5.15 Forced Marriage
This chapter was updated in June 2018.
- 1. Introduction
- 2. Definition
- 3. Recognition
- 4. Immediate Response
- 5. Referral to Surrey Children's Services
- 6. Considerations for all Agencies
Further information and guidelines concerning work with situations of forced marriage is available in the following government publications:
Although there is no specific criminal offence of "forcing someone to marry", criminal offences may be committed. Perpetrators (usually parents or family members) could be prosecuted for offences including conspiracy, threatening behaviour, assault, kidnap, abduction, unlawful imprisonment, and murder. Sexual intercourse without consent is rape regardless of whether it occurs within a marriage or not.
In addition, the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, which was implemented in November 2008, makes provision for protecting children, young people and adults from being forced into marriage without their full and free consent (through Forced Marriage Protection Orders).
Forced' marriage, as distinct from a consensual 'arranged' one, is a marriage conducted without the valid consent of both parties and where duress is a factor. Duress cannot be justified on religious or cultural grounds. Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure.
In 2004, the Government's definition of domestic violence 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 violence.
Forced Marriage may involve the young person being taken out of the country 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 'honour killing' (see Honour Based Violence Procedure)
Forced Marriage is an abuse of human rights and where a child is involved an abuse of the rights of the child.
A child who is being forced into marriage is at risk of Significant Harm through physical, sexual and emotional abuse. See Recognition of Significant Harm Procedure.
Significant Harm is defined 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.
Forced marriages encountered in the UK have involved families from South Asia, East Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. The reasons given by parents who force their children to marry include protecting their children, building stronger families and preserving cultural or religious traditions.
While there is a presumption that parents want the best for their children, this may result in conflict between their wishes and those of the child. Where parents force their children to marry, the justification for their actions often falls within the following:
- Controlling unwanted behaviour and sexuality (including perceived promiscuity, or being gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or trans-gender) - particularly the behaviour and sexuality of women;
- Protecting 'family honour';
- Responding to peer group or family pressure;
- Attempting to strengthen family links;
- Ensuring land, property and wealth remain within the family;
- Protecting perceived cultural and/or religious ideals;
- Preventing 'unsuitable' relationships (e.g. outside the family's cultural, ethnic, religious or caste group);
- Assisting claims for residence and citizenship;
- Fulfilling long standing family commitments;
- Debt repayment;
- Alleviation of poverty;
- Appeasement of an aggrieved family member.
Information about a forced marriage may come from the child themselves, one of the child's peer group, a relative or member of the child's local community, or from another professional. Forced marriage may also become apparent when other family issues are addressed, such as domestic violence, self-harm, child abuse or neglect, family / young person conflict, a child not attending school or a missing child / runaway.
Isolation is one of the biggest problems facing those trapped in, or under threat of, a forced marriage. Many young people who face a forced marriage will not even discuss their worries with their friends for fear their families may find out. Only rarely will they disclose fear of forced marriage.
Young people may therefore present with a variety of symptoms. The following factors may be an indication that a young person fears they may be forced to marry;
- Education: truancy; low motivation in school; poor exam results; withdrawal from school; request for extended leave;
- Health: self harm; attempted suicide; eating disorders; depression; isolation; female genital mutilation;
- Family history: siblings forced to marry; family disputes; domestic abuse; running away from home; unreasonable restrictions e.g. house arrest;
- Employment: Poor performance; poor attendance; limited career choices; not allowed to work; unreasonable financial control e.g. confiscation of wages/income;
- Police Involvement: victim or sibling reported missing; reports of domestic abuse; female genital mutilation; threats to kill; victim reported to Police by family for offences, e.g. shoplifting.
4. Immediate Response
Situations where a child fears being forced into marriage have similarities with both domestic violence and honour based violence.
Professionals should respond in a similar way to forced marriage as with domestic violence and honour based violence:
- 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.
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 an allegation of forced marriage or intended forced marriage is raised, 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 (e.g. are there indications of a specific plan to force the child to marry?). There may also be information suggesting a child will be taken out of the country, often for a 'holiday' during a vacation period, and professionals should be aware that this could be linked to suspicions or concerns that the child is at risk of forced marriage;
- 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 LA Surrey Children's Services 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 nominated safeguarding children adviser, who should be involved in the assessment of risk;
- Record all discussions and decisions (including rationale if no decision is made to refer to LA Surrey Children's Services).
Professionals should not:
- Treat such allegations merely as a domestic issue and send the child back to the family home as part of routine child protection procedures. It is not unusual for families to deny that forced marriage was the intention, and once aware of professional concern they may move the child and bring forward both travel arrangements and the marriage;
- Ignore what the child said or dismiss out of hand the need for immediate protection;
- Approach the child's family, friends or those people with influence within the community without the express consent of the child, as this will alert them to agency involvement / enquiries;
- Contact the family. If the family are approached, they may deny that the child is being forced or was forced to marry, move the child, expedite any travel arrangements, bring forward the forced marriage or harm the child;
- Share information outside child protection information-sharing protocols without the express consent of the child;
- Breach confidentiality, except where necessary in order to ensure the child's safety;
- Attempt to be a mediator. This can put the child at considerable risk of harm, possibly of being murdered.
5. Referral to Surrey Children's Services
If a professional and/or their agency's nominated safeguarding children adviser conclude that the child is at risk of harm, the professional should make a referral to Surrey Children's Services in line with the Contacts and Referrals Procedure.
If the situation is acute, the professional should contact the Police
Surrey Children's Services should be contacted immediately and a Strategy Meeting convened. This must include a representative from the police.
If the child or young person has made the complaint they should be involved in developing an appropriate plan.
6. Considerations for all Agencies
Forced marriage places children and vulnerable adults at risk of rape and possible physical harm, including murder. Where an allegation of forced marriage, intended forced marriage or honour-based violence is raised, the Forced Marriage Unit at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should be contacted for advice.
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
- 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 violence 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;
- Encourage the child to get in touch with the Forced Marriage Unit at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The Unit gives advice to children who fear they may be forced to marry.
At no time should:
- Allegations be treated as a domestic issue and the young person be sent back to the family home;
- The young person's concerns be ignored and the need for immediate protection be dismissed;
- Members of the young person's family or community be contacted without the express consent of the young person as this will alert them to the enquiries;
- The family be contacted in advance of any enquiries either by telephone or letter;
- Information be shared outside child protection information sharing protocols without the express consent of the young person;
- The young person's confidentiality be breached except where it is necessary to share information with other agencies in order to ensure the young person's safety;
- Mediation be attempted - this is very important as mediation can be extremely dangerous and has been linked with so called 'honour crimes';
- Arrangements be made for a Family Group Conference because of the risk of physical danger and emotional manipulation which the young person may experience as a result.