Forced Marriage: Spotting The Signs

Forced Marriage: Spotting The Signs

Safeguarding Adviser, Jo Perrin, discusses the changes in law regarding marriage in the UK, providing an overview of Forced Marriage and how to spot the signs. 

In 2022, the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) gave advice and support in 297 cases of possible forced marriage.

Of the cases in which the FMU provided advice or support in 2022: 

  • 88 cases (29%) involved victims aged 17 years and under. 
  • 119 cases (39%) involved victims aged 18 to 25. 
  • 62 cases (19%) involved victims with mental capacity concerns. 
  • 235 cases (78%) involved female victims, and 67 cases (22%) involved male victims. 

The law relating to marriage in the UK changed in 2023. The anomaly that had previously existed that a child aged 16 or 17 could be legally married with their parents’ consent has been changed. This covers not only “legal” marriages, but also religious or cultural ceremonies and “promise” celebrations.  

Children can never legally get married now – which is a definite win for those campaigning for child protection in the UK.

What this might have inadvertently done, however, is to make people believe all children are somehow safer from being involved in unsuitable marriages. Many children might be, but not all.

Forced marriages still exist – and these were never legal. 

What is Forced Marriage? 

A forced marriage is one where a person uses violence, threats or another form of coercion to cause someone else to enter into a marriage and believes (or ought reasonably to believe) that their actions may cause that other person to enter into the marriage without free and full consent.   

It talks of emotional pressure, physical force or financial pressure as forms of coercion. The wording also means it could be one party to the marriage or outside persons (wider family or community) who commit the crime. It also covers marriages where one party does not have the mental capacity to give full consent.  

How Does it Impact Children? 

Children can be affected by forced marriage in two distinct ways: as the person being forced into marriage; or as a child born from a forced marriage. 

So, who needs to be on our radar?

There isn’t one answer – as this is a type of abuse which transcends many cultures, religions, class, gender and sexuality… So really, we need to think about everyone we come into contact with. 

Spotting The Signs 

There are many things we might note, which may or may not be related to a forced marriage.  

The importance as with all safeguarding concerns is not whether you are “right or wrong”, it’s about recording and reporting anything which is of note which may build up a wider picture of the lived experience of the child. 

In education, particularly applicable to older children who have more agency and freedom: 

  • You might see increased truancy. 
  • Or perhaps not returning from visits to a country the family originates from. 
  • You could be made aware of extreme surveillance by siblings or cousins. 
  • There could be a change towards poor academic performance and attitude. 
  • A child might be removed to be home-schooled or prevented from completing further education or might simply not be allowed to attend extra-curricular activities. 

In employment:

For parents within a forced marriage, you might notice: 

  • A parent expressing limited career choices. 
  • Being accompanied to and from work. 
  • Being financially controlled by another partner or not being allowed to work. 

With regards to health, it might be: 

  • Someone older being always accompanied to appointments. 
  • A potential increase in incidents of self-harm or an established eating disorder, mental health concerns can be prevalent. 
  • There might be an unwanted pregnancy and there is a higher likelihood of FGM within some communities.

If there is a family history of child marriage, there may be a history of self-harm, or there has been an early marriage of siblings for example.  

There might be regular confiscation of mobile phones or laptops, no access to money, family members running away. There might be restricted movement of wider family and a known fear of going home due to increased family disputes. 

Police involvement can be a sign due to increased domestic abuse reports at the family home, other siblings reported missing, or other police involvement including reports of rape, assault and kidnappings. 

What about a child of forced marriage?

Do take a moment to consider particularly what it might be like to be the child of a forced marriage.

We know there is potentially a lived experience that includes:

  • Domestic Abuse 
  • So-called “honour-based” abuse 
  • Fear 
  • Forced Marriage for self and siblings 
  • Social Isolation: Lack of activities as a parent might have restricted movement 
  • Few people visiting the home from outside the family/community 
  • Impact on academic progress 
  • Things learnt at school are not supported at home – rights, laws, freedoms 
  • And much more… 

In terms of responding to this issue, use your usual avenues.

Your DSL/DDSL teams can support as can Locality Early Help Teams.

Often local women’s refuge organisations are a wealth of support, and the Forced Marriage Unit in London is very useful. 

Need more support with this topic?

If you would like support with how to deal with concerns regarding safeguarding, please feel free to contact our safeguarding team at safeguarding@servicesforeducation.co.uk

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About the Author

Jo PerrinJo Perrin - Adviser, Services For Education

Jo Perrin taught PSHE in schools for over a decade and held the role of Designated Safeguarding Lead and pastoral lead. She currently works as an Education Adviser for Services For Education which allows her to combine her experience in schools with a personal knowledge of childhood trauma as a former foster carer.

In addition, Jo worked as a West Midlands’ Adviser for a national PSHE resource, has delivered a presentation to the Sex Education Forum National Members’ Event and has created a variety of RSE resources as part of her role for Services For Education.

Jo’s advisory experience is not limited to training school staff as she works with non-education based organisations to support them in safeguarding and emotional health and well-being aims and is an affiliated trainer for Mental Health At Work.

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