Local authorities, with the help of other organisations as appropriate, have a duty to make enquiries under section 47 of the Children Act 1989 if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm. A belief that a girl may have been involved in an under-age marriage should lead to such an assessment.
Where a local authority encounters concerns about a child’s welfare that constitute, or may constitute, an offence against a child, social workers should discuss the case with the police at the earliest opportunity. Offences may have been committed by the girl’s parents, or by her ‘husband’. Legislation that came into force earlier in 2014 means that forced marriage is now a criminal offence.
Statutory guidance on multi-agency working to safeguard children from harm is contained in ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’, which the Government published in 2013 and updated in June 2014. Statutory guidance and multi-agency practice guidelines on forced marriage, also updated in June 2014, provides information and advice for all relevant services, including schools, who are advised to make referrals to children’s social care or the police if they have any concerns about a girl being affected by forced marriage.