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Forced marriage

A forced marriage is a marriage that happens without the full and free consent of both people.  ‘Force’ can include:

  • Physical force
  • Being emotionally pressured (eg a parent may threaten to commit suicide if their child doesn’t agree to the marriage)
  • Being threatened
  • Being a victim of psychological abuse

‘Forced marriages’ are not the same as ‘arranged marriages’. In an arranged marriage, families take the lead in selecting and introducing a marriage partner.  The couple have free will and are given the choice to accept or reject the arrangement.

Forced marriage is a criminal offence in England and Wales and will carry a maximum custodial sentence of seven years imprisonment.  This includes taking someone abroad for a forced marriage and people without the mental capacity to consent.

Warning signs

Below are some warning signs that may indicate the possibility of an impending forced marriage:

  • Extended absence from school/college, truancy, drop in performance, low motivation, excessive parental restriction and control of movements and history of siblings leaving education early to marry
  • Poor attendance in the workplace, poor performance, parental control of income and limited career choices
  • Evidence of self-harm, treatment for depression, attempted suicide, social isolation, eating disorders or substance abuse
  • Evidence of family disputes/conflict, domestic violence/abuse or running away from home

One Chance rule

One Chance rule indicates that practitioners working with victims of forced marriage and honour-based violence need to be aware they may only have one chance to speak to a potential victim and thus they may only have one chance to save a life.  This means that all practitioners working within statutory agencies need to be aware of their responsibilities and obligations when they come across forced marriage cases.


Mediation, reconciliation and family counselling as a response to forced marriage can be extremely dangerous.  Professionals undertaking these activities may unwittingly increase the victim’s vulnerability and place them in danger.

How to respond

What help is available:

  • Where criminal offences have been committed eg assault, kidnap or false imprisonment, the police can assist with a prosecution
  • Where there are any safeguarding issues the relevant services should be contacted eg adult social care and children and young people’s services
  • A Forced Marriage Protection Order can be applied for through the civil courts in order to prevent a forced marriage from occurring

What is a Forced Marriage Protection Order?

A victim of forced marriage, or somebody else on their behalf, can apply to a court in England and Wales for a Forced Marriage Protection Order.

This order is granted by a judge and can be used to prevent someone being forced into a marriage or to protect someone who has already been the victim of a forced marriage.

The order aims to change the behaviour of anyone who is trying to force someone into marriage. It is a legal document and places conditions on their behaviour. If they disobey the order, they could be arrested and sent to prison for up to five years.

For advice and assistance making applications for FMPOs, please contact Norfolk MASH on 0344 800 8020.

For more information on forced marriage you can visit the Forced Marriage Unit website.

The Forced Marriage Unit offers confidential advice and assistance to:

  • Those who have been forced into marriage
  • Those at risk of being forced into marriage
  • People worried about friends or relatives
  • Professionals working with potential victims of forced marriage

Information and assistance
Telephone: 020 7008 0151
From overseas: +44 (0)20 7008 0151
Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm
Out of hours: 020 7008 1500 (ask for the Global Response Centre)

The above guidance is for the use of everyone with a responsibility for safeguarding.

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