Forced Marriage

A forced marriage is where one or both people do not or cannot consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used. It is important to note that forced marriages differ from an arranged one where the couple willingly agree to the marriage. Forced marriage is recognised in the UK as a form of violence against women and men, domestic/child abuse and an abuse of human rights.

The pressure put on people to marry against their will can be physical (threats, physical or sexual violence) or emotional and psychological (someone being made to feel like they’re bringing shame on their family). Financial abuse (taking your wages or not giving you any money) can also be a factor.

Those who have been or are worried about being forced into marriage can develop mental and physical health problems or even harm themselves.

Why do Forced Marriages happen?

People force others into marriage due to a range f factors such as preserving wealth and family reputation. A number of victims may be forced to marry a member of their extended family.

The main reasons people are forced into marriage are as follows:

  • control unwanted behaviour and sexuality, and prevent ‘unsuitable’ relationships
  • protect perceived culture or religious ideals
  • family ‘honour’ or long-standing family commitments
  • peer group or family pressure
  • ensure land, property and wealth remain in the family
  • strengthen family links
  • assist claims for residence and citizenship
  • provide a carer for a disabled family member / reduce the ‘stigma’ of disability


Forced Marriage Unit

The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) is a joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office unit was which set up in January 2005. It is the lead on the Government’s forced marriage policy, outreach and casework. The FMU operates both inside the UK and overseas. In the UK support is provided to any individual needing help. Overseas consular assistance is provided to British nationals, including dual nationals.

The FMU operates a public helpline which offers advice and support to victims as well as professionals dealing with cases. The assistance provided ranges from simple safety advice, through to aiding a victim to prevent their unwanted spouse moving to the UK (‘reluctant sponsor’ cases), and, in extreme circumstances, to rescues of victims held against their will overseas.

The FMU arrange around 100 outreach and training events a year, targeting both professionals and potential victims. The FMU also carry out media campaigns, such as 2015’s ‘right to choose’ campaign, where they commissioned a short film to raise awareness among young people at risk of being forced into marriage. Other shorts they have produced can be found here.

Forced Marriage in the UK

The FMU gave advice and support to 1 428 cases in 2016 which was an increase of 14% from 2015. Of these cases 236% involved victims under 18 and 34% involved victims aged 18 – 25. The majority of the cases (80%) involved female victims.

Forced marriage is not a problem to one specific country or culture, with the FMU handling cases relating to over 90 countries since it was established in 2005. In 2016, 11% of the cases had no overseas element, with the potential/actual forced marriage taking place within the UK.

Legislation on Forced Marriage

Anyone can ask for a court to implement a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO). This can stop a person being married against their will and prevent them from being taken abroad. FMPOs can also demand that perpetrators stop any intimidation, reveal the victim’s location and hand over passports otherwise they could face imprisonment.

The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 makes 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)
  • Breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order is also a criminal offence
  • The civil remedy of obtaining a Forced Marriage Protection Order through the family courts will continue to exist alongside the new criminal offence, so victims can choose how they wish to be assisted
  • Forcing someone to marry can result in a sentence of up to 7 years in prison
  • Disobeying a Forced Marriage Protection Order can result in a sentence of up to 5 years in prison


If you, or anyone you know is at risk of being or has been forced into marrige contact the Forced Marriage Unit for help on 020 7008 0151 or

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