A forced marriage is where one or both people do not (or in cases of people with learning disabilities, cannot) consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used. It is recognised in the UK as a form of violence against women and men, domestic/child abuse and a serious abuse of human rights.

The pressure put on people to marry against their will can be physical (including threats, actual physical violence and sexual violence) or emotional and psychological (for example, when someone is made to feel like they’re bringing shame on their family). Financial abuse (taking your wages or not giving you any money) can also be a factor.

The UK government has created the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) as a joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office unit set up to lead on the Government’s forced marriage policy. It operates both inside the UK, where support is provided to any individual, and overseas, where consular assistance is provided to British nationals, including dual nationals.

The FMU operates a public helpline to provide advice and support to victims of forced marriage as well as to professionals dealing with cases. The assistance provided ranges from simple safety advice, through to aiding a victim to prevent their unwanted spouse moving to the UK (‘reluctant sponsor’ cases), and, in extreme circumstances, to rescues of victims held against their will overseas.

The FMU intends to undertake an extensive outreach and training programme of around 100 events a year, targeting both professionals and potential victims. The FMU also carry out media campaigns, such as 2012’s ‘right to choose’ summer campaign, where the FMU commissioned three short films to raise awareness amongst young people at risk of being taken overseas for forced marriage.

The idea appears to be to ensure that all who may be involved in such activities are aware of the possible implications in the criminal courts. Not only is it intended that possible offenders and victims are aware but also those who know the parties and can influence actions and take steps to help avoid the offence being committed in the first place.