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2.2.11 Safeguarding Children and Young People from Forced Marriage


This chapter can be read in conjunction with the following links to government guidance:


This chapter was amended in November 2014 in accordance with the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 which introduced criminal offences of forcing someone to marry, and breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order, this is reflected in Section 3, The Legal Position.


1. Introduction
2. Definitions
  2.1 Forced Marriage
  2.2 The Difference between Arranged and Forced Marriage
  2.3 Honour-based Violence
3. The Legal Position
4. Motives Prompting Forced Marriage
5. Effects of Forced Marriage
6. Forced Marriage and Child Protection
7. Agencies and Professionals Likely to Come into Contact with Victims of Forced Marriage
8. Agencies Responsible for Receiving Referrals of Forced Marriage
9. Action Following Referral to CYPS Social Care
10. Immediate Protection
11. Making Section 47 Child Protection Enquiries
12. Medical Examination
13. Review Strategy Meeting
14. Response for Young People who have been Subject to Forced Marriage
15. Response to Report by Third Party of a Young Person Having been Taken Abroad for the Purpose of a Forced Marriage
16. Response for a Young Person Repatriated to the UK from Overseas
17. Response for a Spouse who has come to the UK from Overseas
18. Young Adults Forced into Marriage
19. Involvement of Family Members
  Appendix 1: Emergency Kit

1. Introduction

Forced marriage is an abuse of human rights, and where one or both of the victims is under the age of 18 it is also a child protection issue. This protocol has been ratified by Rotherham Local Safeguarding Children Board (RLSCB) to provide professionals with information about forced marriage, and procedures to be followed if you suspect a forced marriage is being planned or has taken place.

This protocol should be read in conjunction with the following procedures:

More detailed guidance is available from the Forced Marriage Unit, at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Multi Agency Practice Guidance: Handling Cases of Forced Marriages) or telephone 0207 088 0151.

2. Definitions

2.1 Forced Marriage

A forced marriage is defined as:

'that which is conducted without the valid consent of both parties, where duress is a factor. It is a violation of internationally recognised Human Rights and cannot be justified on religious or cultural grounds.'

No major world faith condones forced marriage. The freely given consent of both parties is a prerequisite of all Christian, Muslim, Jain, Sikh and Hindu marriages.

The issue of forced marriages in Britain primarily affects girls and young women. They may be taken abroad and then forced to marry, or brought to this country as a result of forced marriage to a person living in the UK. Forced marriages also occur in Britain, where the victim is commonly a young woman aged between 13 and 30 years old. However, evidence suggests that 15% of victims are male.

The force can be in the form of emotional pressure exerted by close family members and the extended family, or may include threatening behaviour, abduction, imprisonment, physical violence, rape and in some extreme cases may result in murder. Forced marriage is not just an issue faced exclusively by South Asian women. There are cases in England and Wales involving families from East Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

Working Together to Safeguard Children 2010 (now archived) reiterates the fact that forced marriage and other so-called 'honour crimes' come under the definition of domestic violence. This follows the Government's definition of domestic violence being extended in 2004 to include acts perpetrated by extended family members as well as intimate partners.

2.2 The Difference between Arranged and Forced Marriage

Arranged marriages are those that are arranged by families of the two individuals concerned. The marriage is solemnised with the freely given consent of the individuals and all parties.

In forced marriage one or both parties do not consent to the marriage and some element of duress is involved, that is either emotional or physical in nature.

2.3 Honour-based Violence

The terms 'honour crime', 'honour-based violence' or 'izzat' relates to a number of different violent crimes (which are mostly but not exclusively against women), including assault, imprisonment and murder, where the person is punished by their family or their community. They are punished for actually, or allegedly, undermining what the family or community believes to be the correct code of behaviour. In disobeying the code of behaviour, the person shows that they do not properly conform to their family / cultural beliefs and this is to the "shame" or "dishonour" of the family. Young people, particularly young women, may be more vulnerable to honour based violence. Honour based violence may occur as a result of a young person resisting a forced marriage.

3. The Legal Position

Anyone threatened with forced marriage or forced to marry against their will can apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order. Third parties, such as relatives, friends, voluntary workers and police officers, can also apply for a protection order with the leave of the court. Fifteen county courts deal with applications and make orders to prevent forced marriages. Local authorities can seek a protection order for Adults at Risk and children without leave of the court. Guidance published by the Ministry of Justice explains how local authorities can apply for protection orders and provides information for other agencies. (This is available at the Justice website).

