Forced marriage is a practice that is often associated with other countries and cultures. But in recent years it has become evident that forced marriages are also taking place in Australia.
The Australian Federal Police has recently revealed it is investigating more than 30 cases of forced marriages, involving children as young as nine.
Under the Marriage Act (1961), couples who enter into marriage must do so freely and fully consenting and they must be at least 18 years of age. In exceptional circumstances, and with the consent of their parents and/or the Family Court of Australia, one of the parties can be aged between 16 and 18, but not both.
Specific laws outlawing forced marriage were introduced in Australia in 2013. They are designed to protect both adults and children by making it an offence to coerce, threaten or deceive a person into getting married.
A person who forces another to marry faces a maximum penalty of four years imprisonment or seven years if the offence is aggravated by certain factors, including the age of the victim. The penalty increases to 25 years imprisonment if the victim has been taken overseas to be married.
The aim is to punish the perpetrators and not the victims.
If you suspect that someone is a victim of a forced marriage, you should immediately report the matter to the Australian Federal Police.
A Family Court order can be obtained to prevent or end a forced marriage. The Court also has the power to direct the Australian Federal Police to place a child's name on an Airport Watch List to stop them from being flown out of the country to marry.
Finally, it is important to distinguish the difference between a forced marriage and an arranged marriage. It is not against the law, for a third party to arrange for a couple to be introduced for the purpose of marriage. As long as the couple enters into a marriage freely and fully consenting, their marriage will be legal.