Forced Marriage

The Scottish Government believes that everyone in Scotland who can marry or enter into a civil partnership has the right to do so freely and without coercion.

A forced marriage is when either or both parties do not or cannot – in the case of some adults with learning or physical disabilities – consent to the marriage and coercion is involved. Coercion may take the form of physical or emotional pressure, for example.

A forced marriage is different to an arranged marriage. In an arranged marriage, families take a leading role in choosing a partner for a son or daughter, and both parties give their full and free consent to their union.

It is an abuse of your human rights if someone uses physical or emotional pressure to try to force you into a marriage without your consent. Find out where you can get help, whatever your particular situation.

Good Practice

Listening carefully to the concerns of the victim, understand the circumstances which have brought them to you, and explaining their options, taking their concerns seriously

never attempting family counselling, mediation, arbitration and reconciliation if forced marriage is an issue because this can put victim(s) at further risk

recognising the potential risk of very significant harm and the lengths that families go to in order to force a marriage and that families do kill in the name of ‘honour’

never sharing information with family/friends/community members; and, if sharing information with other practitioners in your own or other agencies, only do so if necessary to protect victims and always store information about the case securely, with restricted access and in compliance with record management procedures

recognising that a victim’s life may be at stake recognising that under the Forced Marriage Act, a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO) can be sought. The terms of orders issued under the Act can be tailored to meet the specific needs of victims.

More detailed information can be found in the published guidance.

Who is at risk?

Forced marriage can affect men, women and children of many ages and backgrounds. In some cases, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people may be forced to marry to protect ‘family honour’. A disabled person may be forced to marry to ensure their long-term care.

Individuals at risk of forced marriage are under enormous cultural pressure to conform to the wishes of their family and wider community. Severe physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse often accompanies this pressure.

It is not uncommon for the person at risk to commit suicide or to be killed by a family member (a so-called ‘honour killing’).

Forced marriage may also be linked to human trafficking. Human trafficking involves moving, harbouring, transferring or receiving individuals using threat or deception for the purposes of exploitation. Under certain conditions, a forced marriage can be classed as exploitation.

Children in the UK have been forced into marriage and trafficked to:

  • maintain family ties
  • improve the family’s economic position
  • gain permanent UK residence for the spouse.

A forced marriage can also be the result of trafficking, with individuals forced into ‘servile’ marriages and related exploitation – for example, being used as unpaid and forced labour.

Your rights and the law

If you or someone you know is in a forced marriage, or being forced to marry, the law in Scotland provides both civil and criminal protection.

Forced Marriage Protection Orders (FMPOs) aim to protect people threatened with, or already in, a forced marriage. The individual at risk can apply for the FMPO, or a third party can do so on their behalf. FMPOs were introduced by the Forced Marriage etc. (Protection and Jurisdiction)(Scotland) Act 2011.

Section 122 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 provides extra protection on top of the 2011 Forced Marriage Act. The new legislation makes it a criminal offence in Scotland (in England and Wales this is Section 121) to force someone to marry against their will.

The new legislation does not replace the 2011 Act but sits alongside it.

Your safety is the priority

If you’re concerned about being forced to marry and feel you need an FMPO, you can:

  • apply directly to the court for an order
  • ask your local authority or a support organisation to apply for you
  • get an interim order to receive immediate protection until the full FMPO can be granted.

How an FMPO works

The purpose of a Forced Marriage Protection Order (FMPO) is to protect you. It can be tailored to your specific needs and situation.

An FMPO is a civil remedy, which exists alongside the criminal offence of forced marriage. This means that you can apply to the civil court for an FMPO separately from criminal proceedings. Depending on the circumstances, criminal proceedings may take place in tandem.

For example, you can use the Forced Marriage Act 2011 to apply to the civil court for an FMPO at the same time as the police and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service are conducting a criminal investigation under the Anti-social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014.

FMPOs can:

  • stop a forced marriage from happening, or provide protective measures if the marriage has already taken place
  • be tailored to an individual’s specific needs
  • contain restrictions or requirements to stop or change the behaviour of the person who is pressurising someone into marriage
  • include anyone who is not directly involved but may be helping the person who is demanding the forced marriage.

