Forced Marriage of a Child

For a record of all amendments and updates, see the Amendments & Archives.

Specific definitions of key concepts used by safeguarding practitioners are available through the Glossary.

1. Introduction

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Hundreds of people in the UK (particularly girls and young women), some as young as nine, are forced into marriage each year. A 'forced' marriage, as distinct from a consensual 'arranged' one, is a marriage conducted without the full consent of both parties and where duress is a factor. Duress cannot be justified on religious or cultural grounds.


In 2004, the Government's definition of domestic abuse was extended to include acts perpetrated by extended family members as well as intimate partners. Consequently, acts such as forced marriage and so-called 'honour crimes' (which can include abduction and homicide) now come under the definition of domestic abuse.

2. Recognition

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A child who is being forced into marriage is at risk of significant harm through physical, sexual and emotional abuse. See Responding to Abuse and Neglect Procedure.

Significant harm is defined in Responding to Concerns of Abuse and Neglect Procedure, Concept of significant harm as a situation where a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, a degree of physical, sexual and / or emotional harm (through abuse or neglect), which is so harmful that there needs to be compulsory intervention by child protection agencies into the life of the child and their family.


The majority of forced marriages reported to date in the UK have involved families from South Asia; other communities in which there have been cases include Europe, East Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Some forced marriages take place in the UK with no overseas element, while others involve a partner coming from overseas or a British national being taken abroad.


The reasons given by parents who force their children to marry include protecting their children, building stronger families, strengthening family links, protecting family honour (e.g. promiscuity or homosexuality), retaining or acquiring wealth, appeasement etc.


Suspicions that a child may be forced into marriage may arise in a number of ways, including:

  • A family history of older siblings leaving education early and marrying early;
  • Depressive behaviour including self-harming and attempted suicide;
  • Unreasonable restrictions such as being kept at home by their parents ('house arrest') or being unable to complete their education;
  • A child being in conflict with their parents;
  • A child going missing / running away;
  • A child always being accompanied including to school and doctors' appointments;
  • A child talking about an upcoming family holiday that they are worried about, fears that they will be taken out of education and kept abroad; or
  • A child directly disclosing that they are worried s/he will be forced to marry.


Information about a forced marriage may come from one of the child's peer group, a relative or member of the child's local community, from another professional or when other family issues are addressed, such as domestic abuse between parents.

3. Response

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Situations where a child fears being forced into marriage have similarities with both domestic abuse and honour based violence.  Forced marriage may involve the child being taken out of the country (trafficked) for the ceremony, is likely to involve non-consensual and/or underage sex, and refusal to go through with a forced marriage has sometimes been linked to so-called 'honour killing'.


Professionals should respond in a similar way to forced marriage as with domestic abuse and honour based violence (i.e. in facilitating disclosure, developing individual safety plans, ensuring the child's safety by according them confidentiality in relation to the rest of the family, completing individual risk assessments etc). See Domestic Abuse Procedure and 'Honour' Based Violence Procedure.


The needs of victims of forced marriage will vary widely. The child may need help avoiding a threatened forced marriage, or help dealing with the consequences of a forced marriage that has already taken place.


Where a suspicion or allegation of forced marriage or intended forced marriage is raised, there may be only one opportunity to speak to a potential victim, so an appropriate initial response is vital. The professional should:

  • See the child immediately in a secure and private place;
  • See the child on their own;
  • Explain to the child the limits of confidentiality;
  • Tailor their approach according to whether the child is already married or is at risk of being married;
  • Gather as much information as possible (e.g. the details of  a the plan to force the child to marry, including a traceable address overseas) as a victim may never be seen again;
  • Encourage and/or help the child to complete a personal risk assessment (see the proformas in the supplementary London procedure Domestic Abuse);
  • Develop an emergency safety plan with the child;
  • Explain all the options to the child (starting with the fact that forced marriage is illegal in the UK) and recognise and respect the child's wishes. If the child does not want local authority children's social care to intervene, the professional will need to consider whether the child's wishes should be respected or whether the child's safety requires that further action be taken. This requires the professional to make an assessment of the risk of harm facing the child;
  • Agree a means of discreet future contact with the child;
  • Contact, as soon as possible, the agency's designated safeguarding children professional, who should be involved in the assessment of risk;
  • Record all discussions and decisions (including rationale if no decision is made to refer to local authority children's social care).


