Quick Exit

Quick Exit

One chance rule – remember you may only have one chance to protect someone before they are forced to marry. You should act on information as soon as it is received

This website provides information and resources practitioners might need to help them better recognise and respond to forced marriage of people with learning disabilities. This includes a range of information sheets and resources to support professional understandings and interventions. These include a film available in English, Hindi, Urdu and Sylheti and a range of information sheets, case studies and practice guidance.

This page contains sections on:

  • Information about forced marriage of people with learning disabilities
  • What to do if you are concerned about someone
  • What to do if forced marriage is suspected or has already happened
  • What to do if you are concerned about someone’s capacity to consent

Information about forced marriage of people with learning disabilities

A forced marriage of people with learning disabilities occurs when one or both people do not, or cannot, due to lacking capacity, consent to the marriage. Unlike other forced marriages, duress is not a necessary factor.

Forced marriage can take place in two ways:

  • The person cannot consent to marriage because they do not have the capacity to do so
  • The person is forced to marry someone when they don’t want to

Forced marriage of people with learning disabilities is against the law . It is associated with physical, sexual, financial and emotional abuse and neglect.  It can often present differently to forced marriage of people without learning disabilities meaning it can be difficult for practitioners to recognise when someone is at risk. Find out more about

For more information on why people are forced to marry and the consequences of this see Information Sheet 1.

For more information on the law see Information Sheet 2.

You can also find out more from our film (available in English, Hindi, Urdu and Sylheti) and case study report.

Duress does not feature in all forced marriages of people with learning disabilities.

Some people with learning disabilities agree to be married because they want to please their family, do what their siblings have done, trust their family and/or because they don’t understand what marriage entails. Eg implications for ownership of property, expectations of a sexual relationship.

For examples of forced marriage of people with learning disabilities which may be useful in staff training see our Case Study Collection.

In a forced marriage the non-disabled spouse can also be at risk.

They may not meet the person they will marry until the day of the ceremony and may not know anything about their needs. The spouse may not speak English or understand their own human rights. Forced marriage has links to domestic servitude as the spouse may be treated as a family servant and therefore also be a victim.

For an example listen to a survivors story.

What to do if you are concerned about someone

If you have immediate concerns for safety contact, the police on 999

In cases where safety is not imminently at risk you should make an adult safeguarding referral. Information on how to do this will be available on your local authority website.

If you work for a safeguarding team and need additional support with a complex case you should refer to the Government Forced Marriage Unit Statutory Guidance on forced marriage and Multi-Agency Practice Guidelines

You can also contact the UK Government Forced Marriage Unit for help and advice on 020 7008 0151 or email fmu@fcdo.gov.uk

You may want to consider the need for a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO). These can be used to prevent a forced marriage from taking place (for example, by preventing them from being removed from the country) or to protect someone who has already been forced to marry (for example, by mandating information and support).

For more information on the law and applying for an FMPO see Information Sheet 2.

For more information on what to do if you suspect a forced marriage will or has taken place see Information Sheet 5.


  • Do's
    Do take any disclosure or report of intended marriage seriously
  • Do's
    Do collect as much information as possible
  • Do's
    Do take all necessary actions
  • Do's
    Do seek further information and support from the FMU if required
  • Do's
    Do keep detailed records of what has been said and done
  • Do's
    Do obtain the person's views
  • Do's
    Do ensure you have read ‘The Right to Choose: Multi-agency statutory guidance for dealing with forced marriage’ (2014, HM Government)


  • Don't
    Don't dismiss what you’ve been told
  • Don't
    Don't ignore the issue
  • Don't
    Don't assume everything will be ok if the person appears happy about the marriage
  • Don't
    Don't assume the family will stop organising a marriage because you have talked to them about it
  • Don't
    Don’t attempt any mediation or discuss the forced marriage concerns with the family until safeguarding measures are in place

What to do if you are concerned about someone’s capacity to consent

In order to marry lawfully a person must have the capacity to consent to marry. Capacity means the ability to make a decision, consent means giving permission for that decision. It is the person getting married who must have capacity and who must give their consent to the marriage. No other person can decide or give permission for another to marry.

Capacity to consent to marry means being fully aware of the decision that you are making and what you are agreeing to, it is more than just saying yes. It means the person saying yes must understand about marriage and what the expectations of being married are. This can include for example where they will live and sleep, having a sexual relationship and that sex can lead to pregnancy or health issues.

You may believe the person is not being forced to marry because they are not objecting or they seem happy. But if the person cannot fully understand the decision and the impact of that decision, arranging for them to marry would be unlawful.

The marriage of anyone without capacity to consent, even if they seem happy at the prospect, is a forced marriage and is unlawful.  Where there are clear reasons to think that capacity to consent is lacking an assessment should be considered.

Assessing capacity to consent is complex, particularly as a criminal offence could be committed. Decisions have far-reaching implications for the person being assessed and family members. This can place enormous pressure on both families and practitioners assessing capacity as both parties may have differing views on what the ‘right’ outcome should be.

For more information on helping families understand the issue of capacity to consent see Information Sheet 4

For practice guidance on decision making and mental capacity see NICE guideline NG108.

For more specific practice guidance on assessing to consent to marriage see the My Marriage My Choice – Practice Guidance Toolkit for Assessing Capacity to Consent to Marriage which can be found here practice guidance.

"For some people, especially I think people from different cultures, capacity and consent wasn't something on their radar."

About 10% of all forced marriage cases reported to the Government Forced Marriage Unit each year involve someone with a learning disability.

Men with learning disabilities are just as much at risk of forced marriage as women with learning disabilities.

Do you need our help? Useful information here.

About Us Useful Contacts
© 2020. All Rights Reserved
The Diary Creative Agency