Help, advice and support

Several organisations have considerable expertise of supporting people at risk of forced marriage in Scotland:

  • Shakti Women’s Aid
  • Hemat Gryffe Women’s Aid
  • Amina MWRC (Muslim Women’s Resource Centre)
  • Saheliya.

They also have experience of working with the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU), which covers the whole of the UK. The FMU can be particularly helpful if a woman is in, or moving to, England or Wales, or out of the UK.

What the FMU does

The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) offers advice to anyone living in the UK, whatever their nationality. It also provides specific assistance to British nationals who are facing forced marriage abroad.

In 2013, the FMU received calls about more than 1,300 possible or actual cases of forced marriage involving 74 different countries. Forced marriage still remains largely hidden, though, and many more cases go unreported.

The FMU works on policy with government departments, statutory agencies and voluntary organisations, and runs an outreach programme. It also offers a casework service, which covers:

  • a general helpline – which offers confidential advice and support to those at risk and to practitioners handling cases of forced marriage. FMU caseworkers have experience of the cultural, social and emotional issues surrounding forced marriage
  • UK cases – by providing information and support to those who fear they will be forced into marriage, including talking through the available options
  • overseas cases – by helping British nationals facing forced marriage abroad to a place of safety and assisting their return to the UK; and by referring non-British nationals in the same situation to local organisations that can help
  • immigration cases – by helping those already forced into marriage to explore their options, including assisting those who are being forced to sponsor a visa for their spouse to remain in the UK.

Right to choose’ campaign videos

The Forced Marriage Unit commissioned 3 short videos to highlight the increased reports of forced marriage during the Summer holidays. These videos show how to spot the signs of forced marriage and focus on 3 young people all affected by these issues.

chained feet

The Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) has released a film to demonstrate the devastating impact of forced marriage on victims and their families.

Advice and support

The following advice, support and protection services are available in complete confidence:

Forced Marriage Helpline: 0800 027 1234
Calls are free and lines are open 24 hours a day.

Men’s Advice Line: 0808 801 0327
Available Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm. Calls are free from landlines and from O2, Orange/EE, T-Mobile, Three/3, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone mobiles.

Rape Crisis Scotland National Helpline: 08088 01 03 02
Minicom: 0141 353 3091 (if you are deaf or hard of hearing)
Lines are open daily, 6pm to midnight


Scottish Women’s Aid
Responds to domestic abuse through a network of local member groups across Scotland.

LGBT Domestic Abuse Project
Responds to domestic abuse experienced by Scotland’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender population.

Victim Support Scotland
Provides emotional support, practical help and essential information to victims, witnesses and others affected by crime.
Tel. 0845 603 9213

Voice UK
Supports people with learning disabilities and other vulnerable individuals who have experienced crime or abuse.

A project run by Deaf Connections to offer support, advice and information for deaf black and minority ethnic people in Scotland.

Other organisations that can help

Edinburgh and the East

Shakti Women’s Aid
Provides support, advocacy, refuge and information to all black and minority ethnic women, young people and children experiencing or escaping from domestic abuse.
Tel. 0131 475 2399

Supports the mental health and well-being of black and minority ethic women in Edinburgh.
Tel. 0131 556 9302

Men in Mind
Edinburgh-based services for black and minority ethnic men who are experiencing issues that may affect their mental health and well-being.

Dundee International Women’s Centre
Provides a wide range of services for women.
Tel. 01382 462 058

Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Centre (Dundee)
Works with Muslim women and promotes a wider understanding of their needs.
Tel. 0808 801 0301

Glasgow and the West

Hermat Gryffe Women’s Aid
Provides support, advocacy, refuge and information to all black and minority ethnic women, young people and children experiencing or escaping from domestic abuse.
Tel. 0141 353 0859

Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Centre (Glasgow)
Works with Muslim women and promotes a wider understanding of their needs.
Tel. 0808 801 0301