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Knowledge Base » Safeguarding » What is a forced marriage?

What is a forced marriage?

A forced marriage is an instance where someone is forced to marry against their will. This is a marriage that may happen in secret and may also be planned by parents, family or religious leaders. Forced marriage is a form of honour-based violence.

Those individuals who are forced into marriage are often also subject to abuse, threats or emotional pressure from others and they may be made to feel as though they are brining shame on their family of they do not agree to take part in the marriage.

Most forced marriages that involve British females take place overseas where the individual will be taken so that the ceremony can take place.

Forcing someone to marry against their will is a crime in England and Wales since 16th June 2014, with the publication of the Anti-social Behaviour , Crime and Policing Act (Part 10). The law applies as well to UK nationals who are overseas, which means that individuals are protected against forced marriages in countries where this may not be illegal. Law enforcement agencies in countries where a UK national are able to bring charges against people who force individuals into marriage and they would then face those charges in their home country.

In accordance with the law, people can be charged with taking someone overseas in an attempt to force them to marry whether or not the actual marriage takes place. It also applies to people who attempt to marry someone who lacks the mental capacity to consent the marriage, whether they are pressured to or not.

Forcing someone to marry against their will can result in a 7-year prison sentence.

Forced Marriage Protection Orders

Forced Marriage Protection Orders can help individuals who are being forced into an arranged marriage or who are already in a forced marriage. It is a unique Order that contains legally binding conditions and directions, which aim to change the behaviour of the person who is trying to force someone into a marriage.

A court can make an Order in an emergency so that protection is put into place straight away. However, they are usually made at the same time as a police investigation or other criminal proceedings.

Breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order can result in a 5-year prison sentence; disobeying a court order in relation to a Forced marriage Protection Order can result in a 2-year prison sentence for contempt of court. (www.gov.uk)

Statistics relating to forced marriage

The latest statistics reveal that in 2018 there were 1,764 possible or actual cases of forced marriage. A third of these cases involved young people under the age of 18 and 75% of the people being forced into marriage were female.

Charity Plan UK estimates that worldwide, every two seconds a child becomes involved in a forced marriage.

Forced marriage does not appear to be specific to one country or culture; since 2011, there have been instances of forced marriages in 110 countries around the world. In 2018, the six countries (outside of the UK) with the highest number of forced marriages were:

  • Pakistan – 769 cases
  • Bangladesh – 157 cases
  • India – 110 cases
  • Somalia – 46 cases
  • Afghanistan – 44 cases
  • Romania – 43 cases.

In the UK, there were 119 cases of forced marriage (either potential or actual) in 2018, which is a decline in previous years but the figure does still serve to highlight that forced marriages are still being attempted or carried out in the UK. (www.gov.uk)

Woman sat at window, upset as she is taking part in forced marriage

The difference between forced marriage and arranged marriage

Forced marriages and arranged marriages are not the same thing. With an arranged marriage, both parties consent to the marriage taking place. The marriage will likely have been arranged by their parents or another third part in choosing a husband or wife for those involved. The individuals involved in an arranged marriage are free to decide if they want to marry the person who has been chosen on their behalf.

If either party declines to marry the other person, then the marriage will not go ahead and it is important to keep in mind that arranged marriages are not illegal.

Why might someone be made to take part in a forced marriage?

There are many different motivators that make individuals want to force others into marriage. Motivation need not come from a single source as a forced marriage is often forced upon someone by several different members of a family who work together, such as parents, siblings and grandparents as well as wider family members and members of the community.

Whilst males and females can be involved in forced marriages, about 75% of victims are female and most are between the ages of 15-24 but it has been shown that some victims are as young as 10.

Why might someone be made to take part in a forced marriage?

Research has indicated that some of the key motives for forced marriage include:

  • Controlling the sexuality of someone that is seen as unwanted or inappropriate, such as that which is seen as promiscuous or which is against religious beliefs such as being involved in a homosexual relationship.
  • Controlling unwanted behaviours such as drug and alcohol use, wearing make-up or acting in what a family or community perceives as a ‘Western’ manner.
  • Preventing unwanted relationships, or those which are seen as unsuitable such as with someone from a different religion, culture or ethnicity.
  • Protection of family honour.
  • Responding to peer or family pressure to ‘get someone in line’.
  • Attempting to strengthen family links.
  • Achieving financial gain, such as with land, property and wealth.
  • Protecting religious and/or cultural ideals.
  • Assisting in attempts to secure UK residence and citizenship.
  • Ensuring care for family members who may have additional needs when existing family members cannot fulfil a caring role.
  • Long-standing family commitments.