The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 made it a criminal offence, with effect from 16 June 2014, to force someone to marry. 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).

Breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order is also now a criminal offence. The civil remedy of obtaining a Forced Marriage Protection Order through the family courts, as set out above, continues to exist alongside the criminal offence, so victims can choose how they wish to be assisted.

Forcing someone to marry can result in a sentence of up to 7 years in prison.

Disobeying a Forced Marriage Protection Order can result in a sentence of up to 5 years in prison.

4. Motives Prompting Forced Marriages

Parents who force their children to marry often justify their behaviour as protecting their children, building stronger families and preserving cultural or religious traditions. Some parents and other family members come under significant pressure from their extended families to get their children married. In some instances, agreements have been made about marriage when the children were very young (Ibid, s2.3).

Some of the key motives that have been identified are:

  • Family honour;
  • Peer group or family pressure;
  • Attempting to strengthen family links;
  • Ensuring land, property and wealth remain within the family;
  • Protecting perceived cultural ideas (which can be misguided or out of date);
  • Protecting perceived religious ideals that are misguided;
  • Preventing 'unsuitable' relationships, e.g. outside the ethnic, cultural religious or caste group;
  • Controlling unwanted behaviour and sexuality (including perceived promiscuity or being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender);
  • Long standing family commitments;
  • Assisting claims for residence and citizenship.

While it is important to have an understanding of the motives that drive parents and extended family members to force their children to marry, these explanations should not be accepted as justification for these acts.

5. Effects of Forced Marriage

Children and young people forced into marriage often become estranged from their families. Sometimes they become trapped in the cycle of abuse with serious long-term consequences including self-harm and suicide. Many young women forced into marriage suffer further domestic violence. These women feel unable to leave because of the lack of family support, economic pressure and other social circumstances. Isolation is one of the biggest problems facing victims of forced marriage. They feel they have no one to whom they can talk. These feelings of isolation are very similar to those experienced by victims of child abuse and domestic violence.

Many young women run away from home to escape a forced marriage. They live in fear, and suffer because they have to leave behind family, friends and all that is familiar to them. Some families may resort to employing the services of a 'bounty hunter' in order to bring the child or young woman back into the family, or report them to the police as a Missing Person.

There can be far reaching consequences for children born as a result of forced marriages. The emotional consequences of such marriages can culminate in parents being unable to adequately parent their children, resulting in the need for intervention by statutory agencies.

6. Forced Marriage and Child Protection

A forced marriage of a child or young person under the age of 18 is a child protection issue, because it is likely to cause significant harm. It impairs a young person's health and development; it may also involve underage sex or rape. Those taken out of school to be married overseas suffer the loss of educational opportunities. As their marriages are not recognised in the UK many are kept overseas until they turn sixteen. Some young women may not be allowed to return home until they become pregnant, thus making it even more difficult for them to escape the relationship.

Those children and young people who feel unable to go against the wishes of their parents may suffer emotionally, often leading to depression and self-harm. Young people with disabilities or mental health problems are more vulnerable to the pressures of forced marriage as they are less likely to be able to give informed consent. Forced marriages do not always take place abroad; there are examples of young people being forced into marriage in the UK. The needs of victims of forced marriage will vary widely. They may need help avoiding a threatened forced marriage or help dealing with the consequences of a marriage that has already taken place. Workers from all agencies need to be aware that young people living within a forced marriage, or those under threat of one, may face significant harm if their families become aware that they have sought assistance from either statutory agencies or from community / voluntary based organisations.

7. Agencies and Professionals Likely to come into Contact with Victims of Forced Marriage

The following agencies are the most likely to come into contact with victims of forced marriage, or become aware that a forced marriage may be about to take place:

  • Social Care - adult and children's services;
  • South Yorkshire Police;
  • Schools / further education colleges / educational units;
  • Education welfare services;
  • Youth services;
  • Voluntary agencies;
  • Primary health care settings;
  • A & E department, Rotherham District General Hospital;
  • Maternity and gynaecological services;
  • Housing;
  • Refuges centres.

Children's Social Care has the lead responsibility, along with South Yorkshire Police, to protect children and young people who are being forced into marriage.

