Forced Marriage

Understanding forced marriage

In forced marriage, there is no choice. It is an abuse of human rights, and a form of domestic violence and child abuse. It is defined by the Home Office as “a marriage conducted without the valid consent of both parties where duress (emotional pressure in addition to physical abuse) is a factor.”

In the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, “force” means to “coerce by threats or other psychological means (and related expressions are to be read accordingly).”

Forced marriages are not the same as arranged marriages. In arranged marriages, families will take the lead in matching couples, who always have a choice about whether to proceed.

The law on forced marriage

The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 allows courts to make a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO) to protect someone who is being forced into marriage or who has already been forced into marriage. The courts can make orders to protect the victim and help remove them from the situation. Breach of an order is not a criminal offence but the police can arrest someone they suspect has breached the order. Breach is dealt with as contempt of court, with the courts having the usual full range of sanctions available to them, including prison. The courts can allow someone to be arrested if there is significant risk of harm, either to the intended victim or somebody else in connection with the intended marriage. Forced marriage is also now a criminal offence.

What happens?

The victim can apply for an FMPO, as can government bodies, the NSPCC, police, local authorities and non-governmental organisations. Relatives or friends of the victim will need permission from a court to apply.

The types of orders the court can make are:

  • To prevent a forced marriage from occurring
  • To hand over passports
  • To stop intimidation and violence
  • To reveal the whereabouts of a person
  • To stop someone from being taken abroad
  • To prevent contact
  • To change a name

Orders can apply to people who are not even named in the application, if it can be shown that the person knew about the order. This means the order can apply to those who aid, abet, encourage or assist another person to force or attempt to force someone into marriage. The order could relate to conduct in the UK and overseas.

The court can make an order without an application if there are other family proceedings before it. The victim may not be part of these proceedings but the respondent must be, e.g. if a wife applies for a non-molestation order against her husband, a FMPO may be made about their daughter if the father is trying to force her into marriage. Mediation is likely to prove extremely dangerous in such cases. There have been cases of victims being murdered by their families while mediation was being undertaken.

Who to contact about forced marriage

The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) is a joint initiative with the Home Office. It offers confidential advice and assistance for those at risk of being forced into marriage overseas. Although FMU sees cases from around the world, approximately 65% of cases are in families of Pakistani origin and 25% are in families of Bangladeshi origin. Around a third of cases the FMU deals with are children, some as young as 13.

Tel: (+44) (0) 207 008 0151 between 9-5pm Monday to Friday

Tel: (+44) (0) 0207 0081500 – emergency duty officer (out of office hours)

Or email fmu@fco.gov.uk

Our Experts

Philippa Morgan

Philippa Morgan

Head of Family Law

Email: pmorgan@lyonsdavidson.co.uk

Direct Dial: 0117 904 5923


Iona Phillips

Partner/ Deputy Group Leader: Family Law

Email: iphillips@lyonsdavidson.co.uk

Direct Dial: 0117 904 5878


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