3.7.3 Forced Marriages
A summary of this chapter is available – see the Factsheets section in Local Resources.
See also Related Guidance / Information Section.RELATED CHAPTERS
AMENDMENTIn October 2018, the link was updated to the 'Protocol on the handling of 'so-called' Honour Based Violence/Abuse and Forced Marriage Offences between the National Police Chiefs' Council and the Crown Prosecution Service' - see Section 19, Related Information / Guidance.
A forced marriage is defined in The Multi Agency Practice Guidance: Handling Cases of Forced Marriages as:
"a marriage in which one or both spouses do not (or, in the case of some adults with learning or physical disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and duress is involved. Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure. No major world faith condones forced marriage. The freely given consent of both parties is a prerequisite of all Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu marriages."
Forced marriage 'is a form of child/domestic abuse and should be treated as such. Therefore, ignoring the needs of victims is not an option. Forced marriage affects people from many communities and cultures. Cases should be tackled using existing structures, policies and procedures designed to safeguard children, adults with support needs and victims of domestic abuse.' Forced Marriage Unit Guidelines 2009.
The Home Office Government defines domestic abuse as:
Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are or have been intimate partners or family members regardless of gender or sexuality. This can encompass, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse:
Controlling behaviour is: a range of acts designed to make a person subordinate and/or dependent by isolating them from sources of support, exploiting their resources and capacities for personal gain, depriving them of the means needed for independence, resistance and escape and regulating their everyday behaviour. Coercive behaviour is: an act or a pattern of acts of assault, threats, humiliation and intimidation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish, or frighten their victim. https://www.gov.uk/domestic-violence-and-abuse.
Forcing someone over the age of 16 to marry against their will is now a criminal offence under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (which amends the Family Law Act 1996) http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2014/12/part/10/enacted:
Part 10, 121 Offence of forced marriage: England and Wales
- A person commits an offence under the law of England and Wales if he or she:
- Uses violence, threats or any other form of coercion for the purpose of causing another person to enter into a marriage; and
- Believes, or ought reasonably to believe, that the conduct may cause the other person to enter into the marriage without free and full consent.
- In relation to a victim who lacks capacity to consent to marriage, the offence under subsection (1) is capable of being committed by any conduct carried out for the purpose of causing the victim to enter into a marriage (whether or not the conduct amounts to violence, threats or any other form coercion);
- A person commits an offence under the law of England and Wales if he or she:
- Practices any form of deception with the intention of causing another person to leave the United Kingdom; and
- Intends the other person to be subjected to conduct outside the United Kingdom that is an offence under subsection (1) or would be an offence under that subsection if the victim were in England or Wales.
The issue of forced marriages in Britain primarily affects girls and young women. They may be taken abroad and then forced to marry, or brought to this country as a result of forced marriage to a person living in the UK. Forced marriages also occur in Britain. However, evidence suggests that 15% of victims are male.
The force used when an individual's right to refuse a partner is disregarded is an act of violence. It can be in the form of emotional pressure exerted by close family members and the extended family, or may include threatening behaviour, abduction, imprisonment, physical violence, rape and in some extreme cases may result in murder. Forced marriage is not an issue faced exclusively by South Asian people. There are cases in England and Wales involving families from East Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
2. The Difference between Arranged and Forced Marriages
Arranged marriages are those that are arranged by families of the two individuals concerned. The marriage is solemnised with the freely given consent of the individuals and all parties.
In forced marriage one or both parties do not consent to the marriage and some element of duress is involved, that is either emotional or physical in nature.
3. Motives Prompting Forced Marriages
Parents who force their children to marry often justify their behaviour as protecting their children, building stronger families and preserving cultural or religious traditions. Some parents come under significant pressure from their extended families to get their children married. In some instances, agreements have been made about marriage when the children were very young.
Some of the key motives that have been identified are:
- Family honour;
- Peer group or family pressure;
- Attempting to strengthen family links;
- Ensuring land, property and wealth remain within the family;
- Protecting perceived cultural ideas (which can be misguided or out of date);
- Protecting perceived religious ideals that are misguided;
- Preventing 'unsuitable' relationships, e.g. Outside the ethnic, cultural religious or caste group;
- Controlling unwanted behaviour and sexuality (including perceived promiscuity or being gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans gender);
- Long standing family commitments;
- Assisting claims for residence and citizenship.