Information or referral about a forced marriage may be received from the victim or from a friend or relative, or from another agency or community-based organisation. Forced marriage may also become apparent through careful questioning in the course of responding to other situations within the family such as domestic violence, self-harm, child abuse, family / adolescent conflict or missing persons / runaways.

Care must be taken not to assume that an individual is at risk of forced marriage simply on the basis that they are being taken on an extended family holiday. These assumptions and stereotyping can cause considerable distress to families.

8. Agencies Responsible for Receiving Referrals of Forced Marriage

Referrals from practitioners regarding children or young people who may be subject to forced marriage should be referred to Children's Social Care. A telephone referral must be made as soon as possible to the Access and Assessment Team in Children's Social Care. If the child or young person is already known to Children's Social Care, the relevant area locality office should be contacted (see Key and Local Contacts).

The manager of the relevant locality team will consider referrals in respect of a child or young person facing a forced marriage at the earliest opportunity.

Following the telephone referral, the worker should confirm their concerns in writing within 48 hours. This should include information as listed in the Referring Safeguarding Concerns about Children Procedure, How to Make a Referral. See Appendix 1: Emergency Kit for further details also.

If the child or young person has previously been subject of an FCAF for any reason then a copy, together with a copy of the multidisciplinary plan, should be attached to the written confirmation. If the professional does not have a copy, reference to the completed FCAF detailing who undertook it and their contact details, if known, should be made in the written confirmation.

If professionals need to refer a child or young person who they think is at risk of significant harm outside of office hours, they should ring the Out of Hours Team (01709 364 689).

South Yorkshire Police should always inform Children's Social Care when they become aware of a child or young person facing a forced marriage. In all cases there should be early liaison between Children's Social Care and the Police and a decision made about the need for a Strategy Meeting.

Telephone calls may also be received from the child or young person themselves, or a friend or a sympathetic member of their family. It is important that all relevant details are given from them during the initial call, if time allows. This is called the ONE CHANCE RULE. If the family finds out that a report has been made to any organisation, travel and / or impending marriage arrangements could be brought forward. They should ring the telephone number for the public for Children's Social Care (01709) 823 987 / 364 689 or South Yorkshire Police (0114) 220 2020.

In an Emergency the child, young person or practitioner should not hesitate - dial 999.

9. Action Following Referral to CYPS Social Care

On receipt of a referral of a child or young person facing a forced marriage, the team manager will determine whether any immediate action is required to protect them, and carry out such action as is necessary. The team manager will then allocate a designated social worker within Children's Social Care, and will arrange a strategy meeting within 72 hours of receipt of the referral.

The Strategy Meeting will be chaired a Rotherham Safeguarding Children Operational Unit and will be attended by the team manager, designated social worker, the police, agency representatives who know the child / young person or family, agencies that may be in a position to offer support services, and legal services.

The Strategy Meeting should:

  1. Share available information;
  2. Decide whether child protection enquiries under Section 47 of the Children Act, 1989 should be continued or if an assessment under Section 17 would be the most appropriate response;
  3. Plan how enquiries / investigation / assessment should be carried out, and by whom, including whether it is to be carried out jointly by the Police and Children's Social Care;
  4. Consider the need for an interpreter. However, if the interpreter is known or related, or has family / community knowledge of the child or person they should not be used;
  5. Decide how to proceed that will not place the child or young person, or others, at risk of harm;
  6. Agree what immediate action is needed to safeguard the child or young person and / or provide interim services or support, particularly in relation to honour based violence;
  7. Consider other children who may be affected by any action taken i.e. the safety of siblings;
  8. Consider the safety of the workers involved in the assessment / investigation;
  9. Decide what information, if any, is to be shared with the family and the timing of this;
  10. Arrange a date for a review Strategy Meeting;
  11. Be clear and honest with the child / young person about the course of action that is being considered.

The Chair of the meeting should complete the 'Record of Strategy Meeting' form. A copy should be placed on both Children's Social Care and Police files.

10. Immediate Protection

In an emergency, if the child or young person is going to be removed from the country immediately or a marriage is imminent, and they need protection, emergency procedures should be put into place. That is, the child or young person's safety should be secured through Police Protection (Children Act 1989), an Emergency Protection Order, or Interim Care Order or through accommodation for young people over 16 years.

