The government has updated its guidance on forced marriage to reflect the new legal age of marriage in England and Wales which has increased from 16 to 18 years old. 

What is forced marriage? 

Forced marriage is where one or both people do not (or cannot) consent to the marriage and pressure, or abuse, is used to force them into the marriage. It is also forced marriage where any steps are taken to make someone marry before they are 18, even if there is no pressure or abuse.  Forced marriage is a form of domestic abuse. 

Forced marriage (including taking someone overseas to marry) is illegal in the UK. Those found guilty of forcing others to marry face up to seven years in prison.  

According to Sarbjit Ganger, Director of AWRC

“Forced marriage is an abuse of human rights and where a child is under 18 constitutes a form of child abuse, causing significant physical, sexual and emotional harm.” 

How has the legal marriage age changed? 

The government has also announced that the legal age of marriage in England and Wales has increased to 18 years. This means that those who are 16 or 17 years old can no longer marry, even with parental consent. 

This change forms part of the government’s broader action to tackle violence against women and girls. It was supported by campaign organisations, including the Girls not Brides Coalition which strives to end child marriage and so-called honour-based abuse.  The guidance also applies to men and boys who are victims of forced marriage. 

What can you do if you or a colleague or employee is at risk? 

  1. Call 999 to contact the police if someone is in immediate danger.

  2. Contact the Forced Marriage Unit which provides support for victims, those at risk, and professionals. The Forced Marriage Unit have experience in the cultural, social and emotional issues associated with forced marriage (0207 008 0151 (Mon – Fri 9am – 5pm / 0207 008 1500 (out of hours) /

  3. Signpost to relevant specialist organisations such as: 

  • Karma Nirvana on 0800 5999 247 for support for those affected by so-called honour-based abuse  
  • Imkaan for violence against Black and minoritised women and girls  

  • AWRC for practical and emotional support for women experiencing domestic abuse in a wide range of languages 

  • Consult our EIDA resource section to find details of more organisations who may be able to help 

If you suspect an employee is affected but are not sure how to broach the subject, we recommend reading EIDA Ambassador Fiona Bowman’s Guidance for Line Managers.

How can employers help tackle forced marriage? 

We recommend that all employers share the government’s new forced marriage resource pack with their people, including with their domestic abuse allies and domestic abuse working groups. We would particularly recommend sharing the government’s ‘What is Forced Marriage?’ resource. 

Sensitively raising awareness of forced marriage as a form of domestic abuse within your organisation can break down the wall of silence that currently exists. Those affected may then not be aware of their rights or the support available. Personal stories of individuals can be very powerful. An example is Syed’s story*: 

“I was 25 when my parents took me to Pakistan for a family wedding. When I got there I discovered it was me who was getting married. I did not want to but my mum has lots of health problems and everyone said I was making her ill by refusing. After days of saying no I finally gave up and submitted to my family’s will. When I got back to the UK, I just tried to forget about it and get on with my life. Then my wife’s family started pressuring me to put in a visa application for her to come to the UK. They would call me and threaten me.” Syed consulted the Forced Marriage Unit who assisted him. 

You can download more stories, leaflets, posters, resources, social media assets and a full list of support services from the government’s Forced Marriage Resource Pack and ‘What is Forced Marriage?’ resource. 

Further resources: 

Find out more about the updated government guidance on forced marriage 

Find out more about the change in legal marriage age 

Download the government Forced Marriage resource kit 

*Syed’s story is included in the government’s ‘What is Forced Marriage?’ resource 

two rings in black and white