While it is important to have an understanding of the motives that drive parents to force their children to marry, these motives should not be accepted as justification for such an act.
4. Effects of Forced Marriage
Young people forced into marriage often become estranged from their families. Sometimes they become trapped in the cycle of abuse with serious long-term consequences including self-harm and suicide. Many women forced into marriage suffer further Domestic Abuse. These women feel unable to leave because of the lack of family support, economic pressure and other social circumstances. Isolation is one of the biggest problems facing victims of forced marriage. They feel they have no one to whom they can talk. These feelings of isolation are very similar to those experienced by victims of child abuse and other forms of Domestic Abuse. See also Domestic Abuse Procedure.
Many young people run away from home to escape a forced marriage. They live in fear, and suffer because they have to leave behind family, friends and all that is familiar to them. Some families may resort to employing the services of a 'bounty hunter' in order to bring the young person back into the family, or report them to the police as a Missing Person. There can be far reaching consequences for children born out of forced marriages. The emotional consequences of such marriages can culminate in parents being unable to adequately parent their children, resulting in the need for intervention by statutory agencies. See also Honour-based Abuse Procedure.
5. Forced Marriage and Child Protection
A forced marriage of a young person under the age of 18 is a child protection issue, because it is likely to cause Significant Harm. In addition it should be noted that the Home Office definition of domestic abuse from March 2013 applies from 16 years and over. It impairs a young person's health and development; it may also involve underage sex or rape. Young people taken out of school to be married overseas suffer the loss of educational opportunities. As their marriages are not recognised in the UK many are kept overseas until they turn sixteen. Some young women may not be allowed to return home until they become pregnant, thus making it even more difficult for them to escape the relationship. Some may give birth whilst abroad and may be forced to return to England without their newborn child, until the Indefinite Leave To Remain has been completed. See also Children from Abroad, including Victims of Modern Slavery, Trafficking and Exploitation Procedure and Sexual Exploitation Procedure.
Those young people who feel unable to go against the wishes of their parents may suffer emotionally, often leading to depression and self-harm. Young people with disabilities or mental health problems are more vulnerable to the pressures of forced marriage. They are less likely to be able to give informed consent.
Forced marriages do not always take place abroad; there are examples of young people being forced into marriage in the UK. The needs of victims of forced marriage will vary widely. They may need help to avoid a threatened forced marriage or help to deal with the consequences of a marriage that has already taken place. Practitioners from all agencies need to be aware that young people living within a forced marriage, or those under threat of one, may face Significant Harm if their families become aware that they have sought assistance from either statutory agencies or from community/voluntary based organisations.
6. Agencies and Practitioners likely to come into Contact with Victims of Forced Marriage
The following agencies are the most likely to come into contact with victims of forced marriage, or become aware that a forced marriage may be about to take place:
- Children's Social Care;
- Adult Social Care;
- South Yorkshire Police;
- Schools including independent schools, Academies and Free Schools/further education colleges/educational units;
- Education welfare services;
- Youth services;
- Voluntary agencies;
- Primary health care settings;
- A & E department, Northern General Hospital;
- Maternity and gynaecological services;
Children's Social Care has the lead responsibility, along with South Yorkshire Police, to protect young people who are being forced into marriage.
Information or referral about a forced marriage may be received from the victim or from a friend or relative, or from another agency or community-based organisation. Forced marriage may also become apparent through careful questioning in the course of responding to other situations within the family such as Domestic Abuse, self-harm, child abuse, family/adolescent conflict or missing persons/runaways.
Care must be taken not to assume that an individual is at risk of forced marriage simply on the basis that they are being taken on an extended family holiday. These assumptions and stereotyping can cause considerable distress to families.
7. Agencies Responsible for Receiving Referrals
Referrals from practitioners regarding young people who have expressed a fear of being subject to forced marriage should be referred to Children's Social Care. See Making a Referral following the Identification of Child Safety and Welfare Concerns Procedure. If the young person is 16 years or over it will be appropriate to risk assess them using the DASH risk assessment and if they are found to be at High Risk of serious harm or homicide, to refer them to MARAC and the Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy Service (IDVAS) (see Domestic Abuse Procedure, Referring to the High Risk Cases to the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference Process (MARAC)).
