updated 12/8/2008 3:24:24 PM ET 2008-12-08T20:24:24

A British lawyer is trying to help a U.K. resident allegedly being held by relatives in Bangladesh by using a new law that allows British courts to prevent someone being forced into marriage.

Lawyer Anne-Marie Hutchinson said Monday she is trying to free Humayra Abedin, a 33-year old Bangladeshi woman working as a doctor in London who is believed held captive by family members in Bangladesh.

The British High Court issued an order Friday under the new Forced Marriage Act, ordering Abedin's family in London to turn her over to a woman's organization or the authorities. Hutchinson said the family has ignored the order, which can compel someone to reveal the whereabouts of a person believed to be at risk. This is one of the first times the law has been used since it came into effect last month.

Hutchinson says Abedin, who trained as a doctor in Bangladesh and at Leeds University in the north of England, was studying to become a family doctor in London. She traveled to Bangladesh in August and Hutchinson said she recently sent an e-mail to a friend suggesting she needed help. Hutchinson said she was asked to get involved in the case by Sara Hossain, a lawyer in Bangladesh.

Abedin "appeared pretty desperate," Hutchinson said.

The Forced Marriage Act is not directly enforceable in Bangladesh but Hutchinson said the Bangladeshi authorities are willing to cooperate in this case, and they had made unsuccessful appeals for Abedin's relatives in Bangladesh to prove she is safe.

Forced marriage differs from arranged marriage in that either the bride, groom, or both do not consent. In arranged marriages, families suggest suitable candidates but both parties must agree to the wedding.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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