There is a clear distinction between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage. In arranged marriages, the families of both spouses take a leading role in arranging the marriage, but the choice of whether or not to accept the arrangement still remains with the prospective spouses. However, in forced marriage, one or both spouses do not consent to the marriage but are coerced into it. Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure. In the cases of some vulnerable adults who lack the capacity to consent, coercion is not required for a marriage to be forced.
All Chief Executives, Directors and Senior Managers providing services to victims of forced marriage and honour-based violence need to be aware of the “one chance” rule. That is, their staff may only have one chance to speak to a potential victim and thus their staff may only have one chance to save a life. This means that all professionals working within statutory agencies need to be aware of their responsibilities and obligations when they come across forced marriage cases. If the victim is allowed to walk out of the door without support being offered, that one chance might be wasted.
The UK Government regards forced marriage as an abuse of human rights and a form of domestic abuse, and where it affects children and young people, child abuse. It is a criminal offence.
It can happen to both women and men, although many of the reported cases involve young women and girls aged between 16 and 25. There is no “typical” victim of forced marriage. Some may be over or under 18 years of age, some may have a disability, some may have young children and some may also be spouses from overseas.
To address the increasing scale and extent of forced marriage, the UK Government established the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) in 2005. The FMU is a joint Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office Unit – the role of the FMU is to provide direct assistance, through information and support, to victims, as well as undertaking a full and comprehensive programme of outreach activity, raising awareness and providing advice to professionals and communities.
This approach aims to ensure that people working with victims are fully informed of how to approach these cases. The FMU, in collaboration with a number of partners across government and other agencies, has also revised existing practice guidelines to reflect the new forced marriage offence, for police officers, health professionals, children and adult social workers, and education professionals.