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What is forced marriage?

"Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses" - Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 16(21)

Forced marriage is defined as a marriage contracted without the free and valid consent of one or both parties. It is different to an arranged marriage where there is free and valid consent from both parties. The pressure put on people to marry against their will can be physical (including threats, actual physical violence and sexual violence) or emotional and psychological (for example, when someone is made to feel like they’re bringing shame on their family). Financial abuse (e.g. withholding money) can also be a factor.

Forced marriage is recognised as a form of violence against women and men, and a serious abuse of human rights. Forcing someone into a marriage against their will, including taking them abroad for a forced marriage, is illegal in England and Wales. 

The Forced Marriage Unit produces a helpful guide called ''What is a forced marriage?' [PDF 387KB]which contains answers to some frequently asked questions.

The 'Against forced marriages' website also has some informative facts and a list of frequently asked questions.

What about the cultural factors?

If you come from a culture which accepts forced marriages, it is likely that you will feel pressurised to consent to what your family are proposing for you. They may be pressuring you emotionally and psychologically into the marriage, and telling you that if you don't marry you will bring shame on the family. If you feel that you are agreeing to a marriage due to family or community pressure or emotional blackmail, this is a forced marriage. It is your human right to choose who you want to marry, or to choose not to marry at all. You can get confidential support and advice from the Advice and Counselling Service at QMUL or from a number of external organisations. Specialist help is available to support you to make your own decision about what you want to do, and to help you understand how you can access housing and money if you choose to move away from your family.

You can read specific information about forced marriage and Islam here. 

You may be interested to read an article from the Evening Standard about a mother who forced her daughter into a marriage, but who later regretted her actions and supported her daughter to leave the marriage after her daughter sought help from a specialist agency.

Support from the Advice and Counselling Service

You can contact us to arrange to see a Counsellor, to get support with the difficult emotions you may be experiencing as a result of the fear of being forced into a marriage, or of already being in a forced marriage. Having the space to think about your feelings in a confidential setting can help you to decide what action you want to take (if any), and can help you to feel emotionally supported in your choice.

You can contact us to arrange to see a Welfare Adviser, who can offer you advice and guidance with practical issues. It is important to understand that Welfare Advisers will always work from your point of view; they will not impose any decisions on you. The adviser will help you to understand what options are available, and then if you decide to take action, they will offer you advice and support to help you achieve this. If you decide to move away from your family, we can help you to plan how to do this safely, to find alternative accommodation, and to access financial support. If your situation is adversely affecting your studies, we can advise you about academic options such as submitting a claim for Extenuating Circumstances if you have been unable to attend exams, or taking time out of your studies. If you also want to get help from an external agency, a Welfare Adviser can help you to contact them, and if you wish, can work together with you and the external agency to help you move away from the forced marriage, or the threat of forced marriage.

Please be reassured that the Advice and Counselling Service is confidential. This means that the fact that you have attended appointments at the Advice and Counselling Service, and anything discussed during appointments, will not normally be passed to anyone outside the Service without your permission.  You can read our Confidentiality policy here.

Organisations for people threatened with forced marriage, or in a forced marriage 

There are many organisations that offer support to people who are either concerned that they are going to be forced into a marriage, or who want to leave a marriage they have been forced into. We list some of these organisations below - you can find more information on their websites or by calling their helplines. However, if you ever feel that you are at immediate risk, you are advised to call the emergency services (999). 

The Forced Marriage Unit at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is the main source of advice about what to do if you are at risk of being forced into marriage, or you are concerned that someone else is in that situation, or if you want to leave a forced marriage. All caseworkers in the FMU have experience in dealing with the cultural, social and emotional issues surrounding forced marriage. They provide a helpline (Tel: 020 7008 0151) and you can also email them at They also offer advice to concerned friends, relatives or professionals.

The Jan Trust runs a website called Against Forced Marriages  They have a free helpline: 0800 141 2994 which is open Mondays to Thursdays from 10.30am to 4.30pm. Their website has lots of useful information including a page of FAQ's

Women's Aid were set up to stop domestic and sexual violence towards women, including forced marriage. They have a free 24 hour National Domestic Violence Helpline (0808 2000 247) and can put women who need to escape from a violent situation in touch with emergency refuge accommodation. Information includes advice about how to get help, personal safety and what to do to help a friend in danger of domestic violence. They also produce The Survivor's Handbook which provides practical support and information for women experiencing domestic violence, with simple guidance on every aspect of seeking support.

