Forced marriage

Happily never after - forced marriages is a crime


A forced marriage is: "A marriage conducted without valid consent of one or both parties, where consent is extracted under duress."

There is a clear distinction between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage. 

Arranged marriages have existed successfully within many communities and countries for a long time. The families of both future spouses take a leading role in setting up the marriage, but the choice to accept the arrangement remains with the individuals.

In forced marriages one or both parties do not consent to the arrangement and elements of duress are involved.


Forced marriage is primarily, but not exclusively, an issue of violence against women.  Most cases involve young women and girls aged between 13 and 30 years, although evidence suggests as many as 15 per cent of victims are male.

Currently some 300 cases of forced marriage are reported to the Forced Marriage Unit each year. Many more cases come to the attention of police, social services, health, education and voluntary organisations, while many others go unreported.  With greater awareness, the number of cases reported is likely to increase.

Most forced marriage cases in the UK involve South Asian families, partly a reflection of the large, established South Asian population in the UK.  However, it’s clear forced marriage is not just a South Asian problem, with cases involving families from East Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.  Some forced marriages take place in the UK with no overseas element, while others involve a partner coming from overseas or a British citizen being sent abroad.

Motives prompting forced marriage

Parents who force their children to marry often say they’re protecting their children, building stronger families and preserving cultural or religious traditions.  They may not see anything wrong with their actions.  Forced marriage cannot be justified on religious grounds.  Every major faith condemns it and freely given consent is a prerequisite of Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh marriages.

Police response

Forced marriage is a form of domestic abuse and can constitute child abuse. 

From 16 June 2014 forcing someone to marry is a criminal offence under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.  Other criminal offences could also have been committed to make someone marry.

We will support and protect the victim and investigate any criminal offences brought to light.

Situations where a forced marriage can come to the attention of the police include:

  • An individual who fears they may be forced to marry.

  • A report by a third party of an individual being taken abroad for a forced marriage.

  • An individual who has already been forced to marry.

  • A spouse who comes from overseas.

Reporting a forced marriage

  • We will recognise and respect the victim's wishes, respect confidentiality, establish lines of communication and provide support and guidance through a number or recognised support agencies.

  • You can report a forced marriage through the usual Northumbria Police channels on the contact page.

  • Since December 2008 we’ve had CHOICE Honour Based Violence helpline 0800 5999 365, which has specially trained staff who can take calls from anyone wanting to report honour based violence and forced marriage issues but are not confident about ringing the normal police number.

  • The Foreign and Commonwealth Office also has a dedicated team working on this issue.  They can provide advice and support on 020 7008 0151.