(www.hertfordshire.gov.uk)

Distraught young woman on her wedding day, upset as she is being forced to marry

Signs that someone is at risk of a forced marriage or is already in one

The table below gives some of the signs in different areas of an individual’s life, which may indicate that they are about to be forced into marriage or that they are already in a forced marriage.

Area of the individual’s life Signs of forced marriage
Education – Persistent absences.
– Request for an extended absence.
– Failure to return from a visit to a country of origin.
– Fear about being on holiday from school or college.
– Persistent observation by family members in the same setting.
– Poor performance.
– Poor punctuality.
– Poor exam results (which are unexpected).
– Withdrawal from school by parents.
– Not being allowed to take part in after school events.
– Sudden and unexpected announcement of an engagement to a stranger.
– Not being allowed to go onto further or higher education. .
Employment – Poor performance.
– Poor attendance.
– Being limited in career choices.
– Not being allowed to work.
– Not allowed to take part in work functions or business trips.
– Being subject to financial control.
– Being accompanied to and from the workplace.
– No flexibility in working arrangements for no obvious reason.
Family History – Siblings being forced to marry.
– Siblings taking their own lives or experiencing self-injurious behaviours.
– Death of a parent.
– Family conflicts.
– Unreasonable restrictions to freedom.
– Running away from home.
Health – Being accompanied to healthcare appointments.
– Self-injurious behaviours and possible suicide attempts.
– Eating disorders.
– Isolation.
– Depression.
– Substance misuse.
– Unwanted pregnancy.
– Female genital mutilation (FGM).

Factors that make individuals more susceptible to abuse

As well as considering the factors that make someone more at risk of forced marriage, it is important to consider some of the factors that can make someone more at risk of abuse in general as these individuals may be seen as a ‘soft target’ for those whose motivations for forced marriage may lie outside of specific behaviours such as wanting financial gain or feeling compelled to honour a long-standing family commitment.

Some of these risk factors include:

  • Learning Disabilities: Although the severity of learning disabilities can vary greatly, those individuals whose learning disabilities are significant will be considered to be more vulnerable. A learning disability can also mean that an individual has other factors that make them vulnerable such as physical disabilities or sensory impairments.
  • Physical Disabilities: The impact of a physical disability will determine the vulnerability of the adult in question. Most adults who have physical disabilities will not be considered vulnerable but those whose ability to effectively care for themselves will be classed as vulnerable due to their disability.
  • Mental Illness: Individuals who live with serious mental health conditions will be vulnerable due to the effects that mental illness can have. People who live with very serious conditions such as schizophrenia are more susceptible to abuse despite misconceptions that this form of mental illness makes them more likely to be a perpetrator than a victim of abuse and exploitation.
  • Substance Misuse: Any individual who misuses drugs and/or alcohol will be vulnerable due to the effects of the misuse. Individuals who abuse substances may also experience mental health difficulties, which can increase their level of vulnerability. Being a substance misuser may also be seen as a reason why forced marriage should be arranged.
  • Lacking Capacity: Any individual who is unable to make decisions on their own behalf is classed as vulnerable due to the level of care and support that they need and because other people are wholly responsible for decisions about their life, making them more susceptible to abuse. Family members may be able to make decisions on behalf of the individual, meaning that they can do this in a way that is not in their best interests, even if this is unlawful.
  • Long-term Illness: Individuals who live with long-term illness are more likely to need higher levels of care and support, which means that carrying out daily functions is something they may be unable to do alone. Being more reliant on others makes an individual with a long-term health condition more open to abuse.
Upset young woman feeling alone and isolated at the thought of her forced marriage

Who can someone voice concerns about their safety to?

When someone feels able to speak up about concerns in relation to their safety, it is important that they know where those concerns should be reported. The sources of support available to individuals will be discussed at much greater length in the next but here, it is important to show what the government recommends in relation to initial contact for individuals who believe that their safety is at risk either in relation to forced marriage and/or honour-based violence.

In non-emergency situations, it is recommended that the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) is contacted as they are able to deal with instances where individuals are trying to stop a forced marriage or to leave a marriage that they have been forced into.

