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RCOG statement on the new forced marriage law

News 16 June 2014

Today, the Government introduces a new law against forced marriage in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 and publishes its multi-agency guidance on dealing with forced marriage. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) welcomes the joint work done by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Home Office, both of whom are spearheading the campaign to raise awareness among the professionals.

Forced marriage occurs when an individual, usually a young woman, is made to marry a man against her will. This coercion is against her human rights and many of these girls/women are placed under immense emotional and psychological stress by their families and/or communities. Sometimes, physical abuse also occurs.

As a single issue, it is related to other social problems including child marriage, low educational attainment, domestic and honour-based violence. There are also many implications on women’s health such as teenage pregnancy, late presentation at antenatal clinics, poor sexual health and the morbidities associated with women with complex social circumstances. For these reasons, the RCOG fully supports the new law which makes forced marriage a criminal offence.

Dr David Richmond, RCOG President, said, “Forced marriage enslaves women and the practice is unacceptable. The simple fact that we need a law against it means that it is happening in the UK and we must do what we can to prevent it and to protect women and their families from potentially abusive relationships.

“Healthcare professionals can do their part by being aware of the signs of a possible forced marriage. They need to have a private and sensitive conversation with the woman to ascertain if she is under duress. This is not always easy as the opportunities to speak directly to the woman, sometimes with the assistance of an independent interpreter, are limited. Early intervention is key to protecting women.

“We must be vigilant and provide these women with the appropriate levels of medical and social support they will need. This includes counselling if they have been subject to psychological trauma and the provision of women-only refuges where they can feel safe.”