FREE CHAPTER from ‘A Practical Guide to the Law of Forced and Incapacitous Marriages’ by Adreeja Chatterjee



In the first chapter of this book you will find an introduction to forced marriages. It also contains an outline of the scale and impact of the practice of forced marriages and why this issue is of continuing relevance to legal practitioners in England and Wales.


Forced marriages – why are they relevant in the UK in this day and age? What do lawyers need to be aware of? What is the relevant legal framework if you are representing a victim or an individual who is alleged to be responsible for a forced marriage or associated conduct? What issues arise if you are advising a local authority or the police? What steps should be taken, and what remedies and protection are available for children and adults? What about cases of vulnerable and incapacitated adults who are unable to make decisions for themselves or who are on the cusp of having the ability to make decisions?

This book will aim to answer these questions and to provide a practical overview for legal practitioners. The focus will be on civil/family forced marriage protection orders, although an outline of the criminal law in relation to forced marriage and the inter-relation between it and the civil/family orders is set out. There is also a section dealing with vulnerable adults and those with learning disabilities who lack capacity to marry, as special considerations apply to them the jurisdiction of the Court of Protection will be engaged.

The chances are that you have picked up this book because a case in which the issue of a forced marriage has just landed on your desk. Be aware that this is an interesting, niche and surprisingly varied area of the law. Even the most simple set of facts can throw up a surprising number of complex legal questions. Despite the stereotypes, very few cases of forced marriage are ever the same. If the forced marriage has already taken place, identifying the best (or least worst) remedy can be challenging, especially if, for example, a child has been born from the marriage, and/or if inter-jurisdictional issues arise because the other spouse remains abroad and/or cannot be traced.

Forced marriages: Global scale and impact

There are an estimated 15.4 million people in forced marriages worldwide. The vast majority of these are girls and women. However, this is not an issue uniquely confined to females. It is estimated that over a third of individuals forced to marry were children, of whom 40% were below fifteen at the time when marriage took place.

Why does the practice of forced marriages continue across the globe? In order to gain a better idea of how to protect and enforce against forced marriages, we need an understanding of what leads to the performing of forced marriages in the first place.

Common reasons are:

  • strengthening extended family links

  • controlling unwanted behaviour and sexuality

  • preventing ‘unsuitable’ relationships

  • protecting and abiding by perceived cultural or religious norms

  • keeping the wealth in the extended family

  • dealing with the consequences of pregnancy out of wedlock

  • considering the contracting of a marriage as the duty of the parents

  • obtaining a guarantee against poverty

  • aiding immigration

  • securing future care and support for a dependant who may never be capable of living independently

Common evils arising from the practice of forced marriage include:

  • enforced domestic servitude

  • sexual slavery and degradation

  • financial exploitation

  • loss of personal autonomy

  • psychological and emotional abuse

The International Labour Organisation finally recognised forced marriage as a form of slavery in 2017, Anti-Slavery International having been campaigning to have it recognised as such for years.

Likely scale and impact within UK

What about the forced marriage within the UK? What do front-line professionals need to know?

The Forced Marriage Unit is a joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office undertaking which accepts referrals, provides advice, and protects individuals, both in the UK and outside via UK consulates based abroad.

In 2018, the most recent year for which statistics were available at the time of going to press, 1 764 cases were reported to the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU). Since 2012, the FMU has provided support to between 1,200 and 1,400 cases per year. Whilst the number of cases in 2018 rose steeply, representing a 47% increase compared with 2017, the view taken by the FMU is it does not represent an increase in the actual prevalence of forced marriage in the UK.

The reason for the increase in referrals to the FMU is likely to be attributable to a greater awareness of forced marriage being a crime and the support available. Media attention linked to recent criminal court cases which received significant amounts of press coverage, resulting in successful prosecutions, and the launch of the Home Office communication campaign about forced marriage, has probably helped, along with increased training for frontline professionals.

The number of applications for civil forced marriage protection orders (“FMPOs”) has likewise increased recently, and it will be interesting to see if this is a growing trend. The Ministry of Justice has released figures which show that in the first quarter of 2019, twice the number of FMPOs were issued compared to the same period in 2018.