They are contactable on:

fmu@fco.gov.uk

Telephone: 0207 008 0151 (Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm)

Telephone from overseas: +44 (0)207 008 0151 (Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm)

Out of hours, the Global Response Centre should be contacted on: 0207 008 1500

Trained professional advisors in will support individuals with one or more of the following:

  • Finding a safe place to stay
  • Stopping a UK visa if the individual has been forced to sponsor someone.

In an emergency situation, 999 can be called where the most appropriate response will be sent to the individual at the earliest possible opportunity.

Legislation relating to forced marriage

It is pertinent to include legislation to reflect that there are stringent measures in place to protect people who are at risk of forced marriage or who are already in one.

 The Sexual Offences Act 2003

There is a range of crimes that can be considered as sexual offences, including those which are non-consensual such as rape or sexual assault, those which are against children, such as grooming and those which exploit others for sexual purposes, which may take place in person or online.

Sexual offences under this Act also include those which are related to honour-based violence and forced marriage such as female genital mutilation, childe abuse and human trafficking.

 The Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014

Forcing someone into marriage in England and Wales is a criminal offence under Section 121 of the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, and carries a maximum penalty of even years’ imprisonment.

In accordance with Section 121(1) of Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, a person commits an offence if he or she:

‘(a) uses violence, threats or any other form of coercion for the purpose of causing another person to enter into a marriage, and
(b)  believes, or ought reasonably to believe, that the conduct may cause the other person to enter into the marriage without the free and full consent.’ (www.familylawweek.co.uk)

In relation to the possibility that an individual will be taken out of the country to become part of a forced marriage, the Act also maintains:

A further offence is created by Section 121(3), whereby a person commits an offence if he or she:

‘(a) practises any form of deception with the intention of causing another person to leave the United Kingdom, and

(b)  intends the other person to be subjected to conduct outside the United Kingdom that is an offence under subsection (1) or would be an offence under that subsection if the victim were in England or Wales.’

What this means is that it is a criminal act in itself to entice an individual out of the country, whether or not the forced marriage then takes place.

Forced Marriage Protection Orders

Forced Marriage Protection Orders can help individuals who are being forced into an arranged marriage or who are already in a forced marriage. It is a unique Order that contains legally binding conditions and directions, which aim to change the behaviour of the person who is trying to force someone into a marriage.

A court can make an Order in an emergency so that protection is put into place straight away. However, they are usually made at the same time as a police investigation or other criminal proceedings.

Breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order can result in a 5-year prison sentence; disobeying a court order in relation to a Forced marriage Protection Order can result in a 2-year prison sentence for contempt of court. (www.gov.uk)

Doctor expressing her concerns about a forced marriage

Legislation relating to human rights and vulnerable individuals

The Human Rights Act 1998

Human rights within the United Kingdom are protected by the Human Rights Act 1998, which means that if an individual believes that their human rights have been breached, they can take action against this in a court of law. Examples of rights that are contained within the Act, known as ‘Articles’ are:

  • The right to freedom from torture and inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment
  • The right to liberty and security
  • The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
  • The right to freedom of expression
  • The right of access to an education.

The Mental Capacity Act 2005

This Act protects the rights of people aged 16 and over who may not be able to give consent to decisions about their life.

The Act is based on a set of key principles, which include:

  • An assumption that everyone is capable of making their own decisions, unless it is proven otherwise
  • Individuals should be given as much support as possible when making decisions before anyone decides that they cannot make decisions on their own
  • Anything done on behalf of the individual must be carried out with the individual’s best interests at heart.
  • Any decision made on behalf of someone who is unable to do this for themselves must be as free from restriction as possible.

Before an assessment of incapacity is made, all avenues of assistance must have been exhausted and to be presumed incapable of decision making, the following must apply:

  • The individual cannot understand information that is relevant to the decision
  • The individual cannot retain information relevant to the decision
  • The information cannot use or weigh up information
  • The individual cannot, by any means, communicate the decision.

The Act helps to ensure that individuals are not subject to some form of abuse because they lack the capability to make their own decisions.

Forced Marriage and Honour-Based Violence

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About the author

Eve Johnson

Eve Johnson

Eve has worked at CPD from the start, she organises the course and blog production, as well as supporting students with any problems they may have and helping them choose the correct courses. Eve is also studying for her Business Administration Level 3 qualification. Outside of work Eve likes to buy anything with flamingos on it, catching up with friends, spending time with her family and occasionally going to the gym!



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