What is forced marriage?

A young women is outdoors looking sad.

If you're being forced to marry someone against your will, there is help out there.

Forced marriage means being forced to marry someone you do not want to marry, typically by your family. If you’re being forced to marry someone against your will, there is help out there. Read on as we explain what you can do.

Let’s make this clear. You have the right to choose if or who you marry and when. Forced marriage is illegal in the UK, and forced marriage is abuse, whether it’s through physical or emotional pressure. If you’re worried this is going to happen to you, here’s what you can do about it.

I’m being forced to marry, what should I do?

You’re probably scared of angering your family and feel trapped. But you’re not alone and can get out of this. If you’re forced to marry in the UK, here’s what you should do:

  • Call the Forced Marriage Unit on: 020 7008 0151, which is open from 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday. If you don’t have much credit, they’ll call you straight back.
  • If the FMU is closed, call the Foreign Office’s Global Response Centre on: 020 7008 1500. It could take a while to get through to someone, but keep trying.
  • If you’re in immediate danger, call the police on 999.

Your call will be strictly confidential. They can advise you on what to do and won’t say a word to any of your family members. 

I think I’m going to be forced to marry abroad

If you fear you might be forced into a marriage overseas it’s recommended you don’t agree to travel. There’s a danger you may be isolated or be put under emotional and psychological pressure to comply. Controlling behaviour and financial abuse is common, you may be under constant supervision without any money, your passport or ticket home, and you may be unable to get to a telephone. If you decide to go, or feel you don’t have a choice, there are things you can do to ensure your safety:

  • Make a photocopy of your passport.
  • Get your flight details and make a copy of your tickets.
  • Try and find out where you’ll be staying.
  • Find out the number of the British Embassy or High Commission where you’re going. If you get into trouble over there, they’ll contact the Forced Marriage Unit and try to get you back safely.

If you have a friend or someone you can trust, give them the above details before you go.

“We always keep a photograph on file, so if the young person goes through an airport we can pass that information to immigration officials, “says Rebecca Einhorn, Manager of NSPCC‘s sexual exploitation service.” The young person also needs to ensure they have a working mobile that they can use in an emergency. You also need to make sure there’s a safe person that can be contacted in case they have to return.”

Read this true story of how Anna escaped her forced marriage.

What’s the difference between arranged marriage and forced marriage?

The difference between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage is that in an arranged marriage, families choose their child’s partner but both individuals can decide whether or not to accept it. In a forced marriage, however, someone is told they have to get married even though they don’t want to.

Arranged marriage help

Of course sometimes arranged marriages can feel impossible to get out of. If you need help due to an arranged marriage, you can contact Karma Nirvana, an organisation that offers advice and support for victims of forced marriage.

How do forced marriages happen?

There may be many reasons why young people are forced to enter into a marriage. “It might be to do with family honour and shame,” says a spokesperson at the FMU. “Some women go through with the marriage out of fear. They are scared of being disowned by their family, perhaps even fearing physical abuse, and may feel they have a duty to their parents to go through with it.”

Many young people are often tricked into marriage and have no idea it’s going to happen, says Rebecca. “They may think they’re agreeing to a holiday in their parents’ homeland and suddenly find themselves in this chain of events over which they have no control.”

What are the dangers of forced marriages?

Many girls and women forced into marriage suffer from sexual abuse and domestic violence. This may lead young people to self harm, run away, or even die due to suicide. Refusal can even place a young person at risk of murder (also known as honour killing).

“My Dad threatened me by saying ‘If you run away, we’re going to kill you’,” says Sarah*. “I was only 15, and they were trying to force me into marriage with a man from Pakistan. I’d already seen my Dad put an axe to my sister’s throat when she’d refused to accept the forced marriage.”

“A lot of girls have been taken out of education and kept prisoners in their own home,” says the FMU. “They’re taken overseas and married off. They might be raped continuously until they are pregnant. They may be told they’ll be cut off from the family, or that their parents will have a heart attack and die if they don’t agree to the marriage.”

Can men be forced to marry?

Yes, and the number is growing.

Approximately 15% of the cases dealt with by the FMU are men, but it’s on the rise. “It’s hard for men to come forward because of the belief that they’re ‘macho’,” says Imran Rehman, a support worker for Karma Nirvana. “If men have issues involving forced marriage or domestic violence, we can give one-to-one emotional support. We understand the issues of what men and women are going through and can refer them to a refuge or safe house.

Check out this link for more information on how to protect, advise and support victims of forced marriage, including details on local authority events you can attend. 

Next Steps

By The Mix Staff

Updated on 31-Mar-2023