Under-reporting is agreed to be widespread. No reliable statistics exist to indicate how many unreported cases there might be. UK charities have warned that there are thousands of people living within forced marriages under modern slavery conditions in this country. Non-governmental organisations report a much higher incidence of reporting than does the FMU; for example, in 2017, the organisation Karma Nirvana, received 8 870 calls about forced marriage which is much higher than the number reported to the FMU. Over 200 of these were from or about children aged under 15 years. Eight of these were regarding children aged under 10.

Of the cases that FMU provided support to in 2018, 33% involved victims below 18 years of age; 31% involved victims aged 18-25 and the remainder were aged above 25. In that same year, the majority of cases, 75%, involved women and 17 % involved males, the remainder being gender unknown. These proportions are in line with previous years. In one reported case, the victim was a woman in her seventies.

Forced marriage is not a problem specific to one country or culture. Since it was established in 2005, the FMU has handled cases relating to over 90 countries across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America. The “top six” countries in 2018 were:

  • Pakistan

  • Bangladesh

  • India

  • Somalia

  • Afghanistan

  • Romania

Of these countries, Somalia has had the largest year-on-year increase in reports of forced marriage although in 2018 there was a reduction. British Somali teenagers with behavioural issues or involved with drugs or gangland activity in this country are being taken back to their parents’ homeland under the pretence of a holiday and then kept in “rehabilitation centres” before being forced into marriages. Under the practice of dhaqan celis, loosely translated as “the rehabilitation community,” the centres promote themselves as “re-education” schools to align young people with Somali cultural values and their Somali roots. The Home Office, however, says they tend not to deliver an academic curriculum and are in fact detention centres where young people are routinely subjected to physical, sexual and mental abuse. In some cases, those held against their will are told the only way out is to get married.

43 cases were reported relating to Romania in 2018, which represents a significant increase.

Not all forced marriages take place abroad. In 2017, 10% of the cases reported to the FMU had no overseas element, with the potential or forced marriage taking place entirely within the UK. In 2018, this figure dropped to 7%. So it is important to remember that forced marriage activity can and does take place in England and Wales.

Registrars do receive training about this issue, and can intervene to refuse to marry a couple when they suspect that consent is not being given due to duress, or that one of the prospective spouses lacks capacity to marry.

However, some religious ceremonies of marriage can take place in this country, which although not formally recognised under English law, are considered to be binding. For example, an Islamic ceremony performed at a mosque would not be regarded as a valid marriage under UK law absent any civil ceremony of marriage, but would be hugely culturally significant for the couple, their family and the community.

Many people resident in the UK who are forced into marriage are forced or tricked into going abroad for this purpose. For many young people, it may be their first experience of going abroad. If a person is held against their will once he has arrived in that foreign county, he may encounter various difficulties if he wants to return to the UK. For example, his phone may be seized and he may be denied access to the internet or social media. He may find he no longer has access to his money or his passport. He may not be able to leave the house unescorted. He may not speak the local language or be too afraid to sound the alarm for fear of the consequences. Help is available, and the UK government can assist with repatriation in suitable cases.

The FMU can help in finding a safe place to stay and also provide advice on stopping a UK visa if a person has been forced to sponsor someone to enter this country. It runs a helpline and also has a UK-based Global Response Centre.

The FMU itself does not not issue applications for civil forced marriage protection orders.

Useful links and addresses

Forced Marriage Unit
Foreign & Commonwealth Office Consular Directorate
King Charles Street
+44 (0)20 7008 0151

Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines: Handling cases of Forced Marriage June 2014

The right to choose”: Multi-Agency Statutory Guidance for Dealing with Forced Marriage June 2014


  • Non-consensual marriages are a worldwide problem. They are also prevalent, although under-reported, within the UK.

  • Not all victims are girls/women

  • Forced marriages should be reported to the Forced Marriage Unit. The FMU can help stop a spousal visa, and works with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to secure the return of a victim who has been taken abroad for a forced marriage