Forced marriage – what are the signs?

Forced marriage – what are the signs?

Posted on Feb 24, 2016

Forced marriage – what are the signs?



Forced marriage is a very real problem. Not just in far-flung parts of the world but here in the UK too.

Between 2010 and 2014 police in the UK recorded almost 12,000 cases of ‘honour’-based violence, which tends to go hand-in-hand with forced marriage.


So what are the signs that someone is a victim of, or at risk of forced marriage?

It’s important to start by saying that there are no catch-all pointers that can indicate someone being at risk of forced marriage. It’s possible that someone may display all of the indicators we’ll discuss below but not be at risk of forced marriage, so best practice is to use discretion when considering particular cases.


Problems at home


Having a background of family disputes, running away from home, a history of self-harm or being subject to unreasonable restrictions at home could all point to an individual being at risk of a forced marriage in the future.

It may sound obvious, but, if someone has siblings who are known to have been forced to marry – or even just married young – then this can a warning sign too. An older child refusing to marry can often increase the pressure on younger siblings (especially girls) in order to protect the family ‘honour’ and fulfil a prior marriage agreement.

A bereavement in the family – especially the father – can result in the remaining spouse feeling more of an urgency to ensure their children are married. This can also happen with single parent households or if a step-parent moves in.


At school


Within an educational setting, there are many signs to be aware of: anything from a sudden announcement that a pupil is engaged to a stranger, to a pupil consistently not being allowed to take part in extra-curricular activities (and therefore, socialise with friends) can point to a pupil being at risk.

Other indicators to consider include:


  • pupils being withdrawn from school, removed from a day centre or prevented from going into further or higher education
  • a decline in a pupil’s behaviour, engagement, or performance; poor exam results
  • pupils being under surveillance by siblings or cousins at school
  • persistent absences or requests for extended leave of absence; poor punctuality.


As with FGM, school holidays (summertime, in particular) are the peak time for young people to be taken overseas and forced into marriage.

In some cases they are taken on what they have been told is a holiday to visit family abroad, but in fact, a marriage has been planned.

Once abroad, victims are often even more isolated than they might have been in the UK and getting help is more difficult.


Other signs


A disclosure of sexual abuse can bring perceived shame on a family, and this leads to marriage being seen as a way of restoring the family ‘honour’, or possibly even as a means of ending the abuse.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender pupils can be at greater risk because their sexuality won’t be questioned once married and parents may even see marriage as a ‘cure’.

And lastly, as with other forms of abuse, people with a physical or learning disability are at greater risk of forced marriage because they may be dependent upon their parents and less able to resist or avoid abuse.



It’s against the law


It’s key to remember that forcing someone to marry is a criminal offence in England and Wales and carries a maximum punishment of seven years’ imprisonment for committing a forced marriage offence.

It is illegal to use violence, threats, deception or any other form of coercion for the purpose of forcing a person into marriage or into leaving the UK with the intention of forcing that person to marry.

The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) operates a public helpline (020 7008 0151) giving advice and support to victims of forced marriage and those working with anyone who may be at risk.


Actions to take if you suspect


If you are worried about a child under 18 with regards to forced marriage, you (usually through the safeguarding lead in your organisation) have a legal obligation to share this information with social care or the police. It is their responsibility to investigate, safeguard and protect the child and not your duty to investigate, although it may be appropriate to signpost on to further sources of help and specialist support.

You should never raise the issue with, or make any approach to, the family of the victim. This will only increase the risk of harm.


Train your staff


You can train your staff on the signs of forced marriage with flick learning's forced marriage awareness course today. Subscribing with us offers you access to all of our 32 CPD-accredited courses, free guides and resources with our prices starting at as little as £6.

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