Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership Logo

Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures Manual

Forced Marriage


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


Making a Referral to Social Care Procedure

Honour Based Abuse and Violence Procedure

Safeguarding Children at Risk of Abuse through Female Genital Mutilation Procedure

Abuse of Disabled Children Procedure

Responding to Adult and Child Victims of Modern Slavery (Documents Library, Guidance Documents)


Forced Marriage: Information and practice guidelines for professionals protecting, advising and supporting victims. Includes:

How to Apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order

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

Forced marriage: it's your choice leaflet – a booklet specifically for children and young people

Karma Nirvana and UK Helpline 0800 5999 247 supporting victims of honour based abuse and forced marriage

Freedom Charity and Freedom Charity Mobile App - help, assistance and instruction to children, friends of children and professionals about children and young people who are at risk of, or are subjected to violent crimes such as Female Genital Mutilation, so called 'honour-based' violence and forced marriages in the UK.

Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy


This chapter was amended in July 2023 to reflect that the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 raised the age of marriage and civil partnership to 18 in England and Wales, with effect from 26 February 2023.


  1. Forced Marriage
  2. Indications and Impact
  3. Recognition
  4. Responding to Concerns
  5. Referral to Children's Social Care or the Police
  6. Duress
  7. Information Sharing
  8. Mediation/Reconciliation
  9. What to do if the Child Fears Being Taken Abroad Imminently

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 6, Duress. Disabled children and young people are particularly vulnerable to forced marriage.

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.

No faith group advocates forced marriage, it is important to note that freely given consent is a prerequisite of marriage in any faith. Forced marriage 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 arrangement remains with each 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. A civil remedy of obtaining a Forced Marriage Protection Order can be pursued through the family courts. This civil remedy exists 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 is 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. Forced marriage is often a hidden crime; statistics from the Forced Marriage Unit found that those affected by forced marriage ranged from children to people post retirement age. While these figures are likely not to reflect the full scale of the abuse, they show that over a quarter of cases involved those aged 17 and under, with the largest proportion involving 18 to 30 year olds. There is increasing evidence of the number of boys and young men affected with as many as 20% 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.

Parents who force their children to marry often justify their behaviour as protecting their children, building stronger families, and preserving cultural or religious traditions.

The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 raised the age of marriage and civil partnership to 18 in England and Wales with effect from 26 February 2023.

This means that 16 to 17-year-olds will no longer be able to marry or enter a civil partnership under any circumstances, including with parental or judicial consent from 26 February 2023. It will not be possible for anyone under 18 to marry or enter a civil partnership after this date.

Previously, forced marriage was only an offence if the person used a type of coercion, for example threats, to cause someone to marry, or if the person lacked capacity to consent to marry under the Mental Capacity Act. The Act therefore also expands the criminal offence of forced marriage in England and Wales to make it an offence in all circumstances to do anything intended to cause a child to marry before they turn 18. It is therefore now an offence to cause a child under the age of 18 to enter a marriage in any circumstances, without the need to prove that a form of coercion was used. The forced marriage offence will continue to include ceremonies of marriage which are not legally binding, for example in community or traditional settings.

2. Indications and Impact

Children forced to marry, or those who fear they may be forced to marry, are frequently withdrawn from education, have numerous absences, are not allowed to attend extra-curricular activities or appear to have low motivation at school, restricting their educational attainment 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.

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

  • Health issues may include: self-harm; attempted suicide; eating disorders; depression; nervous disorder; isolation; substance misuse; lack of self- confidence;
  • 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 or breaches of the peace at the family home; Female Genital Mutilation; the child is reported for offences.

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

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 young women and 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. See Honour Based Violence Abuse Procedure.

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. See Responding to Adult and Child Victims of Modern Slavery (Documents Library, Guidance Documents).

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.

Circumstances can change quickly and increase the risk to the victim and other 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.

Families may solicit the help of others to find the individual fleeing forced marriage (for example private investigators, members of the community including professionals 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 (or accusing their family 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.

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

3. Recognition

When a practitioner from any agency 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. There needs to be sensitivity to the fact that presenting problems could mean that forced marriage is an underlying issue for some children.

All 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.

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 warning signs and indicators (see Section 2, Indications and Impact) may alert practitioners that a child is facing a forced marriage, they may be indicative of other difficulties.

A child may approach any practitioner 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.

4. Responding to Concerns

One Chance Rule

All practitioners 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 practitioners 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.

It is important that all practitioners:

  • Do not underestimate the potential risk of harm;
  • 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 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;
  • 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 8, 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.

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

See also Making a Referral to Social Care Procedure.

Practitioners can seek advice from their agency designated/named professional for child protection and/or the Forced Marriage Unit. See also Derby City and Derbyshire Thresholds Document (Documents Library, Guidance Documents).

Whenever there are concerns about the risk to a child of forced marriage an immediate referral must be made to Children's Social Care and/or the Police.

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 also 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.

Children's Social Care should liaise closely with the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU), a joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office unit, where experienced caseworkers will be able to offer support and guidance.

Concerns about the welfare of a child from Derby or Derbyshire who is being held abroad and wishes to return to the UK must be raised with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office via the Forced Marriage Unit. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is responsible for taking action to repatriate the child.

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. See Section 7, Information Sharing.

Where there are concerns that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer Significant Harm, Children's Social Care will convene a Strategy Discussion/Meeting. The Social Worker, their manager, a health professional and a Police representative should as a minimum be involved in the Strategy Discussion. It is also important to include other relevant practitioners involved in the child's care (for example, legal services and the child's education provider) and in particular any referring agency and specialist agency. See Child Protection Section 47 Enquiries Procedure, Strategy Discussions / Meetings.

In addition to considering whether or not the threshold for a Section 47 Enquiry has been met, a Strategy Discussion must also look at appropriate multi-agency interventions early in the process and seek to minimise risk.

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 imminently or in the future – this should include the likelihood of the child being taken abroad;
  • 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.

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.

If a child fears, but is not anticipating an immediate forced marriage, they 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.

Adults affected by forced marriage should be reviewed under the safeguarding adults at risk process but any adult assessment must address any potential risk of forced marriage to any other women or female children living in the family as well as the extended family network. For details of safeguarding adults processes please see:

6. 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 honour-based abuse 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.

7. Information Sharing

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

Social Workers and all other practitioners from other agencies 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.

8. 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, there should be an assessment of the risks of this course of action which involves the child, and a strategy in place 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.

9. 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.