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Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Boards' Procedures Manual

Forced Marriage


This chapter outlines the key points in relation to forced marriage.


Making a Referral to Social Care Procedure


The Right to Choose: Multi-Agency Statutory Guidance for Dealing with Forced Marriage (2014)

Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines: Handling Cases of Forced Marriage (2014)

How to Apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order

The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act (2014)


In December 2015, a link to guidance on how to apply for a Forced Marriage Protection order was added (see above).

This chapter is currently under review.


  1. Forced Marriage
  2. Recognition
  3. Impact of Forced Marriage
  4. Involvement of Agencies
  5. Referral to Children's Social Care or the Police
  6. Assessment
  7. Children who are Suffering or Likely to Suffer Significant Harm
  8. Strategy Discussion/Meeting
  9. Duress
  10. Information Sharing
  11. Mediation/Reconciliation
  12. What to do if the Child Fears Being Taken Abroad Imminently
  13. Outcome of Section 47 Enquiry

    Further Information

1. Forced Marriage

A forced marriage is a marriage conducted without the full and valid consent of both parties and where duress is a factor.

Duress may include physical, psychological and emotional abuse. Where duress occurs it will be sufficient to force a child (or Adult at Risk) to comply with the marriage. See Section 9, Duress.

Forced marriage is an abuse of human rights and a form of domestic abuse. Where it affects children and young people it is child abuse. It can never be justified on religious or cultural grounds.

A clear distinction must be made between forced marriage and arranged marriage. In arranged marriages, the families of both spouses take a leading role in choosing the marriage partner, but the choice whether or not to accept the arrangements remains with the individual. Consent must be from both parties.

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).

In addition to the specific offences of forced marriage, there are also a number of other offences that may be committed in forced marriage cases. Furthermore, a civil remedy of obtaining a Forced Marriage Protection Order can be pursued through the family courts. This civil remedy will continue to exist alongside the forced marriage criminal offence, so victims can choose how they wish to be assisted. Under the Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act, breaching a forced marriage prevention order had become a criminal offence, punishable by up to 5 years in prison.

Forced marriage is primarily, but not exclusively, an issue of violence against girls and young women. Most cases involve young women aged between 8 and 30, and there is evidence that younger children in primary school are subject of forced marriage. There is increasing evidence of the number of boys and young men affected with as many as 18% of victims being male.

Some forced marriages take place in the UK with no overseas element, whilst others involve a partner coming from overseas or a British citizen being sent abroad.

Individuals forced into marriage often become estranged from their families. Sometimes they themselves become trapped in the cycle of abuse with serious long-term consequences. Many women forced into a marriage experience on-going domestic abuse and sexual violence within the marriage, this can also involve extended family members.

Isolation is very real for those who have escaped a forced marriage or the threat of one. For many, running away is their first experience of living away from their family, friends and their usual environment. They often live in fear of their own families who may go to considerable lengths to find them and ensure their return as a way of restoring family honour.

Families may solicit the help of others to find the individual fleeing forced marriage (for example private investigators, members of the community including practitioners such as a GP who may be friends with the family), or involve the Police by accusing the child of a crime or reporting they have runaway.

For children, especially girls from ethnic minority communities, leaving their family can be especially hard. Leaving their family (or accusing them of a crime or simply approaching statutory agencies for help) may be seen as bringing dishonour to their family and their community and this may lead to rejection and harassment.

Children forced to marry, or those who fear they may be forced to marry, are frequently withdrawn from education or have numerous absences, restricting their educational and personal development. They may feel unable to go against the wishes of their parents and consequently may suffer emotionally, with feelings of betrayal and shame that can lead to depression and self-harm.

These factors can contribute to impaired social development, limited career and educational opportunities, financial dependence and lifestyle restrictions. The act of forcing an individual to marry takes away their freedom to choose a partner and is an abuse of their human rights.

The needs of victims of forced marriage will vary widely. They may need help avoiding a threatened forced marriage. They may need help dealing with the consequences of a forced marriage that has already taken place.

Parents who force their children to marry often justify their behaviour as protecting their children, building stronger families, and preserving cultural or religious traditions. Forced marriage cannot be justified on religious grounds; every major faith condemns it. Freely given consent is a prerequisite of marriage.

2. Recognition

When a practitioner identifies initial concerns, the child may not mention forced marriage. Cases may present with a variety of problems such as truancy, a child reported missing or episodes of depression and self-harm. Practitioners need to be sensitive to the fact that presenting problems could mean that forced marriage is an underlying issue for some children.

Children from black and minority ethnic communities may fear that if they raise fears about forced marriage they will have to leave their community where they experience support from the impact of discrimination and racism. By raising their fears of forced marriage, they may find themselves exposed to greater levels of institutional and individual prejudice and intolerance.

