Forced marriage

This advice provides information regarding forced marriage. See related procedure Receiving, registering and classifying a report and the Intake policy for further information and tasks that must be undertaken when receiving a report, including a report alleging a child or young person is at risk of forced marriage.

Introduction

While there is little information on the number of children who are at risk of forced marriage in Victoria, consultations held by the Commonwealth government with Victoria Police, community agencies and the Australian Federal Police suggest that forced marriage is under-reported in Australia. Therefore it is important that child protection practitioners are mindful of this issue, appreciate the complexities around forced marriage and ensure they are aware of the resources available in respect of forced marriage.

Background

The term ‘forced marriage’ describes ‘what happens when someone gets married without freely and fully consenting, because they have been coerced, threatened or deceived’ (National Roundtable on Human Trafficking). This is not the same as arranged marriages or ‘sham’ marriages (a marriage of convenience entered into purely to gain an advantage or benefit due to the status of being married).

The crime of forced marriage may apply to: legally recognised marriages, as well as to cultural and religious ceremonies, and registered relationships; to marriages that occur in Australia, including where a person was brought to Australia to get married; and where a person is taken overseas to be married.

Relevant legislation

The Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Act 2013 (Cth), amended the Criminal Code Act 1995 by inserting offences related to forced marriage. The Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) also includes provisions whereby a marriage may be void if the consent of the party was not real, or if a party was not of marriageable age. Forced marriage offences may apply to any person involved in bringing about the forced marriage. This includes families, friends and marriage celebrants.

Why does forced marriage occur and who is affected?

Forced marriage can occur for a number of reasons including: to control unwanted behaviour or sexuality; to prevent relationships considered to be unsuitable; for financial gain; to promote family links and family honour. Forced marriage is not confined to any particular ethnic or religious group, and although it is considered a form of gender-based violence, boys can also be victims of forced marriage. Although forced marriage is viewed as a religious custom, no faith condones its practice.

This is a culturally sensitive issue, as it primarily affects members from cultural and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. Communities that are most affected include migrants from: South and East Asia; Africa, India; Bangladesh; Niger; Pakistan; and Afghanistan. English is often their second language, which impacts on the victim’s ability to access support or written material.

The two primary groups at risk of forced marriage are migrants entering the country and migrant communities currently living in Australia.

Child protection response

Children are at particular risk of forced marriage from adolescence until the early teenage years. Associated consequences for children of forced marriage may include abduction and kidnapping, interruption or termination of education, female genital mutilation, murder, physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

In Victoria, child protection only becomes aware of an incident or threat of forced marriage if a report is received.

Child protection can investigate such a report, see procedure Receiving, registering and classifying a report , and if the child is assessed as being at risk of forced marriage, the Secretary may seek a court order through the Children’s Court. An application can be made to the Family Law Courts to prevent the affected child being removed from Australia. Child protection can also make an application for the child’s Australian passport to be seized as an additional protection. A report would also be made to police for criminal investigation – see Police and Child Protection protocol (pdf, 293.16 KB) .

Considerations for good practice

The Commonwealth Attorney-General’s department, in partnership with the National Roundtable on Human Trafficking and Slavery’s Communication and Awareness Working Group, developed a forced marriage community pack. This pack provides information and resources of forced marriage and is a useful tool for both practitioners and for families.

Anti-Slavery Australia is an organisation offering access to specialist legal service, undertaking research and advocating for those who have experienced all forms of human trafficking and slavery-like practices, including forced marriage. Their website, My Blue Sky, is a valuable resource for practitioners and for those who have experienced, or who are at risk of forced marriage.

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