London Black Women's Project - 020 8472 0528, provide support and refuge services for women needing to escape from violent situations including women who are fearful they may be forced into marriage. They also have a resource centre with services including legal advice, counselling, support groups and information.

Asha Projects is a South Asian organisation that works to end violence against women and girls, including forced marriage. They provide confidential advice and information and they also have access to secure, temporary accommodation.

Karma Nirvana is an organisation for Asian men and women which provides a forced marriage helpline staffed by people who have escaped forced marriage and 'honour' based violence.
Helpline: 0800 5999 247

Muslim Youth Helpline provides faith and culturally sensitive support services to Muslim youth in the UK. They have a free and confidential helpline service run by young Muslim volunteers, and an online support service called They also offer an outreach service across Greater London.
Helpline: 0808 808 2008

The Ann Craft Trust
0115 951 5400
The Ann Craft Trust offers advice to professionals, parents, carers and family members on issues relating to the protection of vulnerable children and adults. You can contact them about general issues but they are also happy to give advice about specific cases. If they are unable to answer your question, they will try to find you the most appropriate person to talk to about your concerns. If you have been abused and would like to talk to someone contact the Respond Helpline on 0808 808 0700.

The Asian Family Counselling Service
020 85713933
This is a national service offering counselling on marital and family issues for Asian men and women. The national helpline is open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday. Telephone counselling is also available.

Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation
0207 490 0303 (9.30-5.00) or 07862 733511 (24hrs)
IKWRO provides advice, support, advocacy and referral in Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish, Dari and Farsi to women, girls and couples living in Britain, in particular helping women facing domestic violence, forced marriage and  ‘honour’-based violence. Their mission is to protect Middle Eastern women at risk of ‘honour’ killings,domestic violence, forced marriages and female genital mutilation, and to support them in upholding theirright to live without fear or oppression.

Southall Black Sisters
020 8571 9595
This is a resource centre offering information, advice, advocacy, practical help, counselling, and support to black and minority women experiencing domestic abuse. Southall Black Sisters specialise in forced marriage particularly in relation to South Asian women. The office is open weekdays (except Wednesday) 10.00 – 12.30 and 13.30 –16.00.

Men’s Advice Line
0808 801 0327
This service provides a freephone confidential helpline for all men experiencing domestic violence by a current or ex-partner. This includes all men – in heterosexual or same-sex relationships. The service gives men the chance to talk about what is happening to them and provides them with emotional support and practical advice. The advice line also has information about specialist services that can provide advice on legal, housing, child contact, mental health and other issues,
The helpline is open Monday to Friday 10am – 1pm and 2pm –5pm. You can also email us:

Child Line
0800 1111
This service is for any child or young person with a problem.

0808 800 5000 (helpline) 0800 056 0566 (text phone)
This free, 24-hour helpline provides information, advice and counselling to anyone concerned about a child at risk of abuse.

reunite International Child Abduction Centre
0116 2556234 (advice line)
reunite is the leading charity specialising in international parental child abduction. It operates a 24- hour advice line providing advice, support and information to parents, family members and guardians who have had a child abducted or who fear abduction. reunite also supports and informs parents who have abducted their children and assists with international contact issues. reunite’s advice is impartial and confidential to one or both parties involved in an international parental child abduction case. Reunite also provides information and support on the issue of forced marriage.

Gatwick Travel Care
01293 504283
This service ensures that young people are able to leave the airport and arrive at their destination safely and without delay. Victims of forced marriage may require assistance when they arrive at Gatwick and Travel Care can be contacted for advice. The service is available from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday and 9am to 4pm Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays.

Heathrow Travel Care
020 8745 7495
This service ensures that young people are able to leave the airport and arrive at their destination safely and without delay. Victims of forced marriage may require assistance when they arrive at Heathrow and Travel Care can be contacted for advice. The service is available from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

Further resources

Give some thought to how you can keep yourself safe and where you would go in an emergency. For advice you can go to the Women's Aid website and download sections of their 'Survivor's Handbook' which includes a section on 'Making a safety plan'. Look at the section on domestic violence for further information.

Women's Aid were set up to stop domestic and sexual violence towards women. They have a free 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline and can put women who need to escape from a violent situation in touch with emergency refuge accommodation. Website includes advice about safety and what to do to help a friend in danger of domestic violence.
Helpline: 0808 2000 247

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