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What is a ‘forced marriage’?

We have a film which explains about forced marriage, it is available in different languages. You can choose to watch the film in English, Hindi, Urdu or Sylheti

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:

  • The person cannot consent to marriage because they don’t understand what marriage is about.
  • The person is forced to marry someone when they don’t want to

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.

What is ‘capacity to consent to marry’?

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 they think oh no, there is no care, nobody is going to look after my son or daughter, then maybe they will force their son or daughter”

Helpful tips - Do

  • Do's
    Do make sure the person getting married wants to do so and has capacity to consent
  • Do's
    Do get help from someone like a social worker, a health worker or the Forced Marriage Unit (phone 020 7008 0151 or email fmu@fcdo.gov.uk) if you or someone else is at risk of forced marriage
  • Do's
    Do call the police on 999 if you are someone else is in immediate danger
  • Do's
    Do get help from someone like a social worker or health worker if you are unsure someone can consent for themselves
  • Do's
    Do read the facts sheets available and use the film and workbooks available on our resources page (link t the bottom of this page) to find out more information

Helpful tips - Don't

  • Don't
    Don't arrange a marriage for someone unless they are agreeing to it and have the capacity to consent
  • Don't
    Don't ignore someone if they tell you they are worried they or someone else is being forced to marry - get help
  • Don't
    Don't break the law - find out more about the law of forced marriage if you are unsure
  • Don't
    Don't assume someone has capacity to consent just because they say yes or seem happy about it

What to do if you need help or someone you know needs 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 fmu@fcdo.gov.uk.

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.


What to do if you are unsure whether or not someone has capacity to consent to marriage

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.

Click on the ‘Resources’ button at the top of this page to find workbooks and films which will help you learn more about forced marriage and having the capacity to consent.

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.

We will be adding some accessible information here soon – watch this space!

Do you need our help? Useful information here.

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