What are the signs of a forced marriage?

A forced marriage happens when one or both people do not consent to the marriage, and coercion, pressure or abuse is used to force them into it. Forced marriage is illegal in the UK and is covered by anti-social behaviour, crime and policing legislation, which makes it a criminal offence to force someone into marriage. The government has also set up the Forced Marriage Unit to provide support and advice to victims. In this article, we look at the signs of a forced marriage, and discuss the case of a Birmingham woman who felt pressured into marrying her cousin.

What at the warning signs that forced marriage may be about to happen?

Your family may put pressure on you in the following ways hoping you will agree to marry:

  • Physical abuse such as threats, or physical or sexual violence
  • Emotional and psychological abuse such as making you feel as though you are bringing shame on the family if you disagree to the match
  • Financial abuse, this could involve having your wages taken away or withholding money until you agree to marry

What are the warning signs that forced marriage is imminent?

Even though forced marriage may not be happening to you, it could happen to someone you know. It is useful to be aware of some signs that someone may soon be, or already is, a victim of forced marriage:

  • Running away from home
  • Attempted suicide or self-harming
  • Becoming worried, withdrawn, or depressed
  • Poor performance at school, work, college, or an unexplained absence
  • A surprise engagement to someone you have not heard of before
  • A sudden holiday: some people are tricked into going abroad for a holiday or to see relatives
  • Not having any control over their own money/wages
  • Not returning from a visit to another country
  • Excessive parental restriction and control of movements, including being kept at home or being unable to complete their education
  • Always being accompanied to school, doctor’s appointments or to college

This is not an exhaustive list of indicators, and every case will be different, but it is important that everyone with connections to those who are potentially vulnerable to forced marriage be vigilant.


What is the impact of forced marriage?

Anyone forced into a marriage faces an increased risk of sexual abuse, rape, and domestic violence. This may lead to physical or mental health problems, such as depression, self-harm, and unwanted pregnancy. Although both males and females are victims of forced marriage, females in particular encounter many issues after the forced marriage has taken place. They are often separated from their friends and family and can suffer at the hands of their husband and in-laws.

For those who have lived in a forced marriage for many years, they may find it difficult to leave, especially if they have children, and often have no financial independence from their husband.

Birmingham mum, forced into marriage, now encourages others to seek help

A woman from Birmingham in the West Midlands recently spoke in the press about being forced to marry her cousin in Pakistan at the age of 20, where she was told that she was going to be married and pressured into going through with it. After suffering domestic abuse and coercive and financial control for more than 23 years, she finally managed to escape with her three children. She fought to divorce her abusive husband and ultimately gain the proceeds from the sale of their home in order to help her start a new life.

The woman, now 46, is speaking out about her experience in the hope of raising awareness of forced marriage and helping others who may be going through a similar situation. She is urging anyone who is being forced into a marriage to seek help and support, and to remember that they have the right to make their own choices about their future.


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