South Yorkshire Police should always inform Children's Social Care when they become aware of a young person facing a forced marriage. In all cases there should be early liaison between Children's Social Care and the Police and a decision made about the need for a Strategy Meeting.
Referrals may also be received from the young person themselves, or a friend or a sympathetic member of their family. It is important that all relevant details are gathered from them during the initial call, if time allows. This is called the One Chance Rule. If the family finds out that a report has been made to any organisation, travel and / or impending marriage arrangements could be brought forward.
If a member of the public tells a practitioner they want to make a referral about a child or children, they should be informed that they should use the contact details on Sheffield City Council website.
In an emergency the young person or a practitioner should not hesitate and dial 999.
8. Action Following Referral To Children's Social Care
On receipt of a referral of a young person facing a forced marriage, children's social care will determine whether any immediate action is required to protect the young person, and carry out such action as is necessary. They will then allocate a designated social worker within Children's Social Care, and arrange a Strategy Meeting within 72 hours of receipt of the referral.
The Strategy Meeting will be chaired by a member of the Safeguarding Children Service and will be attended by the team manager, Lead Social Worker, the police, agency representatives who know the child or family, agencies that may be in a position to offer support services, and legal services.
The Strategy Meeting should:
- Share available information;
- Decide whether Section 47 Enquiries should be continued or if an assessment under Section 17 would be the most appropriate response;
- Plan how enquiries/investigation/assessment should be carried out, and by whom, including whether it is to be carried out jointly by the Police and Children's Social Care;
- Consider whether it is appropriate to apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order (Anyone threatened with forced marriage or forced to marry against their will can apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order. Third parties, such as relatives, friends, voluntary workers and police officers, can also apply for a protection order with the leave of the court. Fifteen county courts deal with applications and make orders to prevent forced marriages. Local authorities can now seek a protection order for vulnerable adults and children without leave of the court and these can be applied for pre-emptively e.g. when a child is very young if other older family members have been threatened with forced marriage. See guidance at: Justice Website - Forced Marriage;
- Consider the need for an interpreter. However, whether the interpreter is known/has family/community knowledge of the person should be taken into account - see Underlying Principles and Values Procedure, Use of Interpreters, Signers or Others with Communication Difficulties;
- Decide how to proceed that will not place the young person, or others, at risk of harm;
- Agree what immediate action is needed to safeguard the young person and/or provide interim services or support;
- Consider other children who may be affected by any action taken i.e. The safety of siblings;
- Consider the safety of the practitioners involved in the assessment/investigation;
- Decide what information, if any, is to be shared with the family and the timing of this;
- Arrange a date for a Strategy Review Meeting.
9. Immediate Protection
In an emergency, if the young person is going to be removed from the country immediately or a marriage is imminent, and the young person wants protection, emergency procedures should be put into place. That is, the young person's safety should be secured through Police Protection, an Emergency Protection Order or Interim Care Order, or through accommodation Section 20 for young people over 16 years.
10. Making Section 47 Child Protection Enquiries
If the Strategy Meeting determines that enquiries and action under Section 47 are to be undertaken, this action should follow. Information about the family including the extended family should be gathered discretely and in a confidential manner. It will be important to see the young person as quickly as possible in a secure and private place on their own:
- To establish what the young person is saying;
- To establish the actual or perceived risk;
- Establish if there is a family history of forced marriage or abuse i.e. Siblings forced to marry;
- To discuss the plans and safety of the young person;
- To provide information to the young person (e.g. details of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office);
- To give the young person information about available options;
- To support the young person in deciding what they want to do next;
- Establish if they want parents to be approached at this stage;
- Establish if safe accommodation is required by the young person;
- Establish future means of making contact that do not increase the risk to the young person;
- In all cases complete a risk assessment on the young person.
If the young person wants to be accompanied during the interview e.g. by a teacher or advocate, it is essential to ensure that the person understands the implications of confidentiality, especially with regard to the young person's family. The safety of the young person is of paramount importance and should not be compromised.
