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Responding to Forced Marriage: Multi-Agency Practice Guidlines



Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16(2)


The Scottish Parliament passed the Forced Marriage etc. (Protection and Jurisdiction)(Scotland) Act 2011 (referred to in this document as the 'Forced Marriage Act') both to protect people from being forced to marry without their free and full consent as well as those who have already been forced to do so. See section 3 for a summary of the Act or read it in full online at


These practice guidelines aim to inform frontline practitioners who are responsible for protecting children and adults from the abuse associated with forced marriage. They do not require significant changes in practice. You should use existing structures, policies and procedures designed to protect children, adults at risk and those experiencing domestic abuse. But, in doing so, you must be mindful of the specific risks and dangers associated with forced marriage. Risks to victims may be increased by all forms of family counselling, mediation, arbitration and conciliation; by failing to share or store information appropriately or safely; by involving families; and by breaches of confidentiality.

Given the nature of forced marriage, no single agency can meet all the needs of someone affected by forced marriage. These practice guidelines, therefore, aim to encourage practitioners to work together safely to protect victims. This approach is also consistent with the Scottish Government's emphasis on a multi-agency response to tackling domestic abuse and responding to children and adults at risk of harm.

There are multi-agency partnerships for violence against women in all local authorities. They are a good source of information and support for multi-agency working on these issues. Other relevant partnerships include Community Planning; Community Safety; Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences; Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements; Child Protection and Adult Protection Committees.

Although forced marriage is primarily an issue of violence against women, the guidelines provide information relevant to practitioners assisting both male and female victims.


The practice guidelines are for all frontline staff and volunteers within agencies which are likely to come across adults or children and young people threatened with or in a forced marriage. Although section 4 is specifically aimed at those working within health, education, police, child protection, adult support and protection, and housing, the information in the rest of the document is relevant to many others including, for example, Registrars, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Children's Reporters, Department for Work and Pensions staff, HR professionals, solicitors and those working in voluntary organisations.

These guidelines have been adapted from materials already developed by the UK Forced Marriage Unit ( FMU) ( see below). A Scottish Government reference group representing statutory and voluntary organisations has contributed to ensure that they are relevant to practitioners in the Scottish context.


The Scottish Government has published forced marriage statutory guidance [2] under section 11 of the Forced Marriage Act. The statutory guidance sets out the responsibilities of chief executives, directors and senior managers within agencies involved in handling cases of forced marriage. It covers roles and responsibilities, accountability, training, inter-agency working and information sharing, risk assessment and record keeping.


The practice guidelines (this document) complement the above statutory guidance. The statutory guidance states that front line practitioners 'should consult the forced marriage practice guidelines to be issued […] by the Scottish Government'.

The Scottish Government is committed to tackling domestic abuse and all forms of violence against women [3]. Forced marriage is a form of domestic abuse and should be treated as such. Ignoring the needs of and risks to victims is potentially dangerous practice and would be viewed as a breach of professional responsibility.


Given prevalence rates (86 per cent of cases referred to the FMU involve women) and the fact that the consequences are different for women and men, the guidelines refer to victims of forced marriage as 'women' and focus mainly on women's needs which are different from those of men. This is in no way intended to diminish the experience of, or risks posed to, male victims of forced marriage. Much of the guidance applies to men in or facing forced marriage and they should be given the same assistance and respect as women when they seek help. For more information on supporting male victims see the Men's Advice Line at

Findings from research suggest that forced marriage involving people with learning disabilities may occur at a similar rate for men and women, although the consequences are still likely to affect women disproportionately. More information on this is at

See definitions


The guidelines focus on specific areas where practitioners may inadvertently endanger a victim and set out what practitioners can do, both individually and in partnership with other agencies, to reduce harm.


Most of the legislation, policies and procedures referred to in these guidelines are relevant to devolved matters which are the responsibility of the Scottish Government. However, key aspects, notably immigration affairs, no recourse to public funds (see pages 73-74) and nationality are reserved matters (i.e. UK-wide) and, consequently, the responsibility of the UK Government. Immigration affairs are dealt with by the Home Office UK Border Agency:

Some victims may move between Scotland and other jurisdictions in the UK. This may add complications. For example, whereas young people are regarded as adults in Scotland from age 16 (but see definition), the age of majority in England is 18. This may affect the availability of services. It may be important to point out any differences to colleagues south of the border and for you to be aware of those operating elsewhere in the UK.

