Forced Marriage

The Judith Trust has previously commissioned research to support the victims of Forced Marriage (Marriage without consent), for people with learning disabilities. We, together with the UK Government Forced Marriage Unit, Respond Project and Ann Craft Trust have commissioned research into this area, to assist professionals encountering cases of forced marriage of those with learning disability.

The UK Government and Welsh Assembly regard forced marriage as an abuse of human rights, a form of domestic violence and violence against women and vulnerable adults in particular. As our research states, ’ Where it affects people with disabilities, it is an abuse of vulnerable adults and where it affects children and young people, it is child abuse’ (p6: Forced Marriage and Learning Disabilities guideline)

The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) is a joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office unit was which set up in January 2005 to lead on the Government’s forced marriage policy, outreach and casework. 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.

  • TheFMU 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.

    Forced Marriage is now illegal, with people partaking in it being prosecuted. In 2014, the government passed the Anti- Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, making it illegal and a criminal offence to force someone into marriage.  According to the FMU website, this includes:

  • Taking someone overseas to force them to marry (whether or not the forced marriage takes place)
  • Marrying someone who lacks the mental capacity to consent to the marriage (whether they’re pressured to or not)
  • Breaching a Forced Marriage Protection Order is also a criminal offence
  • The civil remedy of obtaining a Forced Marriage Protection Order through the family courts will continue to exist alongside the new criminal offence, so victims can choose how they wish to be assisted

These offences carry 7 year and 5 year sentences in prison respectively. (See: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/forced-marriage)
The latest statistics from 2016 show the following trends in Forced Marriage in the UK. For a more in depth look please see : https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/597869/Forced_Marriage_Unit_statistics-_2016.pdf

In 2016, the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) gave advice or support related to a possible forced marriage in 1,428 cases. These figures include contact that has been made to the FMU through the public helpline or by email in relation to a new case.

In 2016, 140 cases (10%) involved victims who had a learning disability. The sex and age of victims, as well as the focus country is shown in Table 2.4.


Forced marriage is not a problem specific to one country or culture. Since it was established in 2005, the FMU has handled cases relating to over 90 countries across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe and North America. In 2016, the FMU handled cases relating to 69 ‘focus’ countries which a victim was at risk of, or had already, been taken to in connection with a forced marriage.

These are still worrying statistics and we would need to analyse them further to see how people with learning disabilities are affected.  Our previous Research guidelines (2010) into this form of abuse were funded by the Forced Marriage Unit. The guidelines state that all people with a learning disability who have the capacity to consent and are of legal age, can marry should they decide to and should be supported. Safeguarding of vulnerable adults and children is of utmost importance.

Therefore, we also support Respond charity’s recent work in this area. Respond is a specialist organisation that aims to help people with learning difficulties who have experienced trauma and abuse.  They have recently launched the ‘My Life, My Marriage’ Project  for those with learning disabilities being forced or pressured into marriage, who need help to break free,

 ‘My Life, My Marriage will raise awareness of the forced marriage of people with learning disabilities in all its various forms. We will address this by working proactively to prevent cases. Respond will provide specialist training to professional and community leaders and also offer advocacy support to victims of forced marriage and their support networks’ (Respond Charity My Life My Marriage Project notes)

The Judith Trust supports the work of the Respond Project and the Forced Marriage Unit. We also work with the Ann Craft Trust who provide safeguarding training for adults and say,  ‘ We believe every disabled adult and every child at risk deserves to be treated with the same respect and dignity as everyone else’.

The Judith Trust are committed to make sure that people with learning disabilities are supported and safeguarded. For more information about our Research and the work of the Judith Trust email  info@judithtrust.org.uk