Isolation is one of the biggest problems facing victims of forced marriage. It is only rarely that a child will disclose a fear of forced marriage. Many children will be very concerned about talking to agencies and raising issues outside the family and bringing shame on their family. Whilst the following warning signs may alert practitioners that a child is facing a forced marriage, they may be indicative of other difficulties.

3. Impact of Forced Marriage

Issues related to the threat of forced marriage or forced marriage can include:

  • Health issues may include: self-harm; attempted suicide; eating disorders; depression; nervous disorder; isolation; substance misuse; lack of self confidence;
  • Education issues may include: truancy; erratic attendance; being withdrawal from school by those with Parental Responsibility; decline in performance or punctuality; low motivation at school; unexpected poor exam results; not allowed to attend extra-curricular activities;
  • Family history may include: siblings forced to marry; early marriage of siblings; family disputes; long standing family commitments to a marriage; domestic abuse; Running away from home; unreasonable restrictions for example house arrest; no acceptance of an individual's sexuality if gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender;
  • Police Involvement may include: other children within the family reported missing; reports of domestic abuse breaches of the peace at the family home; female genital mutilation; the child is reported for offences.

4. Involvement of Agencies

A child may approach any practitioner or Children's Social Care because they are concerned about forced marriage. It may involve going on a family holiday overseas or in the UK and the child may suspect that this is a ploy and that there is an ulterior motive, which is to force them to marry.

It is important not to assume that a child is at risk of being forced into marriage simply on the basis that they are being taken on an extended family holiday. These assumptions and stereotyping can cause considerable distress to families. However advice should be sought if a practitioner is in doubt.

All efforts should be made to establish the full facts of the case at the earliest opportunity and more information may be needed to establish a reasonable level of concern that a child is at risk of forced marriage.

If there is an overseas dimension, Children's Social Care should liaise closely with the Forced Marriage Unit at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Wherever possible, practitioners who become concerned about forced marriage should ensure that they obtain as much information as possible and that this included in the referral to Children's Social Care. See Section 5, Referral to Children's Social Care or the Police.

Although it is unlikely that Children's Social Care or any single agency will be able to meet all the needs of a child who is affected by forced marriage, it is probable that Children's Social Care will play a key role in protecting the interests of the child.

Practitioners should be mindful that circumstances may be more complex if the child is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. Male victims of forced marriage may have difficulty in their situation being taken seriously. Children may be forced to marry a person who has a disability, with the intention that they become the long term carer. Disabled children and young people are vulnerable to forced marriage where they are unable to express full and informed consent, in addition to other forms of duress they may experience. See also Abuse of Disabled Children Procedure and the Children who Present a Risk of Harm to Others Procedure.

The best outcomes for the individual child can be achieved through multi agency working offering practical help such as accommodation and financial support, and also emotional support by listening to the child, respecting their wishes, and providing them with information about their rights and choices.

It is important that all practitioners:

  • Do not treat allegations of forced marriage merely as a domestic issue and send the child back to the family home as part of routine child protection procedures;
  • Do not ignore what the child has told them or dismiss out of hand the need for immediate protection;
  • Do not approach the child's family, friends or those people with influence within the community, without the express consent of the child, as this will alert them to any enquiries that are being undertaken;
  • Do not contact the family in advance of any enquiries, either by telephone or letter;
  • Do not share information outside child protection information sharing protocols without the express consent of the child;
  • Do not breach confidentiality except where necessary in order to ensure the child's safety;
  • Do not attempt to be a mediator (see Section 11, Mediation/Reconciliation).

If a child fears they may be forced to marry, they are at risk and will have to either:

  • Remain with the family and try to resolve the situation;
  • Agree to the family's wishes;
  • Flee the family;
  • Seek support and legal protection;
  • Stay silent.

All practitioners who are concerned about the risk to a child of forced marriage must raise the concerns with Children's Social Care and/or the Police.

Practitioners can seek advice from their designated person for child protection and/or the Forced Marriage Unit. See Further Information.

One Chance Rule

All professionals working with suspected or actual victims of forced marriage and honour-based violence need to be aware of the "one chance" rule. That is, they may only have one opportunity to speak to a victims or potential victim and may possibly only have one chance to save a life. As a result, all professionals working within all agencies need to be aware of their responsibilities and obligations when they are faced with forced marriage cases. If the victim is allowed to leave without the appropriate support and advice being offered, that one chance might be wasted.

5. Referral to Children's Social Care or the Police

See also Making a Referral to Social Care Procedure.

Concerns that a child is at risk of forced marriage may be referred by a third party or the child under threat. It is important that the Social Worker obtains as much information as possible when a case is first reported, as there may not be another opportunity for the individual reporting to make contact.

