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Forced marriage

A forced marriage is a marriage in which one or both spouses do not consent to the marriage but are coerced into it. Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure. In cases of vulnerable adults who lack the capacity to consent to marriage, coercion is not required for a marriage to be forced.

Multi-agency practice guidelines: Handling cases of Forced Marriage, HM Government 2014

Forcing someone to marry is a criminal offence. It is child abuse, domestic abuse and a form of violence against women and men; it should form part of existing child and adult protection structures, policies and procedures.

The Forced Marriage Unit has released a new film to demonstrate the devastating impact of forced marriage on victims and their families.

Its release follows the launch of a new online training tool designed to help professionals recognise the warning signs of forced marriage and take the right action – at the right time – to help protect vulnerable children, young people, or adults at risk of forced marriage. The tool is free to use.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of potential indicators which may be present where there is a risk of forced marriage:

  • Absence and persistent absence
  • Request for extended leave of absence and failure to return from visits to country of origin
  • Fear about forthcoming school holidays
  • Surveillance by siblings or cousins at school
  • Decline in behaviour, engagement, performance or punctuality
  • Poor exam results
  • Being withdrawn from school by those with parental responsibility
  • Not allowed to attend extra-curricular activities
  • Sudden announcement of engagement to a stranger
  • Prevented from going on to further/higher education
  • The victim reported for offences e.g. shoplifting or substance misuse
  • Victim reported missing
  • Unreasonable restrictions e.g. kept at home by parents
  • Self-harm/attempted suicide
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression/isolation
  • Substance misuse
  • Unwanted pregnancy
  • Female genital mutilation

The following risk factors within the family may also be indicators that forced marriage may occur:

  • Reports of domestic abuse, harassment or breaches of the peace at the family home
  • Siblings within the family reported missing
  • Siblings forced to marry
  • Early marriage of siblings
  • Self-harm or suicide of siblings
  • Death of a parent
  • Family disputes

Young people with learning difficulties are at particular risk of forced marriage.

Potential School Action

  • All staff should be aware of risk factors and warning signs for forced marriage as part of their duties around safeguarding.
  • Schools should aim to create an “open environment” where pupils feel comfortable and safe to discuss the problems they are facing – an environment where forced marriage is discussed openly within the curriculum, and support and counselling are provided routinely. Pupils need to know that they will be listened to and their concerns taken seriously. Staff in special schools need to be aware of potential warning signs for pupils.
  • Signposting where appropriate forced marriage materials on further support and advice can be accessed.
  • Displaying relevant information e.g. details of the NSPCC Helpline, Child Line, and appropriate local and national support groups on forced marriage.
  • Ensuring that a private telephone is made available pupils need to seek advice discreetly.

Following the notification or disclosure of the possibility of a girl being at risk of forced marriage, the following actions should be taken:

  • School staff will need to follow the procedures outlined in their child protection/safeguarding policies and discuss concerns with the designated member of staff for child protection.
  • The Solihull LSCB web pages provide comprehensive guidance and advice for front line professionals and their managers, individuals in Solihull’s local communities and community groups such as faith and leisure groups on forced marriage. Forced marriage involves complex and sensitive issues; where information is available to any agency which gives rise to concerns about a forced marriage involving a child or young person under 18, which indicates that s/he may be at risk of significant harm now or in the foreseeable future, a referral should be made to Children’s Social Work Services in accordance with the Referrals Procedure.
  • The Forced Marriage Unit will provide advice and support to front line professionals handling cases of forced marriage at any stage in a case. The FMU can help those who have already been forced into marriage to explore their options, including assisting those who are being forced to sponsor a spouse’s visa for settlement in the UK.

Call: 020 7008 0151 (Mon-Fri: 09.00-17.00)


For all out of hours emergencies, please telephone 020 7008 1500 and ask to speak to the Global Response Centre.

The following points have been identified in the multi-agency practice guidelines: Handling cases of forced marriage as being unhelpful and potentially harmful:

  • Treating such allegations merely as a domestic issue and send the student back to the family home
  • Ignoring what the student has told you or dismiss out of hand the need for immediate protection
  • Deciding that it is not your responsibility to follow-up the allegation
  • Approaching the student’s family or those with influence within the community, without the express consent of the student, as this will alert them to your concerns and may place the student in danger
  • Contacting the family in advance of any enquiries by the police, the Forced Marriage Unit, adult or children’s social care, either by telephone or letter
  • Sharing information outside information sharing protocols without the express consent of the student
  • Attempting to be a mediator or encourage mediation, reconciliation, arbitration or family counselling

The local authority has a duty to identify all children not receiving a suitable education. This relates to children of compulsory school age who are not on a school roll and who are not receiving a suitable education otherwise than being at school (this could involve, for example, home education, private education, alternative provision). There may be occasions when a pupil does not return to education after a holiday or they may stop attending school during term time. In these situations, staff may have a suspicion that forced marriage is an issue. If staff suspect that a pupil has been removed from, or prevented from, attending education as a result of forced marriage, a referral should be made to children’s social care and the police. In these circumstances schools should not remove the pupil from the register without first making enquiries and referring the case to police and children’s social care. Nor should they dismiss the student as taking unauthorised absence.

Honour Based Abuse is a violent crime or incident that may have been committed to protect or defend the so-called honour of the family or community. It is often linked to relatives or acquaintances, who mistakenly believe that someone has brought shame to their family or community by doing something that is not in keeping with the traditional beliefs of that culture.

Honour based abuse can include:

  • Verbal threats
  • Violence
  • Being forced to do things against your will
  • Sexual or psychological abuse

There is no religious or cultural basis to this abuse or violence. It is a crime and we will take any information received about this subject seriously.

West Midlands Police: Honour based abuse

Further guidance for professionals can be found on the Freedom Charity website.

Curriculum (Universal provision through planned PSHE and RE)

  • Children and young people should be taught through a planned and developmental programme of PSHE about expectations within relationships, issues around consent, the skills and knowledge to access help and support, children’s and human rights;
  • Within Religious Education, teaching should address issues such as what a forced marriage is/is not, the cultural context of forced marriage and the possible long-term impact of forced marriage on girls and women;
  • Freedom Charity has produced a series of free FGM (Female Genital Mutilation) and forced marriage lesson plans for pupils aged 10 to 18. The lesson plans are available for free, to request them please contact Freedom Charity so they can be emailed to you.
  • Plan UK, a global charity which supports action on promoting children’s rights, has produced a series of lessons addressing forced marriage
  • Triple V (Values Versus Violence) is Dot Com Children’s Foundation’s resource for secondary schools. The VVV resources aim to empower young people by helping them to develop positive behaviours and learn how to keep themselves and their friends safe. This includes They provide opportunities to discuss criminal behaviour and victimisation in a safe environment and, as a result, they lead to changes in behaviour. The Watch Over Me series is a broadcast-quality “soap opera” which engages young people and helps them create their own strategies for dealing with risk. It is a classroom tool which stimulates discussion and helps pupils feel safe enough to talk about the most challenging issues which affect personal safety.

Involving other agencies and signposting

Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid will provide support and advice for those at risk of forced marriage. The also provide training sessions.

Karma Nirvana is a UK registered charity that supports victims and survivors of Forced Marriage and Honour Based Abuse. Opening times are:

9am to 9pm Mon- Fri

10am to 4pm Sat & Sun

The helpline is available for all victims, survivors, friends and professionals. The phone line is staffed by survivors who understand what the victims are going through.

Tel. 0800 5 999 247

Updates and changes


These pages are updated regularly and should be used as the main source of information.  Printed versions should be used with care as they can become out of date.