Forced Marriage and COVID-19

Assessing the Impact of COVID-19 and COVID-related Decision-Making on Forced Marriage Vulnerability in the UK

Part of the COVID-19 research and innovation supported by UKRI

Project Summary

COVID-19 and COVID-related decisions are having significant impacts on children and adults vulnerable to, and already experiencing, the crime of forced marriage. Our mixed-methods project will chart and understand this impact, inform evaluation of the UK’s response to Covid-19, and shape on-going policy regarding the UK’s pandemic response. We consider the uneven economic and social impact of the pandemic, and the ethical dimensions of unequal impacts of Covid-related decision-making, on this vulnerable group, and seek to impact how government, civil society and the voluntary sector support vulnerable people.

The UK government’s Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) and the charity Karma Nirvana (KN) (which provides a national forced marriage helpline) have warned about the risks of the pandemic for forced marriage in the UK. We designed this project with both organisations, and will work with them to analyse quantitative and qualitative data about the impact of Covid-19 on those at risk of, or experiencing, forced marriage; and to record and analyse the challenges faced in the pandemic, evaluate the efficacy of mitigation strategies, and formulate new policies and practises for protection and response.

Within the first 12 months, we will have co-created an accurate account of the economic and social impact of Covid-19 and Covid-related decision-making on victims of forced marriage, and the ethical implications of unequal impacts. We will then continue to chart the changing risk environment, while co-developing policy reports and recommendations for the UK government (including FMU), NGO practice responses (including KN), and other stakeholders, to improve the on-going response to COVID-19 and build community resilience.

Latest Updates:

January 2021

We have been working on our Data Report, conducting more qualitative interviews, and sharing our findings with key stakeholders. We have also been working on our timeline of key events.

October 2021

We welcomed our newest team-member, Rebecca on board. We held a stakeholder workshop, which was very successful. We continue to work on Case Studies, analysis of interviews, and our Data Report.

July 2021

We published three reports – on the 2020 data from the forced marriage unit; on applications for Forced Marriage Protection Orders in 2020; and on the impact of the pandemic on call-handlers at the national helpline for forced marriage.

April 2021

We published a snap-shot of findings from Karma Nirvana’s helpline data, and been piloting a survey and interviews with Karma Nirvana.

January 2021

A year after the WHO declared COVID-19 to be “a public health emergency of international concern”, we have been busy co-designing a stakeholder survey, and mapping key stakeholders to approach.

October 2020

The team secured funding on the last day of October, 2020, following a busy few weeks of co-designing the project and writing the application. We had already submitted evidence on this issue to the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

November 2021

We have published three Case Studies (Pakistan; Bangladesh; and Somalia) and hosted a public talk with updates from our project so far.

August 2021

We have been working on a further update on data from Karma Nirvana and planing our third stakeholder workshop. Our analysis suggests cases of forced marriage decreased from October 2020 to March 2021.

May 2021

We held our second stakeholder workshop, and welcomed a UoN Politics and IR Q-Step student to the team to look at data on Forced Marriage Protection Orders.

February 2021

A year after the WHO-China Joint Mission on COVID-19 warmed “much of the global community is not yet ready, in mindset and materially, to implement the measures that have been employed to contain COVID-19” so far, we held out first stakeholder workshop, and started analysing help-line data from Karma Nirvana.

November 2020

First steps – we hired Dr Rumana Hashem, as the Research Fellow on the Team. We began mapping key stakeholders and collecting available quantitative data.

December 2021

We have been working on further Case Studies (including of India) and on a report on the quantative data collected so far.

September 2021

We have been working on a series of Case Studies based on data released by the Forced Marriage Unit in July. The first (on Pakistan) is available here.

We also said goodbye (for now!) to Fiona, and wish her all the best for her future work in this field.

June 2021

We have been working on analysis of the impact of the pandemic on Forced Marriage Protection Orders, the latest data from Karma Nirvana, and the findings of our pilot stakeholder survey. We published a report on the likely impact of international travel restrictions on victims and survivors of forced marriage.

March 2021

This month we were working on our “What We Know One Year On” report, marking one year since the UK went into lockdown. Check back for further updates, and copies of our report.


December 2020

We started work on understanding how COVID-19 had affected people working to support those at risk of forced marriage, and the impact of COVID-related decisions such as “stay at home” on survivors.


“School closures, isolation from community networks and support services, lockdown, and ongoing economic pressures imposed by the pandemic increase risks of forced marriage; reduce access to support; and exacerbate abuse experienced by those already in forced marriage”.

Helen McCabe, Principal Investigator


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