The Forced Marriage Unit is a joint initiative of the Home Office and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and has a UK-wide remit ( see below). Some victims may move between Scotland and overseas jurisdictions. Where cross-border or international issues arise, it is recommended that you advise, and seek assistance from, the FMU.


There are often complexities with forced marriage associated with immigration status, nationality, different legal systems, where the victim is and where the marriage took or is intended to take place.

The specific circumstances of each case will influence who you might approach for advice or assistance either for yourself as a practitioner or on behalf of a victim.

Shakti Women's Aid, Hemat Gryffe Women's Aid, Amina, the Muslim Women's Resource Centre and Saheliya have considerable expertise of working with victims in Scotland ( see below) and the Forced Marriage Unit (see page 10) across the whole UK. The FMU may be particularly helpful if a woman is in, or moving to, England or out of the UK.

Overseas, UK Embassies and High Commissions can offer consular assistance to British nationals plus, in certain circumstances, European Union or Commonwealth nationals whose country does not have a local Embassy or Consulate in the country concerned. They cannot offer assistance to European Union or Commonwealth nationals in the country of their own nationality.

When a British national approaches a British Embassy or High Commission, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ( FCO) may try to repatriate her as soon as possible. This means that agencies in the UK may receive little notice about her arrival. Sometimes the FCO asks the police or a local authority for assistance when a British national is being repatriated to the UK from overseas.

If an individual is a British national and also holds the nationality of another country, she is considered to be a dual national ( see Dual Nationality). This may mean that the authorities in the country of her other nationality may view her as being solely or primarily a national of that country and treat her accordingly. Consequently, those authorities may not see the British Embassy or High Commission as having any right to assist her or may not permit any assistance to be given.

If the FCO thinks that there is a special humanitarian reason to do so, it will consider offering assistance to dual nationals in the country of their other nationality. Forced marriage is one of those circumstances where such an exception may be made.


The FMU is a joint FCO and Home Office unit. It offers advice to anyone in the UK, regardless of nationality, and specific assistance to British nationals facing forced marriage abroad. It works with government departments, statutory agencies and voluntary organisations on policy and runs an outreach programme. It also offers a casework service as follows:

  • Public helpline offering confidential advice and support to victims, and practitioners handling cases of forced marriage. Caseworkers in the unit have experience of the cultural, social and emotional issues surrounding forced marriage
  • UK cases: information and support to those who fear they will be forced into marriage and can talk with them about their options
  • Overseas cases: can assist British nationals facing forced marriage abroad by helping them to a place of safety and to return to the UK; also can assist non-British nationals facing forced marriage abroad by referring them to local organisations which can help
  • Immigration cases: can help those who have already been forced into marriage to explore their options, including assisting those who are being forced to sponsor a spouse's visa for settlement in the UK

The FMU can assist a British national's return to the UK by providing emergency travel documents, helping to arrange flights and, if possible, arranging temporary accommodation whilst the woman is overseas. The FCO may ask the police to meet a victim on arrival in the UK in case family members try to abduct her at the airport. The FCO is obliged to ask the victim or trusted friends to fund the cost of repatriation. In some cases, repatriation has been funded by a local authority. The FMU, in certain very exceptional circumstances, may provide a loan from public funds to help a victim return to the UK, but only when all other avenues have been exhausted. She has to sign an agreement to pay the loan in full and secure the loan by giving up her passport to consular staff who can issue her with an emergency travel document valid for a single journey to the UK. Once the loan is repaid in full, her passport is returned, or a new passport issued.

Regardless of how the cost is finally met, this matter should never delay the process of getting the victim to safety.

The UK has special agreements dealing with child abduction with Pakistan (Anglo-Pakistan Protocol) and Egypt (Cairo Declaration). Contact the FCO for more information.

When to contact the FMU

You should alert the FMU if you know, or suspect, that a victim has been, or is being, taken out of Scotland, or abroad. It can assist in alerting the police and authorities at points of departure so that the victim and those accompanying her can be detained and prevented from leaving the UK.