In addition to essential referral details, the following additional referral details should be obtained:

  • The nationality of individual under threat of forced marriage;
  • Preferred language of the child and family (if different);
  • Date and place of birth;
  • Passport details (note; include all passports if dual nationality);
  • Photograph of the child;
  • Full details of the allegation;
  • Booked or planned trips either in the UK or abroad that may be in preparation for, or to carry out the forced marriage (including addresses where known).

The Social Worker should obtain the following at the point of referral, if at all possible, or during subsequent contact with the child:

  • A list of all those friends and family who can be trusted;
  • A code word to ensure that future contact with the child is made with the right person. (Attempts may be made to substitute other family members for the child if suspicions are aroused that agencies are alert to the forced marriage);
  • A way of contacting the child discreetly in the future that will not put them at risk of harm;
  • A recent photograph and other identifying documents. Document any other distinguishing features such as birthmarks and tattoos etc.

6. Assessment

If a child fears, but is not anticipating an immediate forced marriage, s/he may be regarded as a child in need and an assessment should be undertaken. Practitioners should have due regard to the possibility that a child's family may, on learning of the involvement of Children's Social Care, deny that the person is being forced to marry; they may move the individual concerned to another location, or expedite any travel arrangements and ultimately bring the marriage forward.

In the circumstance that an assessment has been commenced, further information may indicate that the risk of forced marriage is more imminent or the degree of duress the child is experiencing is serious. In either case urgent consideration should be given by the Social Worker and their line manager to whether a strategy meeting should be convened.

7. Children who are Suffering or Likely to Suffer Significant Harm

See also Child Protection Section 47 Enquiries Procedure.

Whenever there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer Significant Harm and a Section 47 Enquiry may be necessary, there should be a Strategy Discussion/Meeting.

The duress that a child experiences and the forced marriage, if it goes ahead, may indicate a reasonable likelihood that the child may have been or will be subjected to one or more forms of emotional, physical and sexual abuse.

8. Strategy Discussion/Meeting

The strategy discussion (or meeting) should usually involve Children's Social Care, Child Protection Manager, the Police, health and other agencies as appropriate (for example, legal services, children's centre/school, health) and in particular any referring agency and specialist agency.

The strategy discussion will consider:

  • The duress the child has and is continuing to experience prior to the forced marriage (including medical assessment of any physical abuse);
  • The likelihood of significant harm if the forced marriage has occurred or is to occur in the future;
  • The need for immediate protection and placement away from the family/extended family/community;
  • Seeking legal advice;
  • Agree the conduct and timing of any criminal investigation;
  • If there are any concerns about the safety any siblings.

9. Duress

Duress is a critical factor of both the threat of a forced marriage and ensuring that once married the spouse(s), who did not consent, remain within the forced marriage. Duress may occur in a number of ways including physical and emotional abuse. The degree and level of duress that is being applied to the child will need to be understood as part of the assessment. Parents, siblings, extended family members and friends of the family, including practitioners may be involved in the coercion and duress that occurs.

The following factors are relevant to the assessment of the extent of duress:

  • Details about any threats or physical, psychological or emotionally harmful actions towards the child, to make them participate in the forced marriage;
  • Details of who has been responsible for these actions and who explicitly knows that they are occurring;
  • The nature and level of risk to the safety of the individual (for example: are they pregnant, do they have a secret boyfriend/girlfriend, are they self-harming, is there domestic abuse in the family?);
  • Are any other family members at risk of forced marriage?
  • Is there a family history of forced marriage and/or domestic abuse?

This list is not exhaustive.

The involvement of the child will be essential in the process of gathering information to inform the provision of appropriate services by Children's Social Care (including legal intervention). The child should be seen without the presence of a family member if there are reasonable concerns about duress and the risks arising from a forced marriage.

If the child does not want Children's Social Care to intervene, the Social Worker and their manager will need to consider whether the child's wishes should be respected or whether their safety requires that further action be taken.

It is essential that no child is returned home without due consideration being given to their safety and it may not be in the child's best interest to remain within the family home.

Although Children's Social Care needs to be sensitive to cultural, religious and racial differences, there is an overriding duty to identify children who are likely to suffer significant harm, and to ensure they are safeguarded.

10. Information Sharing

See also Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Boards' Information Sharing Agreement and Guidance for Practitioners (see Documents Library, Guidance Documents).

Social Workers and all other practitioners need to be aware that children living within a forced marriage, or those under threat of one, may face significant harm if their families become aware that they have sought assistance from either statutory agencies such as Children's Social Care and Police, or from voluntary/community-based organisations.

Caution should be taken by all practitioners to ensure that they clearly establish that information is shared with the appropriate person and they should seek advice if necessary. Families may go to great lengths to find information about the whereabouts of children from practitioners and practitioners and get them to collude with such requests.

