation it remains the duty of the local authority to provide accommodation where the young person is looked after under s.20 or provided with accommodation under s.17. When planning a move to more independent accommodation it is important that the young person is fully consulted and that their wishes and feelings are taken into account.

A young person may be 'looked after' by the local authority for some time after leaving their family. Where the young person has been looked after by the local authority for 13 weeks or more and has ceased to be looked after the local authority continues to have a duty to support the young person.

Protecting the young person’s whereabouts and identity: Procedures

As soon as Forced Marriage is suspected workers should follow the ICS Contact and Referral and if the record needs to be shielded, a Shield Request form needs to be completed and returned to ICS record is immediately shielded with access granted to the social worker.

The social worker will need to keep EDS informed of critical information by phone or email (please inform EDS by telephone if an important email has been sent). This is to minimise the risk of a network being used by the family to recover information regarding the young person’s whereabouts. Any attempts to breach this shielding by unauthorised persons must be reported and may result in disciplinary procedures being taken.

The Police (CAIT) as the lead agency in this area should always be consulted by the relevant Service manager from Children's Social Care whenever measures need to be taken covertly to protect and relocate a young person.

Measures to protect the identity of a young person and their whereabouts can be undertaken This can include the identification of alternative safe accommodation. If possible this action should be led by the Police (CAIT) who are the agency best place to manage this work.

If it becomes clear that any case is not forced marriage or honour based violence then the record will revert to be kept on ICS as normal.

Child moving LA

It is a statutory requirement for the new Local Authority to be informed of the child moving into their area. It is the responsibility of the Swindon social worker to emphasise the need for shielding the record, they must talk to a senior manager in the new Local Authority about this.

8. Sources of Help

The Ann Craft Trust

Tel: 0115 951 5400

Offers advice to professionals, parents, carers and family members on issues relating to the protection of vulnerable children and adults. You can contact them about general issues. They are also happy to give advice about specific cases. If they are unable to answer your question, they will try to find you the most appropriate person to talk to about your concerns.

If you have been abused and would like to talk to someone contact the Respond Helpline on
0808 808 0700.

The Asian Family Counselling Service

Tel: 020 85713933

A national service offering counselling on marital and family issues for Asian men and women. The national helpline: 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday. Telephone counselling is also available.

Child Line

Tel: 0800 1111


Tel: 020 7008 0131

For young people facing forced marriage. It provides advice, information and essential contacts to help young people who fear they may be forced to marry or those who are already in a forced marriage.


Tel: 020 8960 4000

An African Diaspora led UK-registered campaign and support charity dedicated to advancing and safeguarding the health and rights of African girls and women, in particular female genital mutilation (FGM) and forced and child marriage.

Henna Foundation

Tel: 02920 498600/496920

Operates a “one stop” service that works to meet and advance the needs, concerns and aspirations of Asian and Muslim children and families. It also assists voluntary, statutory services and Government agencies to improve engagement and delivery of mainstream services. Henna Foundation hosts a National (multi-disciplinary) On-line Forced Marriage & HBV Directory and Knowledge Centre (to go live soon).

Honour Network

Tel: 0800 5999 247

A confidential helpline providing emotional and practical support and advice for victims and survivors (male & female) of forced marriage and/or honour based violence and abuse. It provides advice and support to potential victims, victims in crisis and professional agencies.

Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation

Tel: 0207 490 6460 (9.30-5.00) or
07862 733511 (24hrs) 07846 275 246 (Arabic/ Kurdish) and 07846 310 157 (Farsi/ Dari/ Turkish)

IKWRO provides advice, support, advocacy and referral in Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish, Dari and Farsi to women, girls and couples living in Britain, in particular helping women facing domestic violence, forced marriage and ‘honour’-based violence. Their mission is to protect Middle Eastern women at risk of ‘honour’ killings, domestic violence, forced marriages and female genital mutilation, and to support them in upholding their right to live without fear or oppression.

LanguageLine Solutions

Tel: 0800 169 2879

This service can provide an interpreter on the telephone immediately in 100 different languages, 24 hours a day. This is not a free service.

Local Women’s Aid specialist domestic violence services

Tel: 0808 2000 247

There are nearly 370 organisations providing specialist domestic violence support services in England. The Survivors Handbook provides information for survivors in many different languages. provides information for children and young people about domestic violence and it is interactive.


Tel: 0845 7660163
0208 5192122 (legal helpline)

MIND is a mental health charity working for a better life for everyone with experience of mental distress. Their services include a legal helpline.

Free phone 24 Hour National Domestic Violence helpline

Tel: 0808 2000 247
Run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge


Asian child protection helpline:
Bengali speaking advisor - 0800 096 7714
Gujurati speaking advisor - 0800 096 7715
Hindi speaking advisor - 0800 096 7716
Punjabi speaking advisor - 0800 096 7717
Urdu speaking advisor - 0800 096 7718
English speaking advisor - 0800 096 7719

This free, confidential service for anyone concerned about children at risk of harm offers counselling, information and advice. The service also connects vulnerable young people, particularly runaways, to services that can help. It is open Monday - Friday 11.00 - 19.00.


Tel: 0808 800 5000 (helpline)
0800 056 0566 (text phone)

This free, 24-hour helpline provides information, advice and counselling to anyone concerned about a child at risk of abuse.


Tel: 0808 808 0700 (helpline)
020 7383 0700 (admin line)
020 7387 1222 (fax line)


Respond provides a range of services to both victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse who have learning disabilities and those who have been affected by other trauma. They also offer support and training to families, carers and professionals.

Reunite International Child Abduction Centre

PO Box 7124,

Tel: 0116 2555345 (admin line)
0116 2556234 (advice line)
0116 2556370 (fax line)

Reunite is the leading charity specialising in international parental child abduction. It operates a 24 - hour advice line providing advice, support and information to parents, family members and guardians who have had a child abducted or who fear abduction. Reunite also supports and informs parents who have abducted their children and assists with international contact issues. Reunite’s advice is impartial and confidential to one or both parties involved in an international parental child abduction case. Reunite also provides information and support on the issue of forced marriage.


Tel: 08457 90 90 90

This is a 24-hour helpline that provides confidential support to any person in emotional distress.


Tel: 0808 800 4444

This service provides emergency access to refuge services.

Southall Black Sisters

Tel: 020 8571 9595

This is a resource centre offering information, advice, advocacy, practical help, counselling, and support to black and minority women experiencing domestic abuse. Southall Black Sisters specialise in forced marriage particularly in relation to South Asian women. The office is open weekdays (except Wednesday) 10.00 - 12.30 and 13.30 -16.00.

Victim Support

Tel: 0808 1689 111 / 08081689 293

Victim Support offers information and support to victims of crime, whether or not they have reported the crime to the police. All help given is free and confidential. You can contact Victim Support direct, or ask the police to put you in touch with your local group. The national helpline is open from 9am to 9pm Monday to Friday and from 9am to 7pm on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays.