1. Definition

A forced marriage is one in which one or both people do not – or in cases of people without mental capacity cannot – consent, and pressure or abuse are exerted to ensure the marriage takes place. It is recognised as a form of violence against women, men or children, and is a serious abuse of human rights.

The abuse can be physical, sexual and psychological (for example, when someone is made to feel like they are bringing shame on their family). Financial abuse, including exerting pressure by (taking away wages or depriving a person of money) can also be a factor.

In some cases people may be taken abroad without knowing that they are to be married. When they arrive in that country, their passport / travel documents may be taken to try to stop them from returning to the UK.

Forced marriage is very different to an arranged marriage, which is where family members take a lead in choosing the bride or groom but both parties are free to choose whether they marry the chosen partner or not.

2. Force Marriage Offences

Forced marriage is illegal in England and Wales. The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 made it a criminal offence, from June 2014, 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).

Forcing someone to marry can result in a sentence of up to seven years imprisonment.

2.1 Forced Marriage Protection Orders

Anyone threatened with forced marriage or forced to marry against their will can apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO). Third parties, such as relatives, friends, voluntary workers and police officers, can apply for a FMPO, see Apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order. A local authority can also apply for a FMPO.

The purpose of the order is to protect a person from being forced to marry, but the details of the order will be specific to each case, for example the court may order someone to hand over the person’s passport or reveal where they are.

Disobeying a FMPO can result in a sentence of up to five years.

3. Forced Marriage and Adults with Learning Disabilities

Some adults with learning disabilities, who may lack capacity to consent to a marriage, may be vulnerable to being forced to marry.

In relation to some of the key motives for forcing a person with learning disabilities to marry, the Forced Marriage and Learning Disabilities: Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines, HM Government includes:

  • obtaining a carer for the person with a learning disability;
  • obtaining physical assistance for ageing parents;
  • obtaining financial security for the person with a learning disability;
  • believing the marriage will somehow ‘cure’ the disability;
  • a belief that marriage is a ‘rite of passage’ for all young people;
  • mistrust of the ‘system’, mistrust of external (e.g. social care/health) carers;
  • a fear that younger siblings may be seen as undesirable if older sons or daughters are not already married;
  • the marriage being seen as the only option or the right option (or both) – no alternative.

Whatever the motivation, under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 it is clear that there are certain decisions that cannot be made on behalf of another person; this includes a decision to marry. A decision in relation to marriage or sexual relations cannot be made on behalf of someone who lacks the mental capacity to make such decisions independently.

Where there is concern that an adult is being forced into a marriage they do not or cannot consent to, there will be an overlap between action taken under the legal provisions to tackle forced marriage legislation and the safeguarding adults process. In this case action will be coordinated between the police, the local authority and other relevant organisations in conjunction with the adult and an Independent Mental Capacity Advocate. See also the chapters on Mental Capacity, Independent Mental Capacity Advocates and Independent Mental Health Advocates and Safeguarding Adults Procedures.

Professionals should ensure that they make a full record of all discussions, including with whom they take place and any actions taken including referrals to other agencies. They should also inform their line manager who should sign off the discussions / action (see also Case Recording).

If a professional has a concern about an adult who they believe may be subject to a forced marriage, they should raise a concern within the adult safeguarding procedures (see the chapter on Stage 1: Concerns).