Types and Patterns of Abuse and Neglect

Domestic Abuse

Mental Capacity

Stage 1: Alert


Multi-Agency Statutory Guidance for Dealing with Forced Marriage (Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office)

Forced Marriage and Learning Disabilities: Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines, HM Government

Forced Marriage: A Survivor’s Handbook, Forced Marriage Unit

Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland Safeguarding Children Partnership Multi-Agency Procedures: Forced Marriage


If you’re trying to stop a forced marriage or you need help leaving a marriage you’ve been forced into, contact the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU). In an emergency call the Police on 999.


Forced Marriage – Free e-learning

Foreign and Commonwealth Office YouTube videos covering the consequences of forced marriage, and how to spot the signs of forced marriage

September 2023: This chapter has been reviewed and extensively updated to reflect the latest version of the multi-agency Forced Marriage Statutory Guidance and multi-agency practice guidelines.

1. Introduction and Definition

A forced marriage is one where one or both people do not – or in cases of people without mental capacity cannot – consent to the marriage, and pressure or abuse is used to force them to marry.

The pressure put on people to marry against their will can be:

  • physical: for example threats and physical violence or sexual violence;
  • emotional and psychological: for example, making someone feel like they are bringing ‘shame’ on their family
  • financial: for example taking someone’s wages.

Adults who lack the mental capacity to consent to marriage do not have to be pressured or abused for the marriage to be forced.

It is also a forced marriage when a person arranges for a child to get married before they are 18, even if they are not forced or coerced into doing so. Any concerns in relation to a marriage of a child under 18 years should be shared with Children’s Social Care (see LLR Safeguarding Children Procedures).

Forced marriage can happen to both men and women, although most cases involve women and girls between 16 to 25 years. There is no ‘typical’ victim of forced marriage. They can be over or under 18 years of age, they may have a disability and / or may have young children or spouses from overseas.

Most reported cases have been linked with South Asian countries. However, there have also been cases involving many other countries across the Middle East, Europe, Africa and North America. Forced marriages can also take place here in the UK without overseas travel. In many cases forced marriage involves a potential partner being brought into the UK from overseas or a British person being taken abroad for the forced marriage, often without them knowing that they are going to be married. Forced marriage of any person, regardless of sex, age, disability, ethnic origin or sexual orientation, is illegal in the UK (see Section 6, Forced Marriage Offences).

Forced marriage is very different to an arranged marriage, which is where families of both the woman and man take a lead in the arrangements for the marriage, but they are free to decide whether they want the marriage to go ahead or not.

2. Reasons given for Forced Marriage

People who force others into marriage often try to justify their behaviour as ‘protecting’ their children, building stronger families and preserving so-called cultural or religious beliefs. However, the act of forcing another person into marriage can never be justified on religious grounds: every major faith condemns the practice of forced marriage.

Some of the key motives given for forced marriage are:

  • to try to control someone’s sexuality (including alleged promiscuity, or being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) – particularly the behaviour and sexuality of women;
  • to try to control someone’s behaviour, for example, drinking alcohol or taking drugs, wearing make-up or behaving in what is seen to be a ‘westernised manner’;
  • preventing what is seen as unsuitable relationships, for example outside the ethnic, cultural, religious, class or caste group;
  • protecting ‘family honour’ (known as ‘izzat’, ‘ghairat’, ‘namus’ or ‘sharam);
  • responding to pressure from family, friends or their community;
  • attempting to strengthen family links;
  • in order to gain financially or reduce poverty;
  • making sure land, property and wealth remain within the family;
  • protecting apparent cultural or religious ideas;
  • making sure that there is someone to care for a child or adult with special needs, when parents or existing carers are unable to fulfil that role;
  • to help people from overseas claim for UK residence and citizenship;
  • long-standing family commitments.

3. Impact of Forced Marriage

Victims trapped in, or under the threat of, a forced marriage are often very isolated. They may feel there is nobody they can trust to keep this secret, and they have no one to speak to about their situation – some may not be able to speak English.

People who are forced to marry find it very difficult to leave the marriage, and women may be subjected to repeated rape (sometimes until they become pregnant) and domestic abuse within the marriage. In some cases, victims suffer violence and abuse from extended family members and are forced to do all the household jobs and / or are kept under virtual ‘house arrest’ and not allowed to leave the home without a family escort.

