Guidelines to assist health professionals who suspect cases of forced marriage are today launched by the government.
Aimed at frontline practitioners such as GPs, practice nurses, school nurses, midwives, and A&E staff, the guidelines provide practical advice on how to recognise the warning signs, and what to do if a patient discloses that they have been, or are about to be, forced to marry.
Each year approximately 300 cases of forced marriage are reported to the government's Forced Marriage Unit. But many more come to the attention of the police, social care services, health, education and voluntary organisations.
Evidence suggests many victims assume that health professionals cannot help them and they may not feel confident in expressing their concerns. Feedback from health professionals is they would like to do more but aren't always sure how.
Consultations with health professionals may be one of the few occasions when the victim is unsupervised by a family member and by being aware of the warning signs and making routine enquiries, they may encourage victims to speak out.
The guidelines, which are a joint initiative by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), Home Office and the Department of Health, detail cases such as Sanita, who came to the UK following a forced marriage. While attending a local hospital to tend to injuries that were inflicted by her husband, the consultant was able to speak to Sanita alone and she told him everything. To this day, Sanita still genuinely believes the consultant saved her life.
On launching the guidelines, FCO Minister Lord Triesman said: "As part of our ongoing commitment to tackle forced marriage we have, today, launched guidelines for health professionals which complements our previous guidelines for social workers, police officers and education professionals. I hope that this new guidance will allow health professionals to have the necessary tools to equip themselves to deal with issues on forced marriage."
Public Health Minister Caroline Flint said: "Forced marriage affects children and adults as well as men and women from a wide range of communities. An interview with a health professional may be the first and only opportunity victims have to tell someone about what is happening to them.
"This new guidance will help health professionals recognise the warning signs of forced marriage, understand the danger faced by victims and respond to their needs sensitively and effectively."
Dr Peter Carter, General Secretary of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said: "Health professionals need sound direction and effective support if they are to deliver the best possible care for vulnerable patients. We will look with interest to see how the guidelines are practically implemented and further developed."
Barbara Cox, designated nurse for safeguarding children for Bradford and Airedale Teaching Primary Care Trust, who is also a management committee member of a local Domestic Abuse Services Agency, said: "I welcome this guidance. It is a very easy to read document and it makes a clear distinction between 'arranged' and 'forced' marriages. It will be an invaluable aid to all workers. It very simply gives background information, advice and guidance on the signs of forced marriage and on the help available but most of all it raises awareness of the effect of forced marriage on individuals. It is a very useful addition to our toolbox."
The guidelines, Dealing with Cases of Forced Marriage, are part of a series that the Forced Marriage Unit has produced for teachers, police officers and social workers.
A full set of these guidelines is available from the FCO website.
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