The FMU is happy to talk to practitioners handling cases of forced marriage at any stage in a case. It can offer information and advice on responding to forced marriage, including overseas assistance and how to approach victims. The FMU can also speak at conferences, run training workshops, and provide free leaflets and posters.

Contact details

Tel: 020 7008 0151 (Mon-Fri: 9am-5pm)
Email: fmu@fco.gov.uk
Web: www.fco.gov.uk/forcedmarriage

Address: Forced Marriage Unit, Room K4.7, Consular Directorate, Foreign & Commonwealth Office, London, SW1A 2AH

For emergencies out of hours, phone 020 7008 1500 and ask for the Global Response Centre.


Women's Aid provides advice, support and safe refuge for women, children and young people experiencing domestic abuse. There are Women's Aid groups across Scotland and all should be able to provide advice and assistance both to victims and practitioners.

Services available to women include:

  • Assistance into safe temporary accommodation either in a refuge or with a local authority; this could be local or elsewhere
  • One-to-one emotional and practical support
  • Information about legal issues and assisting them to get legal advice
  • Advocacy to help secure benefits, housing and legal protection
  • Resettlement support
  • Language support
  • Children and young people's services

Children and young people's workers also offer support to young people at school and/or other places where it is safe for them to do so.

Shakti Women's Aid and Hemat Gryffe Women's Aid have particular expertise in working with black minority ethnic women and their children, including those in, or threatened with, forced marriage. Both services offer an outreach service to young women experiencing domestic abuse in the context of forced marriage and who are not yet ready to leave their homes.

See section 5 for contact details.


Supporting someone who is at risk of, or already in, a forced marriage can be stressful. It can be distressing to hear accounts of trauma and abuse and practitioners sometimes worry that they may be overwhelmed by it. It is also common to feel frustrated or helpless if you cannot 'solve' the problem or if you find it difficult to accept or understand how a woman is somehow 'not able' to leave an abusive situation. It is important to recognise how you feel and ask for support or guidance from a colleague or line manager.

You or a colleague may have personal experience as a victim of such abuse. If so, it is important to recognise how this experience is affecting you/your colleague. Your agency should have an employee policy (for example domestic abuse policy, stalking policy) to guide how you/your colleague can be supported at work.

If you are concerned that a colleague might be involved in perpetrating a forced marriage, check your agency's employee policy for guidance about who to approach or how to address this issue.

For health workers, NHSScotland has produced a gender-based violence employee PIN (Partnership Information Network) guideline which includes forced marriage:


The statutory guidance requires organisations to ensure that their staff are aware of and trained to respond to forced marriage. The contacts section lists various organisations which can give you more information about training providers.
See also www.womenssupportproject.co.uk/vawtraining

See section 5.


The guidelines use the following definitions:


A forced marriage is a marriage in which one or both spouses do not (or, in the case of children and some adults at risk, cannot) consent to the marriage and duress is involved. Duress can include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure.

For the definition at law see:


An arranged marriage is one in which the families of both spouses take a leading role in arranging the marriage but the choice whether or not to accept the arrangement remains with the prospective spouses.


The terms 'honour crime', 'honour-based violence' and 'izzat' embrace a variety of crimes of violence (mainly but not exclusively against women), including physical abuse, sexual violence, abduction, forced marriage, imprisonment and murder where the person is being punished by their family or their community. They are punished for actually, or allegedly, 'undermining' what the family or community believes to be the correct code of behaviour. In transgressing this, the person shows that they have not been properly controlled to conform by their family and this is to the 'shame' or 'dishonour' of the family. 'Honour crime' may be considered by the perpetrator(s) as justified to protect or restore the 'honour' of a family.


The Scottish Government defines forced marriage as a form of violence against women. The full definition of violence against women is in Safer Lives, Changed Lives: a shared approach to tackling violence against women in Scotland, Scottish Government, 2009 [4].


This is defined by the United Nations [5] as 'violence that is directed against a woman because she is a woman, or violence that affects women disproportionately; it encompasses a spectrum of abuse that includes domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse, sexual harassment, stalking, commercial sexual exploitation, and harmful traditional practices such as female genital mutilation ( FGM), forced marriage and so-called 'honour' crimes'.


