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A forced marriage is where one or both people do not (or in cases of people with learning or physical disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used. These differ from arranged marriages, where both parties consent and enter into them freely. Forced marriage can happen to anyone despite their sex, sexual preference, disability, faith or ethnicity.
In a forced marriage, one or both partners are pressured either emotionally, psychologically (such as being made to feel like they’re bringing shame on their family) or physically (through threats, actual physical violence and/or sexual violence) to marry against their will. Pressure can also be applied financially (for example taking your wages or not giving you any money).
Forced marriage is illegal in England and Wales. This includes:
- taking someone overseas to force them to marry (whether or not the forced marriage takes place)
- marrying someone who lacks the mental capacity to consent to the marriage (whether they’re pressured to or not)
Forcing someone to marry can result in a sentence of up to 7 years in prison.
Everyone in the UK has the right to choose who they marry, irrespective of religion, family views, age or sexuality. The law in Britain helps to protect against forced marriages. For more information, see the What is Forced Marriage? booklet.
Advice for specific groups
If you (or the person you are concerned about) are under 16, male, disabled or LGBT, you will find all the information on this page useful, however there are also specific organisations who can help you :
Under 16: contact Childline. You can call email, or log on for 1-2-1 support.
Male: contact the Mens Advice Line.
If you are supporting someone with a learning disability then you can link to guidance on the Am I Being Forced To Marry? website.
If you are under pressure to marry against your will or believe you may be forced into marriage
There are a range of agencies who can help. Seek guidance from Luton All Women's Centre , Women's Aid in Luton, or one of the other agencies listed on this page to talk through your exact situation and the options open to you. The Forced Marriage Unit can help if you are being forced to marry to sponsor a spouse’s visa. The Freedom Project has developed a smartphone app which allows the user to be a couple of button presses away from help in emergency situations; see their website at freedomcharity.org.uk for more information.
You could apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order to prevent the marriage; see the Forced Marriage Unit website or the leaflet Forced Marriage Protection Orders : How can they protect me? (English)
The Forced Marriage Survivors Handbook has a lot of information on support to leave a forced marriage, and organising your life during and afterwards.
If you are under pressure to marry against your will or believe you may be forced into marriage whilst overseas
If you fear you may be forced into marriage overseas, or know someone else who may be, contact the Forced Marriage Unit on 0207 008 0151 (or 0044 20 7008 if you are overseas). For out of hours emergencies, please telephone 0207 008 1500 and ask to speak to the Global Response Centre. They can also help if you are being forced to marry to sponsor a spouse’s visa.
If you cannot get out of travelling; be prepared and prepare a kit containing money, mobile phone or SIM card and contact details of the nearest British High Commission for the area you are traveling to; see gov.uk/government/world/organisations
If you are already overseas, contact the nearest British Representative (find them on gov.uk/government/world/organisations) or the Forced Marriage Unit immediately on 0044 20 7008; they can help to repatriate you. For out of hours emergencies, please telephone: 0207 008 1500 and ask to speak to the Global Response Centre.
If you believe someone you know or work with may be forced into marriage
They may not want to speak openly about their situation, so warning signs are :
- Extended absence away from school/college/work, or have not returned from an overseas holiday, drop in performance, low motivation, excessive parental restriction and control of movements and/or career choice, history of siblings leaving education to marry.
- Evidence of self-harm, treatment for depression, attempted suicide, social isolation, eating disorders or substance abuse.
- Evidence of family disputes/conflict, domestic violence/abuse or running away from home.
- Someone with learning or other disabilities says their family have told them they are going to get married or are buying jewellery or wedding clothes, or they suddenly need a passport application form signing.
For more information, read the other sections on this page. Remember, the person you are concerned about may not be at risk, but please call the Forced Marriage Unit to discuss it – your concerns may be justified.
If you are in a forced marriage and want to get out
Seek guidance from Luton All Women's Centre, Women's Aid in Luton, or one of the other agencies listed below to talk through your exact situation and the options open to you. They can help you through the process.
You could apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order; see the Forced Marriage Unit website. The Forced Marriage Survivors Handbook has a lot of information on support to leave a forced marriage, and organising your life while you are leaving, and afterwards.
Contact the Forced Marriage Unit if you are being forced to sponsor a spouse’s visa so they can settle in the UK.
Booklets and information to read/print
Forced Marriage Protection Orders : How can they protect me? (Arabic)
Forced Marriage Protection Orders : How can they protect me? (Bengali)
Forced Marriage Protection Orders : How can they protect me? (Farsi)
Forced Marriage Protection Orders : How can they protect me? (Punjabi)
Warning signs to watch for
- “My parents say we’re going to Pakistan for a family wedding, but my sister has hinted it is my wedding to a distant cousin so they can come over here.”
- “My whole family are pressuring me to marry this girl; it will dishonour the family and the whole community will shun us if I don’t - but I don’t want to do it
- “My colleague used to be really friendly and chatty, now she’s very withdrawn. She said she got married over the summer, which was surprising because she’d never mentioned a boyfriend.”
Confidential women only service including advice and support around domestic abuse, forced marriage, honour based issues. Also runs a Young Women's Programme and Freedom programme and support for parents.Call us Email us
Free, confidential 24hr helpline for women experiencing domestic violence. Translation facilities and a service for callers who are deaf or hard of hearing.Call us
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Independent Domestic Violence Advisory Service for Luton providing free, independent and confidential support & advocacy for very high risk cases of domestic abuse or those where professional judgement is applied - referrals accepted from all statutory and non statutory agencies. Contact for advice or further details. Secure email address available for referrals.Call us Email us
Offers a range of services and projects to support communities to integrate into wider society and become active citizens. The organisation provides a much needed secure space where women can support each other as well as learn together to empower themselves and their families. It is dedicated to the cause of combating poverty, discrimination, abuse and social exclusion among Black, Asian, minority ethnic, refugee and asylum women.
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The UK Border Agency can offer help and advice to asylum seekers experiencing domestic violence.
Provides advice on domestic violence, racial harassment, welfare and immigration, primarily for Asian, African and African-Caribbean women.Call us
Guidance for local authorities on applying for forced marriage protection orders and information for other agencies.
Helpline supporting male and female victims of forced marriage and honour based violence. Postal address: PO Box 515, Leeds, LS6 3DWCall us
Preventing British nationals (female & male) being forced into marriage overseas or within the UK.Call us Email us
National helpline for the LGBT community on domestic abuse and other issues.Call us Email us
Call 101 to report non-emergency crime and other concerns (24 hour service). Your call will be routed to the appropriate team.Call us