What constitutes a forced marriage?
A forced marriage is a marriage that takes place without the full and free consent of both parties.
Lack of consent to marry may arise when someone, including a child, faces physical pressure to marry. This can include threats, physical/sexual violence, financial abuse, emotional or psychological pressure. The force can be directed against another person in an attempt to force the person into marriage. It can also involve making someone feel like they are bringing shame upon their family.
A person is unable to consent to marriage if they are below the age of consent to marry, and in the case of a vulnerable adult, lacks the capacity to consent.
Is a forced marriage the same as an arranged marriage?
No. A forced marriage must be distinguished from an arranged marriage. The distinction depends upon the presence or absence of consent. In arranged marriages, the families of both spouses play a leading role in arranging the marriage, but the choice of whether or not to accept the arrangement still remains with the prospective spouse.
What protection is available for those being forced into marriage?
Forcing someone to marry against their will is a criminal offence. This also applies to UK nationals overseas who are at risk of becoming the victim of a forced marriage. The new criminal offences work alongside existing civil legislation. Forced Marriage Protection Orders are available and allow victims to pursue civil or criminal remedies.
An application for a Forced Marriage Order can be made in the High Court or in one of the specified family courts designated to process such applications. The court can make an order itself within existing proceedings, without an application being made by a third party, if it thinks such an order is necessary and appropriate to provide protection.
If you are concerned that your vulnerable relative is being forced to marry, you should contact the police immediately if you believe that they are at risk of harm. You should also seek urgent advice from a family solicitor who has an expertise in forced marriage cases.