I am a frontline worker
Learn what to look out for and how to safely support someone in or at risk of forced marriage.
You may be the first trusted person to come across their situation.
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Your role as a frontline worker
Any frontline worker may come across a person experiencing forced marriage. The most common professions we know of are:
School staff (e.g. teachers, counsellors, well-being officers)
Health workers (e.g. doctors, nurses, midwives, emergency department staff, mental health workers, disability workers)
Domestic and family violence workers
Migrant and refugee workers
Faith leaders and marriage celebrants
It is important to identify and respond to forced marriage at the earliest possible time, but only when it is safe and you have the person's consent to act.
What is forced marriage?
Forced marriage happens when one or both parties get married without freely and fully consenting. Under Australian law, this may be because:
They were coerced, threatened or deceived, or
They did not understand the nature and effect of the marriage ceremony – for example, due to their mental capacity, or
They were under 16 years old when they got married – regardless of whether they said they consented.
People affected by forced marriage often experience pressures and abuse for a long time, both leading up to and following the marriage ceremony. These experiences can vary greatly and can happen alongside other forms of abuse, like domestic and family violence.
Forced marriage is against the law in Australia. It is a human rights abuse and a form of modern slavery.
Who does forced marriage affect?
Forced marriage is not limited to any one culture, religion or community. It can happen to people of any age, gender, sexuality, ability, ethnicity, culture or religion. In Australia, most of the forced marriages reported involve women and girls, people under 18, and Australian citizens.
How do I know if it is a forced marriage?
Each person’s experience of forced marriage is different and complex, but some common signs to look out for are:
The sudden announcement of an engagement or talk about becoming engaged
Having older siblings or family members who have been in a forced marriage
Changes in behaviour, extended absences, or poor performance at school or work
Being controlled and monitored by their family e.g. in their social activities, access to mobile phones or internet, and decision-making about other life choices.
Being worried or distressed about an upcoming family trip
Not returning from an overseas trip
When looking out for a potential forced marriage, keep in mind that:
A forced marriage can be any type of marriage – including a cultural, religious or customary marriage; a registered relationship; or an overseas marriage where a person has been taken out of Australia.
There are many different causes and drivers of forced marriage – including family traditions; community pressures and expectations; and poverty.
A person can experience a range of pressures and abuse from those around them – including emotional abuse; physical violence; coercive and controlling behaviours; and social isolation. These can be subtle and often begin a long time before the marriage takes place. They can also continue after the marriage has taken place.
What do I do if I come across someone experiencing forced marriage?
If you think someone is in or at risk of forced marriage, here are some steps you can take:
1. Let them know there is help available and they are not alone. Supports available include legal advice, accommodation, healthcare, counselling, visa/migration assistance and financial assistance.
2. Seek to understand their situation without judgement. Be culturally sensitive and aware of any trauma they might have experienced. If they would like to get help, ask for their informed consent to contact other services.
Click below to read our Frontline Worker Guide sections on:
3. Contact a specialist service for help (see below). You can get in touch even if you are unsure whether there is a forced marriage happening.
If the person is under 18, you may also have mandatory reporting obligations:
Always call Triple Zero (000) first if there is an emergency or someone is in danger.
My Blue Sky – free and confidential legal advice and support
My Blue Sky accepts referrals for all types of forced marriage situations in Australia, regardless of the person’s age, visa status, location and whether or not they wish to speak to the police.
We can also help people who have been taken overseas for a forced marriage, and those who were forced into a marriage before coming to Australia.
Phone: +61 2 9514 8115 (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sydney time)
SMS text: +61 481 070 844
Australian Federal Police – immediate assistance and protection
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) protects people who are:
in a forced marriage,
being forced to marry, or
being taken overseas for a forced marriage.
They can keep the person safe and, if needed, put in measures to stop them from being taken overseas. You can make a report anonymously, but it is important that you first get the person’s informed consent.