Forced marriage: How is the UK tackling this serious form of abuse?

Early and forced marriage is a violation of human rights that destroys childhoods and lives. Victims are pressurised to marry against their will and subject to threats, physical violence, and emotional, psychological or financial abuse.

The UK is playing a leading role in combating forced marriage and recognises the act as domestic abuse, child abuse and an abuse of human rights.

Case study

Shafilea Iftikhar Ahmed was a 17-year-old British Pakistani girl from Great Sankey, Warrington, Cheshire, who was murdered by her parents.

Shortly before her death, Shafilea had turned down a suitor during a visit to Pakistan. It was also reported she had drunk bleach (a possible suicide attempt) leaving her with significant injuries.

A nationwide hunt was launched but when Shafilea failed to seek treatment for her damaged throat and was reported missing by teachers. Detectives became convinced she had been murdered, connected with her rejection of her Pakistani suitor. The youngster’s murder,  was well publicised and highlights the abuse and despair victims can be exposed to.

There was a long history of Shafilea reporting that her parents had assaulted her, self-harm and absences from school. These should serve as warning signs for other professionals, friends or families of a victim.

British Law

In 2005 the Forced Marriage Unit was set up which is a joint foreign commonwealth and home office unit operating both inside the UK and overseas. It works to assist British Nationals or those with dual heritage who are forced to marry against their will or have been unable to consent to marriage due to incapacity.

Between January and December 2014 the Forced Marriage Unit gave advice and support to 1,267 cases of forced marriage, 79 per cent of victims were female and 21 per cent were male victims. Shockingly 11 per cent of the victims were under the age of 16. Previous statistics show that children as young as two have been victim of forced marriage.

Previously, courts have only been able to issue civil orders to prevent victims being forced into marriage. To tackle this serious form of abuse the Government made it a criminal offence. Parents who force their children to marry can now be punished by up to seven years in prison.

Unfortunately many victims are still frightened about the consequences of criminalising their family.

The court also has power to make Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPO) in a bid to help protect vulnerable people.

The order can be made by the victim or more usually by a relevant third party, such as a local authority.  The order can include prohibitions, restrictions or requirements to protect the victim from the involved person or persons.  It can be made after the forced marriage and the forced marriage unit, can as part of their work overseas intervene to have the victim returned to the UK.

A breach of the order can result in up to five years imprisonment, and the orders can be made at a specialist court centre on an emergency basis.

It is important to remember that a forced marriage is not the same as an arranged marriage, whereby family select a suitor, providing both parties to that marriage consent this arrangement is perfectly proper and legal.  However, one of the parties does not consent to the marriage but is forced to precede with it as a result of duress that marriage is a forced one.

Access to support

While campaigners in the UK are working to prevent forced marriages, there is still a gap in terms of support services to assist the victims after the court process has concluded.  Often young victims can become ostracised from their family and it can have life-changing effects. Some areas have sufficient support agencies but with a threat of further budget cuts such resources aren’t widely available. There is a great deal of work to be done.

If you need specialist advice our solicitors are here to help. It is essential to get in touch as soon as possible so we can help protect you and make an application to court for a forced marriage protection order. We can also help you access support to fund your case so you don’t have the extra worry of legal fees.

Contact Emma Pike on 0161 761 4611 or email

You can also speak to The Forced Marriage Unit on 020 7008 0151 or email FMY@FCO.GOV.UK