Under UK law, a forced marriage is defined as a marriage in which one or both people do not or cannot consent and pressure or abuse is used to force them into the union.
A serious abuse of basic human rights, forced marriage is illegal in the UK and those found guilty of exerting physical, emotional or psychological pressure to marry will find themselves faced with the full force of the justice system.
People of all ages, genders and religions can find themselves at risk of forced marriages. In some cases, individuals may be taken abroad and pressured into a marriage without their consent.
An arranged marriage is not the same as a forced marriage. In an arranged marriage, the families take an active role in choosing a spouse, but both individuals are able to decide if they want to enter into that marriage, with no negative consequences if they do not wish to proceed.
What makes the two very different is the act of consent between the people who are to be married. If both parties are happy to proceed then no law has been broken, but if the marriage goes ahead or is planned to go ahead without the consent of either party or they are put under pressure to marry despite their lack of consent, this is classed as a forced marriage and is illegal under UK law.
Statistics on forced marriage
According to research carried out in 2019, the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) gave advice or support in 1,355 cases related to a possible forced marriage. Over 1,200 cases were reported with almost a quarter of reports relating the individuals under the age of 18.
Statistics show that the majority of reports involved female victims, but 21% of all reports referenced male victims of forced marriage.
Although the number of forced marriages reported to FMU seems to be slowing down, this is not believed to be a true reflection of cases with many forced marriages still going under the radar.
What are the signs of a forced marriage?
If you are concerned that a friend or family member could be forced into marriage without their consent or is being pressured into doing so, there are several red flags to look out for.
If the person in question seems down or depressed, is having their movements limited by their family members or seems to be unwilling to talk as freely as they once did, there could be cause for concern.
Should they be whisked away on holiday without notice or seem anxious about an upcoming trip, it’s possible they are being pressured into entering into a marriage that they do not consent to.
What you can do if you suspect forced marriage?
If you are concerned that someone you know may be about to enter into a forced marriage or has already done so, there are several avenues you can pursue.
You could contact the Forced Marriage Unit directly or share your concerns with the individual. Be sure to approach the matter delicately and in private to avoid that person shutting down completely and cutting off all communication.
What can you do if you are facing a forced marriage yourself?
Again, there are organisations that can support you for example the Forced Marriage Unit however there is legal protection available to you too.
Contact one of our expert team who will be able to advise you of the steps you can take to protect yourself. We offer free initial consultations to those requiring help.