I was forced to marry, says kidnapped doctor

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The Independent Online

Humayra Abedin, the NHS doctor who was kidnapped by her parents in Bangladesh, was forced to marry against her will during her four months in captivity, she confirmed yesterday.

The 33-year-old doctor, who flew back to Britain this week after a court in Dhaka ordered her release, said her parents had picked out a man and made her marry him at a Muslim wedding in November. Her parents live in the Bangladeshi capital but the ceremony was held in another province.

The revelation came as it emerged that Dr Abedin's highly publicised plight had led to an unprecedented number of calls from victims of forced marriage to the only national helpline in Britain that offers advice specifically to them.

The Honour Network said it had received three times as many calls as usual in the first five days after Dr Abedin's plight was made public a fortnight ago. The Derby-based helpline receives an average of 40 calls a day, but had to cope with more than 110 calls a day after Dr Abedin's ordeal was reported in the media.

Dr Abedin worked as a GP in east London and is staying with friends at an undisclosed location. In a statement released through her lawyers yesterday, she said: "On 14 November 2008, I was forced to marry a person of my parents' choice. I was removed to another province of Bangladesh. I entered into the marriage ceremony under duress. I did not consent to the marriage. I have given my solicitors instructions to urgently issue proceedings in this country for a decree of nullity to be obtained on my behalf."

A cousin of Dr Abedin reported her disappearance in the late summer after she sent friends a text message from Bangladesh which read: "Please help me. My life is in danger." She had returned to her parents' house on 3 August after being told her mother was ill, but had not been heard from after that. It is believed that her strict Muslim parents disapproved of her Hindu boyfriend in Britain and wanted her to marry a man of their choosing.

Using new legislation brought in two months ago to protect potential victims of forced marriage, lawyers acting on Dr Abedin's behalf were able to obtain a High Court injunction ordering her release. The injunction had no legal jurisdiction in Bangladesh but a court in Dhaka noted it and later ordered Dr Abedin's parents to release their daughter immediately. The injunction was sought under the Forced Marriage Act and is believed to be the first time the new law has been used to help a foreign national.

Anna Hardy, who works at the Honour Network helpline, said: "We have had a huge increase in the number of calls coming our way since Humayra's story emerged. An awful lot of those calling are young people saying they are afraid they will be forced into a marriage. Hopefully, Humayra's safe return will make them realise that help is out there."

Every year, the Government's Forced Marriage Unit repatriates up to 300 British men and women who have been forced into marriages abroad. The vast majority of cases occur in Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Indian Punjab. Campaigners believe thousands are also married against their will in Britain but are frightened to come forward.

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