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Forced marriages and who to contact for help

This section explains what forced marriage is, and describes the help that is available to people who are or may become victims of forced marriage.

To get expert legal advice, contact our team on 0207 237 3388 or e-mail us your query on Complete our contact form with details of the help you require and one of our UK Immigration Lawyers will contact you. Click here to complete this now. 

What is a forced marriage?

A forced marriage is a marriage that takes place without the full and free consent of both parties. In a forced marriage, you are coerced into marrying someone against your will. You may be physically threatened or emotionally blackmailed to do so, or you may be a victim of psychological abuse. Forced marriage cannot be justified on any religious or cultural basis.

Forced marriages are not the same as arranged marriages, where you can choose whether to accept the arrangement or not. In an arranged marriage, families take the lead in selecting a marriage partner but the couple has the free will and choice to accept or decline the arrangement. The tradition of arranged marriages has operated successfully within many communities and countries for a very long time. 

Frequently asked questions

In order to better understand the forced marriage issue, it is important to address frequently asked questions.

  1. Are arranged marriages are the same as forced marriages? All arranged marriages are not forced marriages. In arranged marriages, families arrange the match. The individuals getting married have a choice of whether or not to marry. In a forced marriage, the individuals getting married are not given the choice to marry.

  2. Aren't forced marriages a thing of the past? Forced marriages are still occurring in UK and many different parts of the world. The exact number of forced marriages cases in the UK is not known. Due to stigma and lack of awareness about forced marriages, many people do not report cases of forced marriages. 

  3. Why is forced marriage a part of some cultures? Forced marriage is not a cultural practice. Forced marriages can occur in any culture, class, religion or area of the world. Forced marriage is not accepted by any religion or culture.

  4. Who is forced to marry? Forced marriages happen to people of all ages and gender. While many marriages involve domestic violence and violence against women, many men are also victims of this practice. Forced marriage also happens to trans-gendered transsexual, gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals.Forced marriages can happen to anyone.

  5. Isn't forced marriage a private family matter? Forced marriages are not a private family matter. Forced marriages violate human rights and international laws. Parents/caregivers may believe that they are preserving cultural tradition, building stronger families and protecting their children. Regardless of motives, forced marriage is against the law and is an act of violence.

Am I in Forced marriage

If this is happening to you, or someone you know — it is not your fault and you are not alone. You can get help.

It is important to understand that who you marry, when you marry or if you marry, marriage is a choice. Forced marriage is a form of abuse and is against the law in Canada.

Network of Agencies Against Forced Marriages (NAAFM) has been established, which includes a range of committed community partners, who are equipped to help you. They will work with you to identify strategies that promote your safety and your right to choose marriage freely.

Local and international resources are available, including free and confidential support. Resources include health, housing, counselling, legal and financial help.

For immediate assistance contact the 24-hour support lines at the Victim’s Support Line: 1-888-579-2888 or 416-314-2447, if you are calling from within Toronto.

If you are worried about your immediate safety and well-being, contact your local police at 911.

I Am Concerned For Someone In A Forced Marriage

Forced marriages can be a hidden problem. The important thing to remember is that you are not alone in your concern. Help is available for you and to support individuals within a forced marriage.

The following can be signed to look out for if you are concerned about someone you know:

  • The person begins to miss appointments, school, work or social events

  • The person may seem more anxious, depressed or scared

  • The person no longer meets with you alone

  • The person has injuries that he/she cannot explain

  • The person’s eating habits change

  • The person expresses that he/she wants to hurt themselves

Going Abroad

Forced marriages can take place abroad. If you suspect that the reason for travel is for a forced marriage, try to avoid the trip. If this is not possible, there are supports available.

If you or the person in concern have not yet travelled overseas and are worried for your safety, get in touch with an agency or a service provider that can help you. You can contact the local police, a school guidance counsellor, a social service agency, or a community legal clinic.

See Get Connected and Emergency Links.

If travel becomes unavoidable, provide a trusted person with:

  • Address and telephone number of where you are going to stay

  • Your passport details

  • All your flight details (there and back)

Legal Support

Forced marriages are illegal. Individuals should seek professional and confidential help in understanding their legal rights and responsibilities.

Criminal offences for forced marriages can include sexual assault, threatening behaviour/threats to kills, kidnap, abduction, assault, imprisonment and murder.


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