Forced marriages

Forced marriage is a term used to describe a marriage in which one or both of the parties are married against his or her own will. A forced marriage differs from an arranged marriage, in which both parties consent to the assistance of their parents or a third party (such as a matchmaker) in identifying a spouse, although the difference between the two may be indistinct.

The practice of forced marriage was very common amongst the upper classes in Europe until the 1900s, and is still practiced in parts of South Asia, East Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Forced marriages now in Western Europe and North America are generally committed within these migrant communities. In most but not all forced marriages, it is the female (rather than the male) who is the involuntary spouse.

Forced marriages are generally made because of family pride, the wishes of the parents, or social obligation. In Britain, within the British Pakistani community, the main reason is to provide British citizenship to a member of the family currently in Pakistan to whom the instigator of the forced marriage feels a sense of duty.

The United Nations views forced marriage as a form of human rights abuse, since it violates the principle of the freedom and autonomy of individuals. The Roman Catholic Church deems forced marriage grounds for granting an annulment. For a marriage to be valid both parties must give their consent freely.

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In response to the problem of forced marriages among immigrants in the UK, the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 was passed, which enables the victims of forced marriage to apply for court orders for their protection.

Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) is a joint-initiative with the Home Office. In 2009 FMU gave advice or support to 1,682 cases. 86 percent of these cases involved females and 14 percent involved males.

E-learning training

This tool complements the multi-agency practice guidelines for professionals and should be read alongside the training.

Multi-agency practice guidelines

The FMU has published a revised set of multi-agency practice guidelines for frontline professionals to help them to work more closely together and to identify and protect children and adults at risk of forced marriage. The revised guidelines replace the existing individual guidelines which were tailored for specific professionals, and now bring these together into one document.

More information can be found on Foreign and Commonwealth Offices and the UKBA Homeoffice websites.

This page was last updated on 5 July 2013

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