Forced marriage

Forced marriage is where one or both people do not consent to the marriage. It is a crime and a violation of a person’s human rights.

What is forced marriage?

There are two types of forced marriage:

1) A marriage where pressure or abuse is used

2) A marriage where one or both people cannot consent

Forced marriage is different from arranged marriage. In arranged marriages, although the marriage is set up by the family, the marrying couple consent to the arranged marriage.

Victims of forced marriage often end up enduring long-term physical and sexual abuse in their marriage. This can have a serious impact on any children born of the marriage.

Sometimes a person is forced to marry someone so that they can become a carer.

What kind of pressure is involved in forced marriage?

When people are pressured into marrying someone against their will there may be physical or sexual violence, threats or emotional or psychological pressure, like when someone is made to feel they will bring shame on their family if they do not marry. Financial abuse often follows.

When can someone not marry?

An adult can only marry if they have mental capacity to enter into a marriage. If someone lacks mental capacity, then they are incapable of consenting to a marriage. It is illegal to consent to a marriage on behalf of someone who lacks capacity.

Depending on their particular condition, people may lack capacity to marry if they have learning disabilities, brain damage or a brain disorder, dementia or severe mental health issues.

If there is any doubt about whether someone can legally consent to marriage, we check their mental capacity. This includes checking whether the person understands what a marriage is and the consequences of marriage, if the person can remember that they intend to get married and that the person can communicate their decision to get married.

Sometimes a court makes a decision about whether someone has the mental capacity to marry or not.

What are the signs of a forced marriage?

Forced marriage can be difficult to spot because the signs are usually hidden.

There may be bruises and marks on a person’s body which may be a sign that they are being forced into a marriage but mostly emotional pressure is used to force someone into a marriage, which can be harder to spot.

Emotional distress, depression and self-harm are the most common behaviours shown by victims of forced marriage. Often victims feel isolated and unable to talk to other people about what they are going through.

If a person with learning disabilities or a permanent brain disorder says they are getting married, this may be a sign they are being forced into a marriage.

Some families feel sexual abuse brings shame. If a woman or girl says she has been sexually abused her family may force her into a marriage to restore ‘honour’ to the family. Someone going away on holiday suddenly for no reason could be a sign they are in danger of being forced into marriage.

If a person is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT), some families may force their relative into marriage to stop rumours about the person’s sexuality or gender identity. They may also wrongly believe that the marriage will ‘cure’ the person.

Forced marriages are more common in some communities such as Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Indian, Afghani, Somalian, Turkish, Iraqi, Sri Lankan and Iranian communities.

Why does forced marriage happen?

Forced marriage happens for many different reasons.

Sometimes parents of adults with learning disabilities don’t understand the law. They wrongly think that they can arrange for their learning disabled son or daughter to get married to someone. Parent-carers of adults with learning disabilities may force their son/daughter into a marriage to ensure that when they are no longer able to care for their child, the spouse will take on that role.

Often, forced marriages happen because families believe it is necessary for cultural, social or religious reasons. This is a mistaken belief. Forcing another person into marriage is never right. Freely given consent in marriage is a founding principle in all major faiths.

Some families feel that a forced marriage is necessary to prevent an ‘unsuitable’ relationship and protect their family honour. Financial gain and ensuring that land, property and wealth remain in the family can also be motivation for forced marriages. Sometimes a forced marriage is used to assist someone to get UK residency and citizenship.

What can be done about forced marriage?

Everyone who has the mental capacity to marry has the right to choose who they marry, when they marry or whether to marry at all. Every person has the right to be free from the abuse and violation of a forced marriage.

Often a person who is forced into a marriage can’t talk about what’s happening to them because of pressure from family members and others. The Forced Marriage Unit provides support to any individual who has been forced into a marriage. Even if you are not sure that a forced marriage is taking place, you can get advice and support. You can call them for advice on 020 7008 0151.

If someone has been forced into a marriage but they weren’t capable of marriage (for example they have learning disabilities), this becomes a safeguarding concern. We will look into the concerns and appoint someone to be the adult’s advocate.

We bring professionals together in a safeguarding enquiry to plan how to help and support the adult concerned. Every disabled or vulnerable adult has different needs and wishes. Bringing everyone together helps us to create a personalised approach suited to that particular person’s needs. We will discuss the legal and other options, assess the risks and help the person develop a safety plan.

I’m worried about someone. What should I do?

If you are worried that someone has been a victim of a forced marriage or is at risk of a forced marriage please report it. Do not delay! You could help avoid serious harm. Even if you are not sure, it is better to report it.

If you feel you are being forced into a marriage or you need help leaving a marriage you’ve been forced into, please get in contact. We are here to help and protect you.

Who can I call about forced marriage?

If a person or child is at risk of immediate harm, please call the Emergency Services on 999.

Otherwise, please contact the Forced Marriage Unit on 020 8007 0151 or email

The Islington Safeguarding Adults Board and Council recognise that some adults are at greater risk of forced marriage due to their age, disability or ill-health. If you are concerned that such an adult is at risk or has been forced into a marriage, please contact Islington Access and Advice Service (Adult Social Services) on 020 7527 2299 or email The Minicom number is 020 7527 6475.

If you are worried about a child who is at risk, please contact Children's Services Contact Team on 0207 527 7400 or email

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