A forced marriage is where one or both people do not, or cannot, consent or agree to the marriage and, for people with learning disabilities, forced marriage can take place in two ways:
Sometimes family members think they are doing the right thing by choosing someone to care for their relative. Their relative may even seem happy about the marriage even if they can’t legally give their consent. Because of this forced marriage is often not recognised as ‘forced’ by families or the person themselves. But if the person does not have enough understanding to consent for themselves this is still a forced marriage and against the law. Some families do not know that arranging a marriage for someone who lacks capacity to consent would mean they are forcing them into an unlawful marriage.
For more information on forced marriage see Information Sheet 1.
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 the permission for that decision. It is the person getting married who must have capacity and who must give their consent to the marriage. No-one else can decide or give permission on behalf of another person.
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 you are not forcing your relative 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.
For more information on capacity to consent to marry see Information Sheet 4.
For more information on the law see Information Sheet 2.
If you are unsure if your relative is able to consent and give their permission please look further down this page for how to get help.
If you or someone you know is being forced to marry tell someone you trust. This could be a social worker, teacher, nurse, GP or another family member or friend who you trust to help you.
If it is an emergency contact the police on 999.
For help and advice, including on marriages which take place overseas, contact the Forced Marriage Unit on 020 7008 0151 or email email@example.com.
To get help from a social worker contact your Local Authority and ask for an Adult Safeguarding Assessment. You can use this website to find out how to contact your Local Authority.
Capacity to consent to marry can be assessed by professionals including social workers and clinical psychologists. To do this they will use the Mental Capacity Act 2005.
To ask for an assessment speak to your GP or contact your Local Authority and ask to speak to the Community Learning Disability Team. You can use this website to find out how to contact your Local Authority.
If your relative is assessed as not having the capacity to consent it may be possible for them to be supported to develop capacity (for example by a social worker or health professional).
Remember – parents and other family members or friends cannot decide for someone else to marry if they cannot consent for themselves. This is unlawful and punishable by up to 7 years in prison and an unlimited fine. People can be abused and harmed if forced to marry.
The film is available in English, Urdu, Sylheti and Hindi and includes real case stories and information from people with learning disabilities, family carers and professionals.
Please be aware that some content may be upsetting as real-life experiences are shared.