Interested to know the difference between an arranged marriage and a forced marriage so you can identify it better? Discover the signs to look out for, right here…
Arranged marriages are not the same as forced marriages. In an arranged marriage, both parties always give their consent but, in a forced marriage, victims are coerced into a marriage that they do not want. They also often suffer physical and mental abuse in the process.
Distinguishing between the two types of marriage is really important. Forcing a marriage is a criminal offence, requiring a Forced Marriage Protection Order to protect the victim. Getting the two confused can promote a negative image of certain cultures and countries who practice arranged marriage.
There are no ‘typical’ victims of forced marriage. That said, there are a number of signs that can indicate that someone is at risk of a forced marriage, or is already in one. With this in mind, to discover the differences between these two controversial marriages so you can better spot them, read on…
What are the Differences Between a Forced Marriage and an Arranged Marriage?
It is important to understand the differences between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage. Not only will this avoid wires getting crossed between culture and abuse, you may be able to better spot it…
An arranged marriage is where a family find a marriage partner for their son or daughter, but the marriage is entered into willingly. Both parties have the option to choose whether or not to enter into the marriage, although it is generally believed that parents know what is best for their children in the long run.
In arranged marriages, parents will look for a partner for their son or daughter who has a good family, good career prospects, and the same religion and values; someone who will ultimately make their child happy. That’s not to say that all arranged marriages end in happiness. For children who refuse to marry their chosen partner, they are often shamed and cut off from their family.
A forced marriage, on the other hand, is one in which either one or both parties do not consent. This could be because the person is too young, they have a learning disability which prevents them from making an informed decision, they have a physical disability, or because they simply don’t want to.
Forced marriage is illegal in the UK, and victims are often coerced into marrying through physical, psychological, sexual or financial abuse. Some victims are sometimes unaware of the situation, and are then drugged or kidnapped so that they can’t escape and are forced to go through with the marriage.
Who is Most at Risk of Forced Marriage?
There is no ‘typical’ victim of a forced marriage. It can happen to anyone from any background. It can affect both men and women who are usually aged between 13 and 30. It is also not a problem specific to one culture or country.
According to the latest statistics from the government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU), in 2019 they handled 1,355 cases related to a possible forced marriage. These related to 66 different countries, excluding the UK. The most frequently encountered countries were:
This could be the country in which the forced marriage is due to take place, or has already taken place. It could also be the country in which the spouse is currently living. There were 72 cases reported in the UK in 2019. Of these cases the FMU handled in 2019;
- 27 percent involved victims below 18 years of age
- 36 percent involved victims aged 18-25 years of age
- 10 percent involved victims with learning disabilities
- 80 percent involved female victims
- 19 percent involved male victims
These are the reported cases only. The full scale of the problem in the UK, and other related countries, is unknown, as many cases go unreported. Because fo this, the government introduced lifelong anonymity to forced marriage victims in 2017, to encourage more people to come forward.
Why Do Forced Marriages Happen?
There are a varied number of reasons for forced marriage, many of these reasons relating to family honour. Some of the most typical reasons this might occur include:
- Parents reacting to social pressure from friends or older relatives to marry off their children;
- Parents believing that their children’s behaviour is starting to disgrace the family honour;
- If a child reveals that they have been raped or sexually abused, the parents may force them to marry to restore the family honour;
- Retaining wealth and property in the family;
- Marrying children into a wealthy family to reduce poverty and pay off debts;
- Marrying children with physical or learning disabilities so that they are taken care of;
- Forcing children to marry to cover up their true sexual identity, e.g. lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
What Does the Law Say About Forced Marriages?
Forced marriage has been illegal in the UK since 2014, under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act. Because of this, it is now a criminal offence to:
- Take someone overseas to force them to marry (whether or not the marriage actually takes place)
- Marry someone who lacks the mental capacity to consent to the marriage (whether they are coerced or not)
Committing this offence can result in imprisonment for up to seven years.
In 2008, under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, the government introduced Forced Marriage Protection Orders in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to protect victims who are being forced into a marriage or who are already in a forced marriage. Anyone who breaches this Order is committing a criminal offence, and it can result in imprisonment for up to five years.
How to Spot the Signs of a Forced Marriage
Now that we know more details about what exactly forced marriage entails, and who is most at risk, spotting the signs is crucial. Here are some of the things you can look out for in others that may signal a forced marriage, both before and after the marriage has taken place:
- Parents removing a child from education of from participating in extra-curricular activities for no reason;
- High levels of absenteeism from school, college or work;
- The victim may come from a community where ‘honour’ is culturally embedded;
- An engagement announcement between the victim and a stranger not previously mentioned;
- Changes to the victim’s personality e.g. they may appear depressed, anxious or withdrawn, and their appearance may deteriorate;
- The victim may go missing or have a fear of returning home;
- The victim may talk about a family holiday abroad with trepidation;
- The victim may go abroad and not return home;
- The victim’s family may regularly check up on them when they’re not home via phone, emails or text messages;
- Incidents of crime or domestic disturbances at the victim’s home;
- The victim may not have any control over their own life e.g. they may not be allowed a phone, money or access to the internet;
- The victim may show signs of self-harm or even attempt suicide;
- The victim may experience an unwanted pregnancy or a pregnancy very early in their marriage;
- The victim may have their passport or other legal documents taken away from them so that they can’t leave.
What Should You do if You Think That you or Someone Else is at Risk of a Forced Marriage?
There is lots of help out there from the government and domestic abuse charities, such as Refuge, Karma Nirvana and the Halo Project, who can give you advice. If you believe you or someone you know is in immediate danger, always call 999.
The Forced Marriage Unit can also help you or someone you know. Just be sure to have as many details as possible ready before getting in touch, including:
- Name (you or the person you are calling about)
- Address (you or the person you are calling about)
- Details of why you are concerned about your own or someone else’s safety
- Any details about where you or another person is being forced to go or has gone
If you’re not comfortable calling any of these helplines, or you’re not able to, try speaking to someone you trust. This could be a friend, co-worker, or even your GP.
Getting a Forced Marriage Protection Order
If you’re being forced into marriage, are unable to leave a forced marriage, or someone you know is in this boat, there are legal avenues you can take. Applying to the court for a Forced Marriage Protection Order is the main pathway to look into.
The order is designed to protect victims of forced marriage based on their individual circumstances. For example, the court can stop someone from approaching you or threatening you, and can even order someone to hand over your passport so that they cannot force you to travel abroad.
It is also possible to get an emergency order to protect you or someone you know immediately. This does not require the involvement of the person you’re making the order against.
If you’re concerned that you are about to be taken abroad to be married against your will, then contact the Forced Marriage Protection Unit. Or, if you are already abroad, contact your nearest British Embassy. You can also do this on behalf of someone else.
Get Help and Support About a Forced Marriage
As mentioned above, if you or someone you know is in immediate danger, call 999 straight away.
Forcing someone to marry against their will is a form of domestic abuse and is a criminal offence. If you think that you are at risk of a forced marriage or you think that someone else might be, there are many resources and helplines available to help:
Forced Marriage Unit: 020 7008 0151
Refuge: 0808 2000 247
The Halo Project: 01642 683 045
Karma Nirvana: 0800 5999 247
If you wish to apply for a Forced Marriage Protection Order, it’s important to seek legal advice as soon as possible. Remember, help and protection is available; don’t suffer in silence.