Both male and female victims may feel that running away is their only option. For many leaving the family can be very hard. They may have little experience of life outside the family and worry about losing their children and support network. Also, leaving their family (or accusing them of a crime, or asking the police or the council for help) may be seen as bringing shame on their ‘honour’ and on the ‘honour of their family’.  Those who do leave often live in fear of their own families, who may go to considerable lengths to find them and bring them back home.

Victims of forced marriage, their siblings and other family members are at risk of real harm – particularly if they are found to asked for help or are planning to leave the marriage.  Victims can face the possibility of ‘honour’-based abuse, rape, kidnap, being held against their will, threats to kill, being abducted overseas and even murder.

4. Adults with Care and Support Needs

Adults with care and support needs can be particularly vulnerable to forced marriage because they are likely to rely on their families for care, may have communication difficulties and do not have many opportunities to tell anyone outside their family about what is happening.

Section 4.1 Supporting victims with learning disabilities

The My Marriage, My Choice Toolkit includes practice guidance and tools to assist practitioners who are working with people with learning disabilities to recognise and take appropriate action when there is a risk of forced marriage

People with learning disabilities may lack the mental capacity to consent to marriage, others may have the capacity to consent, but they can be more easily tricked or coerced into marriage.

Key motives why families may force a person with learning disabilities to marry, include:

  • obtaining a carer for their son / daughter;
  • getting help to look after elderly parents;
  • obtaining financial security for the person with a learning disability;
  • believing the marriage will somehow ‘cure’ the victim’s disability;
  • a belief that marriage is a ‘rite of passage’ and necessary for all young people;
  • 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 and that there is no alternative.

The Mental Capacity Act (MCA) provides a framework for making decisions on behalf of those who lack capacity to do so themselves. It sets out who can take decisions, in which situations, and how they should go about this.

The MCA starts from the basis that everyone has the capacity to make decisions. Where someone is found to lack capacity to make a particular decision, the Act says which other people can make those decisions on their behalf. Any decision must always be made in the best interests of the person who lacks capacity. However, there are certain decisions which can never be made on behalf of someone else, and these include the decision to marry or to have sexual relationships. Therefore someone cannot agree to marriage, civil partnership or a sexual relationship on behalf of a person who lacks the capacity to make these decisions themselves.

It is not just those people with learning disabilities whose mental capacity can be affected. People with a brain injury, dementia, Alzheimer’s and / or mental ill health can lack capacity. If a person does not consent or lacks capacity to consent to marriage, that marriage is a forced marriage, no matter what the reason for the marriage taking place.

4.2 Action when an adult with care and support needs is at risk of forced marriage

If an adult with care and support needs tells a practitioner they are going on a family holiday overseas and they are concerned about this, or a professional has their own worries about a holiday or other signs that a forced marriage is being planned, as much information as possible should be gathered. The practitioner should then:

  • discuss the case with the safeguarding lead in their organisation;
  • contact the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU);
  • if the person’s capacity to consent is in doubt, arrange to have their capacity to consent to marriage and sexual relationships assessed;
  • consider whether a communication specialist is needed if a person is hearing or visually impaired or has a learning disability.

Where an adult with care and support needs appears to be at risk of, or experiencing, abuse or neglect and unable to protect themselves, then a safeguarding concern must be raised so the local authority can make enquiries under Section 42 of the Care Act 2014 (see Safeguarding Enquiries section).

If the risk of forced marriage is immediate, emergency action to remove the adult from their home might be needed. Advice should be sought from the police and the local authority legal department.


  • Go directly to the person’s family, friends, or those people with influence within the community, as this will alert them to your enquiries and may place the person in further danger.
  • Attempt to be a mediator or encourage mediation, reconciliation, arbitration or family counselling.

5. Taking Action – When there is a Risk of a Forced Marriage or a Forced Marriage has Taken Place

The FMU is available to talk to frontline professionals handling cases of forced marriage. It also offers information and advice on the wide range of tools available to tackle forced marriage, including how the law can be used in particular cases, what assistance is available to British victims in different countries and how to approach victims.

5.1 One chance rule

All practitioners working with suspected or actual victims of forced marriage should be aware of the “one chance” rule. This is that they may only have one opportunity to speak to a victim and may only have one chance to save their life. If the victim leaves the meeting with the practitioner without the appropriate support and advice being offered, that one chance might have been missed.

If someone discloses that they are in or at risk of a forced marriage, it should never be dismissed as just a ‘family matter’. For many people, asking for help from an agency is a last resort and so all disclosures of forced marriage must be taken seriously.

