Forced Marriage Overseas: United Kingdom
Individuals from the United States can likely access a network of protections if trying to avoid and/or escape forced marriages in the United Kingdom. With a strong government response to forced marriage, including the joint Home and Foreign Offices’ Forced Marriage Unit, and an established NGO community advocating for survivors, individuals at risk have resources and supports available, as well as strong protections under the law.
For further information and guidance for individuals from the U.S. that are facing or fleeing a forced marriage in the United Kingdom, please contact the Forced Marriage Initiative.
Marriage in the United Kingdom
Women and girls in the United Kingdom have equitable and protected rights when entering into or attempting to dissolve a marriage. The national marriage laws in the United Kingdom are governed by the country in which they are enforced: England/Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland. Although substantially similar, each of these countries has separate codified matrimonial statutes. In England/Wales, the Marriage Act of 1949 is the law that governs marriage.1 In Scotland, the Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977 governs.2 Finally, in Northern Ireland, Marriage (Declaration of Law) Act (NI) 1944 regulates marriage.3 In England, Wales and Northern Ireland the minimum age of consent to marriage is 16, with parental consent required for individuals under 18 years of age. In Scotland the age of consent is the same, but there are no parental consent requirements for those under 18.4 Annulment and divorce are available, with forced marriage situations being voidable under the law.5
The United Kingdom has specific government programs addressing forced marriage domestically and to protect individuals from the United Kingdom that are facing forced marriages overseas. Studies estimate that between 5000 and 8000 forced marriage cases occur annually in the United Kingdom.6 Several high profile murder cases involving victims that were fleeing forced marriages, as well as survivor activism and awareness raising, has helped increase public awareness and government response to the issue.
In 2007, the UK Parliament passed the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act (“FMCPA”). This law, which came into effect in November 2008, amended the Family Law Act of 1996 and was effective in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The FMCPA allowed courts to issue an order for the purposes of protecting individuals from being forced into marriage and individuals that were already forced into marriage.7
Scotland was the first country in the United Kingdom to make breach of a forced marriage protection order a criminal offense. The Forced Marriage (Protection and Jurisdiction) Act of 2011, provided the Scottish courts with virtually the same authority as the FMCPA, but also codified the offense of breaching a protection order issued under the statute. In particular, a person breaching a protection order under the Scottish act could now receive up to two years in prison.8
In March 2014, England and Wales followed Scotland’s lead in criminalizing breaches of forced marriage protection orders. The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (“ASBCPA”), which went into effect in June 2014, made breaches of protection orders issued by courts in England and Wales an offense punishable by up to five years in prison. Moreover, the ASBCPA went further by making the act of forcing someone into marriage in England, Wales and Scotland, a criminal offense punishable by up to seven years in prison.9
Potential Risks and Protections in Country
Individuals facing forced marriage situations are able to access a wide variety of protections and supports in the United Kingdom. The Forced Marriage Unit (“FMU”) is a joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office program was which set up in January 2005 to to develop the government’s forced marriage policy, conduct outreach, and respond to cases.10 It operates both inside the United Kingdom, where support is provided to any individual, and overseas, where consular assistance is provided to British nationals, including dual nationals. The FMU responded to 1302 calls involving forced marriage situations in 2013, and can compel law enforcement and other authorities to intervene when it believes that there is a risk that a child under 18 may become a victim of forced marriage.11
The FMU operates a public helpline to provide advice and support to victims of forced marriage as well as to professionals dealing with cases.12 Assistance provided ranges from simple safety advice, to aiding victims to prevent their unwanted spouses from moving to the United Kingdom (termed “reluctant sponsor” cases). In certain extreme circumstances, the FMU will assist with the rescue of victims held against their will overseas. 13
Government-issued Forced Marriage Guidelines outline protocols for responding to forced marriage cases for law enforcement and other agencies.14 However, a recent report found that one in five police forces is failing to properly respond to and record incidences of honor violence against women,15 which may involve forced marriage situations. There is a strong network of survivor led agencies and other NGOs dedicated to raising awareness of and supporting victims of forced marriage.
Special Challenges in Returning to the United States
Please check the entry and exit requirements for the United Kingdom for the most up to date information.
- The Tahirih Justice Center Forced Marriage Initiative
We are available to help individuals from the United States who are facing or fleeing forced marriage in the United Kingdom, including providing phone, text, and email support, connecting with the U.S. government and local resources, and coordinating shelter and services back in the United States.
- The U.S. State Department
The State Department is available to assist U.S. citizens that are victims of forced marriage with replacement of travel documents and return travel to the United States. For updated information and travel alerts, please visit the department’s webpage on international travel in the United Kingdom.
- U.S. Embassy London
Contact the embassy in the case of an emergency.
Tel: +(44)(20) 7499-9000
1 U.K. Marriage Act 1949, 1949 c. 76 12 13, 14 Geo 6
2 Scot. Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977, 1977 c. 15.
3 N.I. Marriage (Declaration of Law) Act (Northern Ireland) 1944, 1944 c. 7.
4 U.K. Marriage Act 1949, 1949 c. 76 12 13, 14 Geo 6; N.I. Marriage (Declaration of
Law) Act (Northern Ireland) 1944, 1944 c. 7; Scot. Marriage (Scotland) Act 1977,
1977 c. 15.
5 FindLaw UK, Annulment, available at http://www.findlaw.co.uk/law/family/divorce_and_dissolution/other_divorce_and_dissolution_topics/500187.html (last visited Jun. 16, 2014).
6 Anne Kazimirski, et. al, National Centre for Social Research, Forced Marriage: Prevalence and Service Response (July 2009).
7 U.K. Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, 2007 c. 20.
8 UN envoy warns on human trafficking in Philippines, Agence France-Presse (November 9, 2012), available at http://globalnation.inquirer.net/55726/un-envoy-warns-on-human-trafficking-in-philippines (last visited February 4, 2014); Philippines: Legal system falls short on human trafficking, IRIN News, available at http://www.irinnews.org/fr/report/85378/philippines-legal-system-falls-short-on-human-trafficking (last visited February 4, 2014).
9 U.K. Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014, 2014 c. 12.
10 GOV.UK, Forced Marriage Unit, available at https://www.gov.uk/forced-marriage#forced-marriage-unit (last visited June 3, 2014).
11 Poonam Taneja, Two-year-old “at risk” of forced marriage, BBC (Mar. 5, 2013), http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-21665322. See also Poonam Taneja, Forced Marriage: Girl aged five among 400 minors helped, BBC (Mar. 29, 2012), http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-17534262.
12 Individuals may also get in touch with the FMU by email: email@example.com, on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/forcedmarriage, and on Twitter:@FMUnit.
13 Forced Marriage Unit, Statistics January to December 2013, available at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/291855/FMU_2013_statistics.pdf.
14 GOV.UK, Forced Marriage: Guidance for Professionals, available at https://www.gov.uk/forced-marriage#guidance-for-professionals (last visited June 3, 2014); Home Office, Dealing With Cases of Forced Marriage: Guidance for Police Officers (2d ed. 2005), available at http://www.forcedmarriage.net/media/images/FMGuidance-for-PoliceOfficers_108.pdf.
15 Failings in Police Recording of Honour Violence, BBC (Feb. 6, 2014), http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26056209.