11. Making Section 47 Child Protection Enquiries

If the Strategy Meeting determines that enquiries and action under Section 47 are to be undertaken, this action should follow. Information about the family including the extended family should be gathered discretely and in a confidential manner. It will be important to see the child or young person as quickly as possible in a secure and private place on their own:

  • To establish what the experience of the child or young person has been and what their views are;
  • To establish the actual or perceived risk;
  • Establish if there is a family history of forced marriage or abuse i.e. siblings forced to marry;
  • To discuss the plans and safety of the child or young person;
  • To provide information to the child or young person (e.g. details of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office);
  • To give them information about available options;
  • To support them in deciding what they want to do next;
  • Establish if they want parents to be approached at this stage. However this should be given careful consideration, so as not to further endanger the child / young person;
  • Establish if safe accommodation is required by the child or young person;
  • Establish future means of making contact that do not increase the risk to them;
  • In all cases complete a risk assessment on the child or young person.

If the child or young person wants to be accompanied during the interview e.g. by a teacher or advocate, it is essential to ensure that the person understands the implications of confidentiality, especially with regard to the child or young person's family. Their safety is of paramount importance and should not be compromised. Relatives should not be used as mediators or interpreters.

If the case has an overseas dimension, Children's Social Care should alert the Community Liaison Unit at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (see Section 19, Involvement of Family Members). They should provide the name and age of the child or young person, the family details, and name of potential spouse and family, if known, so that the information can be logged. Information given to the child or young person should include the legal steps they can themselves take e.g. a young person under the age of sixteen can themselves apply for a Prohibitive Steps Order to prevent their removal from the country. Alternatively a relative can apply for a Child Arrangements Order. Wardship of the Court can also prevent them being taken oversees. Support should be arranged to enable the child or young person to follow the course of action they identify as most appropriate for them.

12. Medical Examination

In some cases it may be necessary to arrange a medical examination for emotional or physical illness. In other cases, victims may require attention to injuries for treatment or for evidential purposes. It may not be advisable to call or visit a medical practitioner from the local community as this may threaten the security of the child or young person.

The examination of the child or young person should be carried out in accordance with Action Following Referral of Safeguarding Concerns Procedure. The paediatrician should provide information and documentation of any injuries for the police, even if the young person does not want any action taken.

13. Review Strategy Meeting

A review Strategy Meeting should take place in all cases within two weeks of the initial Strategy Meeting. This meeting should consider all information gathered during the course of the investigation about the immediate and extended family, the child or young person and their wishes, the pressures within the local community, the level of risk, the legal advice sought, if any, and what further action is required to protect the child or young person. A decision should be reached and documented about what information is to be provided to the family.

14. Response for Young People who have been Subject to Forced Marriage

Some forced marriages are only brought to agencies attention after the marriage has taken place, when legal remedies may prove more difficult. Young people who seek assistance following a forced marriage should be regarded as children in need under Section 17 of the Children Act, 1989. Any response should be based on a holistic assessment of their situation and clear understanding of the action that they wish to take.

A young person who has already been married has limited choices. They may:

  • Stay with the marriage;
  • Flee the marriage;
  • Confront their family and seek their backing;
  • Or try to prevent a visa application for a spouse being brought to the UK.

If the young person chooses to stay with the marriage, information about support and counselling services should be provided to the young person and referrals made for appropriate support.

If the young person chooses to leave the marriage support should be given and an exit strategy devised between the young person and the professional. Assistance will be required to access safe housing and benefits as well as counselling and appropriate support services within the new community. Information regarding accessing legal advice should be provided if they wish their marriage annulled. This must be undertaken within 3 years of the marriage taking place.

Confronting the family may be extremely risky for the young person. They may not get the support they hope for even with the support of agencies.

Although young people may try to prevent a successful visa application for their spouse, in reality, this is not possible to do without all parties being aware of the young person's reasons for not wanting to sponsor their spouse's visa application. In all cases young people need to be made aware of the possible consequences of their actions.

15. Response to Report by Third Party of a Young Person Having been Taken Abroad for the Purpose of a Forced Marriage

Some children and young people are taken overseas on the pretext of a holiday, the wedding of a relative or the illness of a grandparent, for example. On arrival their passport and documents may be taken away from them.

In such cases the Police and Children's Social Care should gather intelligence, and work closely with the Community Liaison Unit at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

It is not advisable to contact an overseas organisation to make enquiries. If the family becomes aware that enquiries are being made, they may move the child or young person to another location or expedite the forced marriage.