11. Mediation/Reconciliation

Mediation, reconciliation, and family counselling as a response to forced marriage can be extremely dangerous. Social Workers or any other practitioners undertaking these activities may unwittingly increase the child's vulnerability and place them in danger. There have been cases of children being murdered by their families whilst mediation was being undertaken.

Mediation can place the child at risk of further emotional abuse. Simply arranging a meeting between a child and their family may lead to undue pressure being placed upon the child to return home.

If the child wishes to go home or talk to their family, practitioners should assess the risks of this course of action with the child and must put in place a strategy to monitor their on-going safety.

If the family is approached, they may deny that the child is being forced to marry, move the child, expedite any travel arrangements and bring forward the forced marriage.

12. What to do if the Child Fears Being Taken Abroad imminently

Children's Social Care will need to decide whether a child who is likely to be taken abroad is likely to suffer significant harm. Legal advice should be considered to identify the legal options available to protect the child, and this may include preventing them being taken abroad. (The range of relevant court orders may include Emergency Protection OrderSupervision OrderCare Order, or Prohibited Steps Order). The decision should be recorded on the child's file.

If the child is at risk of being taken abroad, the following information should be gathered as this information may help the Forced Marriage Unit to locate the child and assist to repatriate them:

  • A photocopy of the child's 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 (this will need to be gathered discreetly) including:
    • Full name of the child;
    • Their father's name;
    • Any addresses where the child may be staying in the UK and abroad;
    • Potential spouse's name;
    • Date of the proposed wedding;
    • The name of the potential spouse's father.
  • Addresses of the extended family in the UK and abroad;
  • Details of any travel plans and people likely to accompany the child;
  • Names and addresses of any close relatives remaining in the UK;
  • An estimated return date. Ask that they contact a specific practitioner without fail on their return;
  • A written statement by the child explaining that they want Children's Social Care or a third party to act on their behalf if they do not return by a certain date.

If foreign travel with the family becomes unavoidable, in addition to the above, the following precautions should be agreed:

  • Information that only the child would be aware of such as a coded word, favourite song etc. (This may assist any subsequent interview at an Embassy/British High Commission in case another person of the same sex/age is produced pretending to be the child);
  • Encourage the young person to memorise at least one telephone number and e-mail address;
  • Advise them to take a mobile phone that will work overseas and which they can keep hidden;
  • Encourage the young person to provide details of a trusted friend/advocate in the UK who they will be keeping in contact with whilst overseas, who will act on their behalf, and whom can be approached if they do not return;
  • Make contact with the friend/advocate before the young person departs and request the friend/advocate make a written statement of their support;
  • Advise them to take emergency cash, in the appropriate currency, in case problems arise in the country of destination, together with contact details of someone there they can trust to help them;
  • Ascertain whether the young person has two passports and if so, which one they will be travelling on. Explain the implications of dual nationality;
  • Supply the address and contact number for the nearest Embassy/British High Commission;
  • Give them a copy of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office leaflet Forced Marriages Abroad.

13. Outcome of Section 47 Enquiry

The impact of forced marriage on the welfare of a child may be very complex. Professional judgements may conclude that the safety needs can be adequately met through the on-going intervention and services from different agencies.

Circumstances may exist where the child remains in the family and sufficiently robust arrangements exist to ensure that the child is safe and no longer experiencing duress and the threat of a forced marriage.

Where there remains a continuing likelihood of Significant Harm it may be necessary to take the matter to an initial child protection conference or consider legal intervention. See Child Protection Conferences Procedure.

There may be a number of situations where the child needs to live outside the family home and in a minority of cases move to a new area. In these circumstances a child may need to become looked after by the local authority.

Children's Social Care should raise concerns about the welfare of a child from Derby or Derbyshire who is being held abroad and wishes to return to the UK with the Community Liaison Unit at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is responsible for taking action to repatriate the child.

Further Information

If there are concerns that a child (male or female) is in danger of a forced marriage local agencies and practitioners should contact the Forced Marriage Unit where experienced caseworkers will be able to offer support and guidance.

The Forced Marriage Unit is part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London. The staff can offer advice and assistance to people who:

  • Fear that they are going to be forced into a marriage abroad;
  • Fear for a friend or relative who has been taken abroad and may be forced into a marriage;
  • Have been forced into a marriage and do not want to support their spouse's visa application.

The unit can assist Children's Social Care by:

  • Coordinating with Embassies and British High Commissions;
  • Accessing overseas non-governmental organisations;
  • Accessing Police overseas;
  • Providing consular protection through overseas Embassies and High Commissions;
  • Providing information about existing networks within the UK, including Children's Social Care, Police and non-governmental organisations.

Contact Details for the Forced Marriage Unit

Telephone: +44 (0) 20 7008 0151
Email for outreach work: