Tackling forced marriage

The government wants to prevent forced marriages and help victims. It does this by introducing legislation, informing people of their rights and punishing offenders.

What is forced marriage?

Forced marriage is when one or both partners are put under severe pressure to get married. This can happen to both women and men. The victims are often young people who are put under pressure by their parents, family members or community. Forced marriage is a form of domestic violence. 

Measures against forced marriage

The Harmful Practices action plan (in Dutch) sets out measures for preventing, identifying and combating forced marriage. This action plan is part of the Violence has no place in the home’ programme (in Dutch)

Legislation to prevent forced marriage

The Forced Marriage (Prevention) Act (in Dutch) has made it harder to force people in the Netherlands to marry against their will. The key points of the Act are set out below.

  • Ban on marriage for people under 18
    To marry in the Netherlands both partners must be at least 18 years old. If someone under 18 gets married abroad this is considered child marriage in the Netherlands. The marriage will only be recognised in the Netherlands once both partners have reached the age of 18.
  • Marriage between 2 family members
    In the Netherlands, full cousins can get married and an aunt or uncle can marry their nephew or niece. But only if both partners swear an oath that they are marrying of their own free will. The same condition applies to same-sex partners, for example 2 male cousins or an uncle and nephew who wish to marry.
  • Ban on polygamous marriage
    In the Netherlands polygamous marriages are prohibited by law. This is when someone marries 2 or more people, almost always a man marrying 2 or more women. In some countries polygamous marriages are permitted. But if a Dutch national or resident enters into a polygamous marriage abroad, this marriage will not be recognised in the Netherlands.

Criminal prosecution of forced marriage

Forcing someone to marry is a crime. The following rules apply for the prosecution of offenders:

  • Offenders can be sentenced to up to 2 years in prison.
  • A Dutch national who has forced someone to marry abroad can be prosecuted in the Netherlands. Even if forced marriage is not a crime in the country where the marriage took place. This also applies to non-Dutch nationals who are permanent residents of the Netherlands.
  • Offenders can be prosecuted until 6 years after the forced marriage. If the victim was under 18 this period starts when the victim turns 18. This gives the victim time to reflect as an adult on the impact of the forced marriage, and to report the crime.
  • A person suspected of forcing someone to marry may be held in pre-trial detention to protect the victim.
  • The Public Prosecution Service has the power to investigate offenders. For example, they can check a person’s phone records.

Arranged marriages without force

An arranged marriage does not automatically mean the partners were placed under severe pressure. Criminal prosecution is not necessarily the appropriate course of action if the couple enters into the marriage as a result of gentle insistence, encouragement or persuasion. The government has other measures for this, such as: 

  • raising awareness;
  • providing information to parents, other family members and the community; and
  • providing support and assistance to victims of arranged marriages.

Measures to identify and tackle forced marriage

  • Helping professionals to recognise forced marriage
    Professionals can contact the National Expertise Centre on Forced Marriage and Abandonment (LKHA) for information, advice and support in tackling forced marriage and abandonment. The centre offers training courses and workshops and provides advice and support for dealing with difficult situations. It also provides education in the Netherlands and assistance for victims.
  • Help for victims of forced marriage
    The National Expertise Centre on Forced Marriage and Abandonment provides assistance to victims of forced marriage and abandonment. Contact information for victims can be found at huwelijksdwangenachterlating.nl. Victims can also get help if they are abroad. 
  • Online course on preventing forced marriage
    Doctors, teachers and other professionals who work with young people can take a free online course in Dutch (e-module Schadelijke Praktijken). This course provides information about exactly what forced marriage (and other forms of violence) is and what professionals can do to help tackle it.