You have the right to choose who you marry, when you marry or if you marry at all. Forced marriage is when you face physical pressure to marry (for example, threats, physical violence or sexual violence) or emotional and psychological pressure (eg if you’re made to feel like you’re bringing shame on your family).

What is the difference between an Arranged and Forced Marriage?

Arranged Marriage: Both participants give their full consent and enter the marriage willingly.

Forced Marriage: One or both participants do not (or in cases of people with learning disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used.

Arranged or Forced: Grey Area

What starts out as an ‘arranged’ marriage can quickly escalate to a forced marriage. It is not uncommon for one of the participants to change their mind, even on the wedding day only for the families to force them to go through with it.

What are the main challenges?

Ensuring everyone in the country understands that culture, religion, and tradition is not an excuse, forced marriage is a criminal offence in the UK.

Force marriage offences

Forced marriage is illegal in England and Wales. 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)

You can ask the court for a forced marriage protection order. In an emergency, an order can be made to protect you immediately.Contact the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) if you’re trying to stop a forced marriage or you need help leaving a marriage you’ve been forced into. Call 999 in an emergency.

A trained professional will give you free advice on what to do next.

Forced Marriage Unit  Telephone: 020 7008 0151 From overseas: +44 (0)20 7008 0151 Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm  Out of hours: 020 7008 1500 (ask for the Global Response Centre)  Find out about call charges

Disobeying a forced marriage protection order can result in a sentence of up to 5 years in prison.

  • Each order is unique, and is designed to protect you according to your individual circumstances. For example, the court may order someone to hand over your passport or reveal where you are.

Forcing someone to marry can result in a sentence of up to 7 years in prison. Forced marriage protection orders

  • find a safe place to stay
  • stop a UK visa if you’ve been forced to sponsor someone
  • Contact the FMU if you think you’re about to be taken abroad to get married against your will.

Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022

The law in the UK has now been changed to prevent children being coerced or forced into marriage. Previously 16 and 17-year-olds could marry if they have parental consent. Find out more about the legislation.

If someone you know is at risk 

Give as many details as you can, for example:

  • Contact the FMU if you know someone who’s been taken abroad to be forced into marriage.
  • Contact the nearest British embassy if you’re already abroad.

Forced marriage abroad

  • where the person has gone
  • when they were due back
  • when you last heard from them if they’re a British national, the embassy will try to contact the person and help them get back to the UK if that’s what they want.

Support for victims 

UK Helpline: 0800 5999 247 Monday - Friday: 9am - 5pm.  

The FMU will contact the relevant embassy.

Last updated: 01 September 2023 15:53:57

Did you find this page helpful?