If the case has an overseas dimension, Children's Social Care should alert the Community Liaison Unit at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. They should provide the name and age of the young person, the family details, and name of potential spouse and family, if known, so that the information can be logged.
11. Medical Examination
In some cases it may be necessary to arrange a medical examination for emotional or physical illness or as a result of underage sex or rape. In other cases, victims may require attention to injuries for treatment or for evidential purposes. It may not be advisable to call or visit a medical practitioner from the local ethnic community as this may threaten the security of the young person.
The examination of the young person should be carried out in accordance with Section 47 Enquiries and Assessment Procedure. The paediatrician should provide information and documentation of any injuries for the police, even if the young person does not want any action taken.
12. Review Strategy Meeting
A review Strategy Meeting should take place in all cases within two weeks of the initial Strategy Meeting. This meeting should consider all information gathered during the course of the investigation about the immediate and extended family, the young person and their wishes, the pressures within the local community, the level of risk, the legal advice sought, if any, and what further action is required to protect the young person. A decision should be reached and documented about what information is to be provided to the family.
13. Response For Young People who have been Subject to Forced Marriage
Some forced marriages are only brought to agencies attention after the marriage has taken place, when legal remedies may prove more difficult. Young people who seek assistance following a forced marriage should be regarded as Children in Need under Section 17. Any response should be based on a holistic assessment of their situation and clear understanding of the action that they wish to take.
A young person who has already been married has limited choices. They may:
- Stay with the marriage;
- Flee the marriage;
- Confront their family and seek their backing;
- Try to prevent a visa application for a spouse being brought to the UK.
If the young person chooses to stay with the marriage, information about support and counselling services should be provided to the young person and referrals made for appropriate support.
If the young person chooses to flee the marriage support should be given and an exit strategy devised. If the young person is 16 years or over it will be appropriate to risk assess them using the DASH risk assessment model and if they are found to be at medium/High Risk of serious harm or homicide, to refer them to MARAC and the Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy Service (IDVAS) (see Domestic Abuse Procedure, Referring to the High Risk Cases to the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference Process (MARAC)). This will enable a multi agency safety plan to be devised.
Confronting the family may be extremely risky for the young person. They may not get the support they hope for even with the support of agencies.
Although young people may try to prevent a successful visa application for their spouse, in reality, this is not possible to do without all parties being aware of the young person's reasons for not wanting to sponsor their spouse's visa application. In all cases young people need to be made aware of the possible consequences of their actions.
14. Response to Report by Third Party of a Young Person having been taken Abroad for the Purpose of a Forced Marriage
Some young people are taken overseas on the pretext of a holiday, the wedding of a relative or the illness of a grandparent, for example. On arrival their passport and documents may be taken away from them.
In such cases the Police and Children's Social Care should gather intelligence, and work closely with the Community Liaison Unit at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. See The Multi Agency Practice Guidance: Handling Cases of Forced Marriages.
It is not advisable to contact an overseas organisation to make enquiries. If the family becomes aware that enquiries are being made, they may move the young person to another location or expedite the forced marriage.
Once a young person has left the country, legal options are limited. Efforts can be made to seek the return of the young person to the jurisdiction of England and Wales by making them a Ward of Court. An application can be made to the High Court Family Division by a relative, friend or the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (CAFCASS). Children's Social Care is not able to make a child a Ward of Court.
15. Response for a Young Person Repatriated to the UK from Overseas
Sometimes the Foreign and Commonwealth Office may ask Children's Social Care for assistance when a young person is repatriated to the UK. The young person may be extremely traumatized. They may have been held against their will, suffered physical emotional and sexual harm and sometimes will have risked their life to escape.
The choices available to the young person are limited:
- To leave their family and live in hiding;
- To leave their family and seek a prosecution against them;
- To return to their family in the hope that the situation can be resolved.
Children's Social Care should refer to The Multi Agency Practice Guidance: Handling Cases of Forced Marriages (published by the Forced Marriage Unit in June 2009).