The professional or their agency's designated safeguarding children professional should contact the Forced Marriage Unit where experienced caseworkers will be able to offer support and guidance, on 020 7008 0151 or through


Professionals should not:

  • Minimise the potential risk of harm;
  • Approach or inform the child's family, friends or members of the community that the victim has sought help as this is likely to increase the risk to the victim significantly. For example attempting to mediate could;
  • Share information outside child protection information-sharing protocols without the express consent of the child;
  • Attempt to be a mediator. This has in the past resulted in the victim being removed from the country and not traced /or murdered.


Where a conclusion is reached that a child is at risk of harm, the professional should make a referral to local authority children's social care in line with Referral and Assessment Procedure and, if the situation is acute, the appropriate police child abuse investigation team (CAIT). See also Referral and Assessment Procedure, Referral criteria which provides guidance on the difference in local authority children's social care between s47 / assessment.

4. Considerations for all agencies

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When dealing with allegations of forced marriage, all professionals should:

  • Keep information from case files and databases strictly confidential, and preferably restricted to named members of staff only;
  • Consider, with their managers, staff safety when visiting the family home and any other settings (see Resistant Families Procedure);
  • Get as much information as possible when a case is first reported, as there may not be another opportunity for the individual reporting to make contact - particularly if the child is going overseas;
  • When referring a case of forced marriage to other agencies, ensure they are capable of handling the case appropriately. If in doubt, consider approaching established women's groups who have a history of working with survivors of domestic abuse and forced marriage and ask these groups to refer them to reputable agencies;
  • Recognise the police responsibility to initiate and undertake a criminal investigation as appropriate; 

5. Action by local authority Children's Social Care

Caption: Action by local authority Children's Social Care


local authority children's social care should respond in line with the relevant sections of these procedures (see Referral and Assessment Procedure, including Referral criteria, which provides guidance on the difference in local authority children's social care between s47 / assessment). In an acute situation, local authority children's social care should convene an immediate strategy meeting / discussion and proceed accordingly. See Child Protection Enquiries Procedure.


Local Safeguarding Children Partnerships should promote awareness in the local third sector agencies and faith communities that forced marriage is abusive to children and not legal in the UK. Where a case of forced marriage has resulted in the serious harm of a child or young person, practitioners should also consider undertaking a Serious Case Review.

6. Criminal Justice Disposals

Caption: Criminal Justice Disposals


Although there is no specific criminal offence in England and Wales of 'forcing someone to marry', criminal offences may nevertheless be committed. Perpetrators - usually parents or family members - could be prosecuted for offences including threatening behaviour, assault, kidnap, abduction, theft (of passport), threats to kill, imprisonment and murder. Sexual intercourse without consent is rape, regardless of whether this occurs within a marriage or not. A woman who is forced into marriage is likely to be raped and may be raped until she becomes pregnant.


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. Guidance published by the Ministry of Justice explains how local authorities can apply for protection orders and provides information for other agencies. - [This is available at the Justice website]

7. National Guidelines

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Government guidelines for responding to forced marriage situations are available at: the Department of Education website.


The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) guidelines for the police for responding to forced marriage situations are available at


Local authority children's social care should report details of the case, with full family history, to the Community Liaison Unit at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.


The Right to Choose: Multi-agency statutory guidance for dealing with forced marriage. This statutory guidance sets out the responsibilities of Chief Executives, directors and senior managers.

In addition, all practitioners working with children should have access to Multi-agency practice guidelines: Handling cases of Forced Marriage, published in 2009.

There is also Guidance for local authorities on applying for forced marriage protection orders and information for other agencies at: Forced marriage guidance for local authorities and relevant third parties.


Local Safeguarding Children Partnerships should promote awareness in the local third sector agencies and faith communities that forced marriage is abusive to children and not legal in the UK. Where a case of forced marriage has resulted in the serious harm of a child or young person, practitioners should also consider undertaking a Serious Case Review.