Once a child or young person has left the country, legal options are limited. Efforts can be made to seek the return of them to the jurisdiction of England and Wales by making them a Ward of Court. An application can be made to the High Court Family Division by a relative, friend or the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service (CAFCASS). Children's Social Care is not able to make a child a Ward of Court.

16. Response for a Young Person Repatriated to the UK from Overseas

Sometimes the Foreign and Commonwealth Office may ask Children's Social Care for assistance when a child or young person is repatriated to the UK. They may be extremely traumatized. They may have been held against their will, suffered physical emotional and sexual harm and sometimes will have risked their life to escape

The choices available to the child or young person are limited:

  • To leave their family and live in hiding;
  • To leave their family and seek a prosecution against them;
  • To return to their family in the hope that the situation can be resolved.

Children's Social Care should consider the following actions:

  • Arrange for someone to met the child or young person at the airport;
  • Inform the police in case the family try to locate the child or young person;
  • Organise safe accommodation;
  • Consider whether it is appropriate to apply for an Emergency Protection Order or Interim Care Order.

17. Response for a Spouse who has come to the UK from Overseas

Some young people who are not British citizens are brought to the UK after they have been forced to marry overseas. Often these young people are not aware of the support to which they are entitled. The choices available to the young person are limited:

  • To stay within the marriage;
  • To leave the marriage and apply to be allowed to remain in the UK;
  • To leave the marriage and return to their country of origin.

The young person may be frightened by contact with statutory agencies, as they may have been told that the authorities will deport them. For many young people returning to their country of origin is not an option. They may be ostracised, subjected to violence or even killed for bringing perceived shame on to the family.

Children's Social Care should:

  • Consider any young person under the age of 18 in the same manner as an unaccompanied asylum seeking minor and accommodate the young person under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989;
  • Assist the young person in seeking immigration advice if this is required;
  • Inform the police;
  • Record any injuries and arrange a medical examination. Inform the doctor that there may be an immigration application.

18. Young Adults Forced into Marriage

Young people over the age of 18 who are facing or have been subject to forced marriage should be referred to the Adult Protection Officer within Social Care (0114 273 6870). The Adult Protection Officer should arrange a meeting and will co-ordinate the assessment and service provision in line with Government guidance.

19. Involvement of Family Members

The Children Act states that Children's Social Care need to work in partnership with families. In situations of forced marriage this should be balanced with the principal of the welfare of the child being paramount. A forced marriage is a feature of domestic violence that involves extreme coercion. Mediation is not sought in domestic violence cases and should not be an immediate option in forced marriage cases. The safety of the child or young person should always be the first priority. Victims of forced marriage will frequently have tried mediation themselves; they turn to statutory organisations for help as a last resort and agencies need to respond quickly and appropriately.

In circumstances where safe accommodation is provided for a young person over 16 years, information should be provided to the family that this has occurred, but they should not be told where they have been placed. Information should also be provided to SYP Control Room (0114 220 2020) in case the young person is reported as missing from home. In all cases liaison should take place with legal services regarding the sharing of information with family members. Intervention needs to be such that it does not totally isolate young people from their family. A dialogue should be maintained which will enable the young person to re-establish links with their family in the future, should they so wish.

Appendix 1: Emergency Kit

Children and young people who are at risk of, or want to leave, a forced marriage should keep the following safe if possible, in case they need to leave home in an emergency. It is important to remember that some young people may have children of their own.

  • Find somewhere you can quickly and easily use a phone (friends or keep a spare mobile phone);
  • Always carry a list of numbers for an emergency. Include friends, local police, Women's Aid, (even well known numbers can be forgotten in a panic);
  • Try to save some money for bus, train or cab fares;
  • Have an extra set of keys for house, flat, and/or car;
  • Keep the keys, money and a set of clothes for you packed ready in a bag and leave it with a friend you can trust. Also pack a spare set if you have a child, and nappies, bottles etc as appropriate.

If you have more time to plan, do as much as possible of the following:

  • Leave when family members are not around;
  • Take any legal and financial papers, marriage or birth certificates, court orders, national health cards, passports, driving licence, child credit books, address book, bank books, cheque books, credit cards, etc;
  • Take any of your personal possessions which you do not want to lose - photographs or jewellery for example;
  • Take clothing for at least several days;
  • Take any medicine you (or your children) might need.

If you do leave and later discover you've forgotten something, you can always arrange for the protection of a police escort to return home to collect it.