Forced marriage

Because forced marriage is illegal, it can happen in secret and can also be planned by parents, family or religious leaders. It may involve physical abuse, sexual abuse or emotional abuse.

Being forced to marry

Nobody has the right to force you to do something you don't want to do. You can talk to a counsellor any time about how you feel and if you're having problems with your family.

Some families force their children to marry because they:

  • think it’s an important part of religion or culture
  • are worried about the family’s reputation and honour (in some cultures also known as 'izzat')
  • want all of the family’s money to stay together
  • want to marry their children off in exchange for money
  • don’t approve of their child being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender
  • don’t want their children to have relationships or sex
  • feel pressured by the community or other family members to follow traditions
  • want to keep family values and honour.

But none of these reasons are okay. And nobody has the right to force you into marriage.

What you need to know about forced marriage:

  • it's illegal in the UK
  • it's not the same as arranged marriage. In an arranged marriage, people always have a choice about whether they get married or not
  • if you think your life's in danger call 999, or if you need support you can talk to a counsellor
  • you have the right to choose who you marry, when you marry or whether you want to get married or not.
  • there are people who can help.

What to do if you're being forced into marriage

Remember that if you're being forced into marrying someone you don't want to, this is wrong and it's also against the law. It can feel like you have no control, but it's important to think about your future, your safety and what a forced marriage would be like for you.

It’s possible that your parents or family would force you to marry because they think it’s the best thing for you. This doesn't make things okay and you can get help to stop this from happening.

You might love your parents but might also feel unsure about why you're being forced to marry. You might be told that you're bringing shame on your family if you don’t marry. Your parents might even say that they'll disown you. This is emotional abuse.

If you can't talk to your parents, maybe you can think of another adult who you trust, like a family member, teacher or school nurse. It’s important to let someone know as quickly as possible so that you can be safe and get help.

Your rights

Forced marriages happen in many religions and nationalities, and can affect both boys and girls. It doesn’t only happen to young people, it can happen to adults too. There are some people and communities that think forced marriage is okay.

But it’s important to remember that all major religions (Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Christian and Jewish) are against forced marriage. Forced marriage is never okay, and it’s important to remember there is help available.

Forced marriage is against the law in the UK and you have a right to say no if you're being made to marry someone who you don’t want to. The minimum age for marriage in the UK is 16.

You have the right to:

  • choose who you marry, when you marry or whether you want to get married or not
  • make decisions and to be able to tell someone about what’s happening to you
  • feel safe and to ask for help
  • say no and explain that you don’t feel happy with what is happening.

You might worry that if you tell someone then your parents or other people could get into trouble. Or you may think it will make things worse. You don’t have to deal with this on your own. There are people who won’t judge you and who will support you with what you’re going through. You can contact a counsellor in private at any time and talk about anything.

Is it different to an arranged marriage?

A forced marriage is different from an arranged marriage.

Arranged marriage:

  • is a cultural tradition
  • you have a choice

Forced marriage:

  • is an abuse of human rights
  • you don't have a choice

Sometimes an arranged marriage can lead to a forced marriage. For example, if you agree to marry someone but then change your mind and decide not to.

If your parents or family don’t accept your decision and still make you go ahead with the marriage, this becomes a forced marriage.

If you need support and someone to talk to, you can and speak to one of our counsellors. It's free to call and confidential.

Layla's story about forced marriage