Forced Marriage

Forced marriage is a type of domestic abuse. It is where one or both people do not, or cannot in the case of a learning disability, consent to the marriage they are being coerced into. Coercion may be physical, emotional or financial. In 2019, the UK Government’s Forced Marriage Unit became involved in over 1,300 forced marriage cases, the greatest number of which involved people of Pakistani descent.

What are the types and signs of forced marriage?

Pressures put on someone to force them to marry may involve physical or sexual violence or threats; psychological pressure such as making the victim feel like they would bring shame on the family in the event that they refuse to marry; or financial pressure like taking the victim’s wages or money to force them into dependence on their abuser.

How can someone get help relating to their forced marriage?

There are many charities (some of which are linked in the signposting section of this page) which can provide confidential advice for victims of forced marriage.

These charities are also involved in raising awareness of forced marriage to aim to eradicate it in the UK in accordance with the law (The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014). Forced marriage has continued despite its outlawed status as it is a cultural or religious practice carried out by some groups, particularly in parts of Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe.

However, there is no advantage to forced marriage and it is a crime, whether perceived to be consenting or not, or whether someone living in the UK is married at home or abroad.

If the person decides to leave their domestic setting where they are living in their forced marriage or at risk of forced marriage, there are refuges and temporary accommodation available throughout the UK through various charities.

A GP can also refer someone who has been subject to forced marriage to the relevant sources of help. For example, a counselling or other mental health service, to help them deal with their abusive experiences.

The UK Government has published specific guidance on coping with domestic abuse during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, since it is recognised that confinement to the home over an extended period is particularly anxiety-provoking and in some cases, dangerous, for someone in a forced marriage or at risk of forced marriage.

UK Says No More is an organisation which supports pharmacies across the country to provide safe spaces for people experiencing all forms of domestic abuse and who are seeking support – a service which is all the more crucial during the pandemic.

Someone can report forced marriage to the police on 999, including on behalf of someone else. There is also a silent call function for people who are not safe to make a verbal call. This can be activated by ringing 999, then pressing 55.

There are a few ways to confirm what sort of reasonable adjustments should be made for someone who may be subject to forced marriage:

Employers are being increasingly encouraged to help employees who are, or may be, experiencing domestic abuse, including forced marriage. 

A Public Health England domestic abuse toolkit was published in 2018, outlining guidance for employers on helping tackle forced marriage and other forms of domestic abuse among their employees.

Statistics published in the introduction to the toolkit state that over half of medium and large employers surveyed saw increased rates of absenteeism in employees experiencing domestic abuse, as well as reduced performance.

As employers are legally obliged to provide a safe working environment as part of their duty of care to employees, they should encourage employees to disclose forced marriage and following this, implement reasonable adjustments or seek to help in other ways.

How can employers respond to employees experiencing forced marriage?

The Public Health England toolkit recommends that employers take the following three-step approach:

  • Acknowledge the abuse by encouraging employees to disclose and discuss it
  • Respond by reviewing workplace safeguarding policies and ensuring that employees are given the support they need in the workplace
  • Refer the employee(s) to charities who can help advise them on how to deal with their forced marriage in the short and longer terms (see signposting section).

Reasonable adjustments should also be made in accordance with the employee’s need for support if their situation is covered by the Equality Act – including long-term mental health difficulties such as anxiety or PTSD, physical injuries, etc.

Some reasonable adjustments to allow an employee experiencing forced marriage to work as effectively and comfortably might include:

  • Flexible working hours to accommodate an employee’s medical/therapy appointments if they are seeking help to improve their mental or physical health linked to their forced marriage.
  • Adjustments to duties depending on the extent of the impact of the abuse. If an employee is struggling with stress or anxiety, they may be best taking on lighter, less taxing duties, for example.
  • Working from the office as opposed to from home which is especially relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic when many people are working from home. If this will be difficult for the employee, an employer may wish to offer an alternative workspace away from the family home. This also applies to staying away from work while having to self-isolate with Covid-19 or symptoms – people experiencing forced marriage do not have to self-isolate if this would prevent them from escaping their risky or dangerous domestic setting.
  • Raising awareness so that colleagues understand the importance of forced marriage awareness and indicators that someone may be a victim.

Forced marriage Signposting

Women’s Aid – charity working to create and curate resources relating to domestic abuse, including forced marriage and to improve the response to people who require help to escape from, or recover from the effects of forced marriage. The charity campaigns for greater awareness of forced marriage and educates people on how to identify the signs of a forced marriage victim, etc.

Refuge – charity providing services to allow survivors to get the help they need and begin to live a normal life after escaping abuse. This includes temporary accommodation, advocacy as well as cultural and gender-specific services tailored to helping survivors who have experienced abuse specific to their demographic (0808 2000 247).

Halo Project charity supporting victims of honour-based violence, forced marriage and FGM, as well as partner organisations who provide interventions and services to protect the people at risk from these practices (01642 683 045).

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