 5.2 Practice guidance in all cases

  • Wherever possible, see the person on their own, in a private place where the conversation cannot be overheard.
  • Gather as much information as possible to establish the type and level of risk to the safety of the person. Find out whether there are any other family members at risk of forced marriage or if there is a family history of forced marriage and abuse.
  • Contact the Forced Marriage Unit as soon as possible for advice, including whether a Forced Marriage Protection Order is appropriate (see Section 6.1).
  • If the person is an adult with care and support needs, concerns should be shared with adult social care as a safeguarding referral.
  • As forced marriage is a crime, it should also be reported to the police even if the adult does not have care and support needs. In an emergency call 999.
  • If the person does not want to return to the family home, then a strategy for leaving should be devised and personal safety advice discussed. Research shows that leaving home is the most dangerous time for women experiencing domestic abuse and this is often the case when someone flees a forced marriage.
  • A safety plan should be agreed in case they are seen, for example prepare another reason why you are meeting. Agree a code word with the victim to make sure that you are speaking to the right person.
  • If the person wants to stay at the family home and has the mental capacity to make this decision, try to arrange a way of keeping in touch without placing them at risk.
  • Refer the victim, with their consent, to local and national support groups with a history of working with victims of domestic abuse and forced marriage. There is a list of National Support Groups in the statutory guidance.
  • Advise the victim not to travel overseas.


  • Send them away.
  • Approach members of their family or the community – unless it involves a victim with a learning disability and you need to work alongside the family in assessing their mental capacity.
  • Share information with anyone without the victim’s clear consent, unless it is in the public interest or to safeguard a child.
  • Breach confidentiality – unless there is an immediate risk of serious harm or threat to the life of the victim or it is in the public interest.
  • Attempt to be a mediator or immediately encourage mediation, reconciliation or family counselling.

A multi-agency response is vital.

REMEMBER – Younger siblings might be at risk of being forced to marry when they reach a similar age. Consider speaking to younger siblings to explain the risk of forced marriage and give them information about the help available. Discuss the situation with your line manager, and share information with safeguarding children services.

5.3 Take a victim-centred approach – listen to the victim and respect their wishes whenever possible

There may be times when someone wants to take action that places themselves at risk. If this is the case, explain all the risks and consider if a referral to the safeguarding adults team is appropriate. Discuss it with your line manager.

6. Forced Marriage Offences

The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 made it a criminal offence in England (Wales and Scotland) to force someone to marry. This includes:

  • taking someone overseas to force them to marry (whether or not the forced marriage actually takes place);
  • doing anything to force a child to marry before their eighteenth birthday;
  • being involved in the marriage of someone who lacks the mental capacity to consent to marry (whether they are pressured to or not).

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

6.1 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). Relatives, friends, voluntary workers, police officers and local authority staff can also apply for a FMPO, see Apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order.

The order is to protect a person from being forced to marry. The details of each order will be specific to the case, for example the court may order someone to hand over the person’s passport or reveal where they are if they cannot be found.

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

7. Information Sharing and Confidentiality

See Information Sharing chapter

To protect victims of forced marriage, practitioners may need to share information with other agencies such as the police. Issues of confidentiality and information sharing are very important for anyone threatened with, or already in, a forced marriage – as they are likely to be worried what will happen if their family finds out they have asked for help.

All professionals need to be clear therefore about when confidentiality can be promised, but also when and how information may need to be shared.

If a decision is made to disclose information to another professional, the adult should be asked to consent to this. Most people will agree if they understand why it is important and are reassured about their safety (for example that the information will not be passed to their family) and what will happen following such a disclosure.

In some situations, including to safeguard an adult or prevent a crime, information can be shared even without the person’s consent. However, where possible, the person should still be told that their information will be shared.

8. Record Keeping

See Record Keeping chapter

Keeping records of forced marriage is important. These may be used in court proceedings or to assist a person (particularly women who say that they have experienced domestic abuse) in immigration cases.

Staff should keep records of all actions taken, including the reasons why particular actions were taken. There should be a recorded agreement of which agency has agreed to each proposed action, together with the outcomes of the action.

Records should:

  • be accurate, detailed and clear, and include the date;
  • use the person’s own words in quotation marks;
  • document any injuries –.

Even if forced marriage is not disclosed, a record of the concerns may be useful in the future.

All records should be kept secure, and only accessed by staff directly involved in the case. This is particularly important for victims / potential victims of forced marriage, to make sure no one could pass on confidential information to a victim’s family.

If no further action is to be taken this should be clearly documented, together with the reasons.