The Social Worker should:
- Arrange for someone to meet the young person at the airport;
- Inform the police in case the family try to locate the young person;
- Organise safe accommodation;
- Consider whether it is appropriate to apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order, Emergency Protection Order or Interim Care Order;
- If the young person chooses to flee the marriage support should be given and an exit strategy devised. If the young person is 16 years or over it will be appropriate to risk assess them using the DASH risk assessment model and if they are found to be at medium/High Risk of serious harm or homicide, to refer them to MARAC and the Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy Service (IDVAS) (see Domestic Abuse Procedure, Referring to the High Risk Cases to the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference Process (MARAC)). This will enable a multi agency safety plan to be devised.
16. Response for a Spouse who has come to the UK from Overseas
Some young people who are not British citizens are brought to the UK after they have been forced to marry overseas. Often these young people are not aware of the support to which they are entitled. They may also not be able to speak English and are kept by the family, usually in-laws, in virtual isolation.
The choices available to the young person are limited:
- To stay within the marriage;
- To flee the marriage and apply to be allowed to remain in the UK;
- To flee the marriage and return to their country of origin.
The young person may be frightened by contact with statutory agencies, as they may have been told that the authorities will deport them. For many young people returning to their country of origin is not an option. They may be ostracized, subjected to violence or even killed for bringing perceived shame on to the family. If the young person is 16 years or over it will be appropriate to risk assess them using the DASH risk assessment and if they are found to be at medium/High Risk of serious harm or homicide, to refer them to MARAC and the Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy Service (IDVAS) (see Domestic Abuse Procedure, Referring to the High Risk Cases to the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference Process (MARAC)) This will enable a multi agency safety plan to be devised.
Children's Social Care should:
- Consider any young person under the age of 18 in the same manner as an Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Minor and accommodate the young person under Section 20;
- Assist the young person in seeking immigration advice if this is required;
- Inform the police;
- Record any injuries and arrange a medical examination. Inform the doctor that there may be an immigration application.
17. Young Adults Forced into Marriage
Young people over the age of 18 who are facing or have been subject to forced marriage should be referred to the Adult Protection Officer within Social Care (0114 273 6870). The Adult Protection Officer should arrange a meeting and will co-ordinate the assessment and service provision in line with Government guidance. It is also likely to be appropriate to risk assess them using the DASH risk assessment and if they are found to be at medium/applications for High Risk of serious harm or homicide, to refer them to MARAC and the Independent Domestic Violence Advocacy Service (IDVAS) (see Domestic Abuse Procedure, Referring to the High Risk Cases to the Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference Process (MARAC)) This will enable a multi agency safety plan to be devised.
For further guidance see Multi-agency Practice Guidelines on Forced Marriage Chart of Potential Warning Signs or Indicators.
18. Involvement of Family Members
The Children Act 1989 states that Children's Social Care need to work in partnership with families. In situations of forced marriage this should be balanced with the principal of the welfare of the child being paramount. A forced marriage is a feature of Domestic Abuse that involves extreme coercion. Mediation is not sought in Domestic Abuse cases and should not be an immediate option in forced marriage cases. The safety of the young person should always be the first priority. Victims of forced marriage will frequently have tried mediation themselves; they turn to statutory organisations for help as a last resort and agencies need to respond quickly and appropriately.
In circumstances where safe accommodation is provided for a young person over 16 years, information should be provided to the family that this has occurred. Information should also be provided to SYP Control Room (0114 220 2020) in case the young person is reported as missing from home. In all cases liaison should take place with legal services regarding the sharing of information with family members. Intervention needs to be such that it does not totally isolate young people from their family. A dialogue should be maintained which will enable the young person to re-establish links with their family in the future, should they so wish.
In situations where a family is attempting to force a young person into marriage due to misguided religious views, they may benefit from support to examine their understanding of religious text. Children's Social Care should seek to work in partnership with religious institutions to ensure support to the family to help them understand the damage that forced marriage inflicts not just on the couple but on the rest of the family and wider community.
19. Related Guidance / Information
Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines: Handling Cases of Forced Marriage 2014 - Step-by-step advice for frontline workers. Essential reading for health professionals, educational staff, police, children's social care, adult social services and local authority housing.
Forced Marriage Unit (GOV.UK) - Contact the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) if you're trying to stop a forced marriage or you need help leaving a marriage you've been forced into.
Home Office - Information and practice guidelines for professionals protecting, advising and supporting victims. This includes Multi-Agency Statutory Guidance for dealing with forced marriage.