The National Strategy to Address Domestic Abuse in Scotland (2000) [6][7] states:

'Domestic abuse (as gender-based abuse), can be perpetrated by partners or ex-partners and can include physical abuse (assault and physical attack involving a range of behaviour), sexual abuse (acts which degrade and humiliate women and are perpetrated against their will, including rape) and mental and emotional abuse (such as threats, verbal abuse, racial abuse, withholding money and other types of controlling behaviour such as isolation from family or friends).'

The strategy recognises that:

'Domestic abuse is most commonly perpetrated by men against women and takes a number of specific and identifiable forms. The existence of violence against men is not denied, nor is the existence of violence in same sex relationships, nor other forms of abuse, but domestic abuse requires a response which takes account of the gender specific elements and the broader gender inequalities which women face.'

It also states:

'…in accepting this definition, it must be recognised and taken into account that, particularly among black and minority ethnic communities, other family members connected to a woman through marriage may be involved in, or may participate in the abuse of the woman. In certain cases, abuse is perpetrated by other family members, even without the knowledge of the partner. In addition, there is abuse of women by members of their own families in the context of forced, as opposed to arranged, marriages or as a result of their failed marriages or divorce.'


The term 'victim' is used throughout this document for the sake of simplicity to refer to people who are, or have been, or are at risk of being forced into marriage against their will. This term is not used to connote weakness or inferiority.


The term 'perpetrator' is used to refer to the people who are forcing someone to marry. This may include the spouse or prospective spouse, close and extended family members and members of the wider community.


Under the Forced Marriage etc. (Protection and Jurisdiction)(Scotland) Act 2011, a relevant third party can apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order ( see section 9) without the permission of the court. RTPs are specified as a local authority, the Lord Advocate and others specified by Scottish Ministers. Any other third party can apply for a FMPO but they need the court's permission to do so.


Practitioners must be clear that when children and young people are forced into marriage there should be a child protection response and that they should refer to local inter-agency child protection procedures and the Scottish Government's National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland (2010) [8].

The National Guidance explains that a child can be defined differently in different legal contexts.

Section 93(2)(a) and (b) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 defines a child in relation to the powers and duties of the local authority. Young people between the age of 16 and 18 who are still subject to a supervision requirement by a Children's Hearing can be viewed as a child. Young people over the age of 16 may still require intervention to protect them.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child applies to anyone under the age of 18. However, Article 1 states that this is the case unless majority is attained earlier under the law applicable to the child.

Although the differing legal definitions of the age of a child can be confusing, the priority is to ensure that a vulnerable young person who is, or may be, at risk of significant harm is offered support and protection. The individual young person's circumstances and age will, by default, dictate what legal measures can be applied. For example, the Adult Support and Protection (Scotland) Act 2007 can be applied to over-16s where the criteria are met. This further heightens the need for local areas to establish very clear links between their Child and Adult Protection Committees and to put clear guidelines in place for the transition from child to adult services. Young people aged between 16 and 18 are potentially vulnerable to falling 'between the gaps' and local services must ensure that processes are in place to enable staff to offer ongoing support and protection as needed, via continuous single planning for the young person.

Where a young person between the age of 16 and 18 requires protection, services will need to consider which legislation, if any, can be applied. This will depend on the young person's individual circumstances as well as on the particular legislation or policy framework. Special consideration will need to be given to the issue of consent and whether an intervention can be undertaken where a young person has withheld their consent.


A person aged 16 or over (but see also above definition of child, children and young people).


The Adult Support and Protection (Scotland) Act 2007 [9] defines adults at risk as adults who:

(a) Are unable to safeguard their own well-being, property, rights or other interests and
(b) Are at risk of harm and
(c) Because they are affected by disability, mental disorder, illness or physical or mental infirmity, are more vulnerable to being harmed than adults who are not so affected

'Risk of harm' for the purposes of subsection (1) is if:

(a) Another person's conduct is causing (or likely to cause) the adult to be harmed or
(b) The adult is engaging (or is likely to engage) in conduct which causes (or is likely to cause) self-harm