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The facts and the myths

Forced marriage is rarely spoken about, so people might have misconceptions and ideas about it that aren't accurate. This section will take you through the facts, answer common questions, outline our rights in marriage, and bust some myths around forced marriage. Then you will find a mini quiz to test your knowledge.

However, please don’t feel any pressure to become a forced marriage expert overnight! If you want to engage with your community on this issue, and want some facts to rely on, we recommend printing off this section so that it’s easy to refer back to or share.

Common questions around forced marriage

Forced marriage happens when you’re made to marry someone without freely consenting (meaning that it doesn’t feel like your choice and you really don’t want to). Under the law, being forced into marriage means you have been coerced, threatened or deceived into entering a marriage. It also includes when you’re considered not able to give consent, due to age or mental capacity. Any marriage involving someone under 16 years old is automatically considered a forced marriage in Australia. 

It doesn’t just apply to civil marriages – it can include religious, cultural and customary marriages.

Here are some examples of what forcing someone into marriage can look like: 

Coercion can include:  

  • Emotional or psychological abuse

  • Scaring or harassing you and your loved ones

  • Controlling your activities, like where you go and who you see

  • Controlling your finances

  • Taking away your passport or other important documents

  • “Emotional blackmail”, like making you feel guilty or ashamed if you refuse

  • Physical or sexual violence.

Threats can include:

  • Blackmailing you or threatening to shame you

  • Saying you will be disowned

  • Saying your family will be shamed

  • Saying you or someone else will get hurt if you don’t agree to the marriage.

Deception can include: 

  • Lying to you about why you are going overseas and not telling you that you are actually going to get married

  • Lying about a marriage ceremony and telling you it is just a party or an engagement.

You can learn more about forced marriage here.

Forced marriage is the most reported form of modern slavery in Australia. Between 2021 and 2022, 84 reports were made to the Australian Federal Police. This number increases year after year. However, it’s important to note that this is the tip of the iceberg: there are estimated to be thousands of forced marriages nationwide. This issue is enormously under-reported and under-identified. As a result, there is very little data available on it. 

Most Australians don’t know that it happens here, and don’t know that it is a crime. This includes the people being pressured or forced into marriage – and not recognising that it is happening to them means that they are less likely to receive support.

Forced marriage happens across all cultures, nationalities, and religions. This includes every country in the western world. We know that young women and girls are the most at risk. It happens to both children and adults – in reported incidents, there is an almost even split between people over and under 18 years old.

Forced marriage is seen more frequently in families and communities that are highly socially conservative, have strict rules around behaviour, and a tendency to put the needs of the group before the individual.

People are most often pressured into marriage by one or more of their family, and/or their community. ​Both men and women are known to force others into marriage (e.g., mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, siblings, and community members). Families themselves can be divided over pressuring their child to marry. For example, there can be situations where one parent is pushing for it, and the other parent is against it.

Forced marriages and arranged marriages are different, and these terms should not be confused. 

Arranged marriages are legal in Australia. They commonly involve potential marriage partners being introduced to each other through their families or a third party, but both partners have the right to accept or reject the marriage. They can choose not to enter the marriage, without fear of something bad happening if they say no.  

However, it is possible for an arranged marriage to become a forced marriage – if someone is pressured to go ahead with the marriage after they have changed their mind and no longer want to (and so are no longer consenting).

Check out this video summing up your rights around marriage or visit this page to learn more about your rights.

Forced marriage can happen for many reasons. This list covers some of the most common drivers, but every situation is unique.

People can feel enormous pressure to conform to the expectations of their family and community, and these are the groups most frequently involved in forced marriages. Marriages might be forced to strengthen a person’s connection to their culture, traditions, and community. They may be forced because simply because it’s seen as ‘the way things are done’. We know that many people who force others into a marriage have been forced into marriage themselves.

Forced marriage is seen more often in families and communities that are highly conservative and have strict expectations of behaviour. This includes rigid gender roles: set ideas about how girls, women, boys and men are supposed to behave, and what they are supposed to do with their lives.

Those forcing another into marriage usually have a sense of guardianship and responsibility for that person. They may believe they have the duty, or the right, to determine that person’s future, and in guiding or approving their significant life decisions. Often, those forcing the marriage will genuinely believe that what they are doing is in the best interests of the person. This is why it’s so important to show people the devastating impacts forced marriage can have.

Marriages are sometimes forced to keep property and wealth within a family, or to gain wealth. They might be forced to help ease a family’s financial stress, poverty, or social insecurity. They might also be used as a way for someone to gain residency or citizenship. Forced marriages can also increase when there is an outbreak of war, and/or a breakdown in the rule of law. In these situations, they may be used as a way of assisting relatives to emigrate to a safer country.

Forced marriage can be a form of honour-based violence. Marriage can be seen as a way of preserving or restoring the honour of the family, when a person has behaved in a way perceived as ‘shameful’. This is often related to gender roles, sexuality, an unapproved relationship, or acting against family and community values.

“We need more education on forced marriage, we need to teach our parents, and we should change it. It’s not going to change for us, we have to do it ourselves.”

Woman who has faced forced marriage


Key facts to challenge myths around forced marriage

Unfortunately, there are a lot of mistaken ideas out there about forced marriage. Many are rooted in harmful stereotypes about already marginalised communities, and make it even harder for people to get help. Here are some facts to help you counter the myths – you can click on each statement for more detail. At the end of this page, you can take a quiz to test your knowledge!

Forced marriages happen in Australia, and most reported cases involve Australian citizens. It also happens to permanent residents and non-citizens in Australia, including people brought here to be forced into marriage.

Forced marriage is not exclusively practiced by any particular cultural group, religion, nationality or ethnicity. It’s reported in communities all over the world. Forced marriage is not approved of in any of the major religions.

Although most reported cases of forced marriage involve young women and girls, it also affects women of all ages, men, boys and people with diverse genders, sexualities and bodies. Viewing forced marriage exclusively as a female issue means that men and boys, and people with diverse genders and sexualities, are less likely to be identified. They may also be less likely to recognise their own experience as forced marriage, or to seek help for it.

There are different meanings, values and customs attached to marriage across cultures and religions, and for each individual. The key question in any marriage arrangement is always whether the marrying parties consent, and if they are freely able to do so.

Under Australian law, a forced marriage occurs whenever someone is threatened, coerced, or tricked into entering a marriage. Coercion can include using or making threats of physical violence. However, while it is under-researched, it is thought that many or most forced marriages don’t involve physical violence.

A valid marriage requires both parties to give their consent freely and fully. Even if a person agrees be married, their ‘consent’ is not real if they were threatened, coerced or tricked into giving it. 

In addition, a person may not be able to give free and full consent due to their age or mental capacity. In Australia, a person under 16 years of age cannot legally consent to a marriage (this means that all marriages involving a person under 16 are forced marriages). 

Those experiencing forced marriage may be experiencing other forms of abuse, including domestic and family violence. You can learn more about the intersecting issues below, under ‘Different ways of thinking about forced marriage’.

Whether someone is an Australian citizen, permanent resident, temporary visa holder, or without a visa – there are support options available. If someone is in Australia and fears facing a forced marriage overseas, they can claim protection in Australia. We recommend getting legal and migration advice as soon as possible.

“They think only they know what is best for their children, so they have the right to decide for them… I know my parents are coming from a caring position; however, they are unable to understand the damage they have done to me.”

Man who has experienced forced marriage

Different ways of thinking about forced marriage

Depending on how you look at it, forced marriage is…

The right to freely choose your marriage partner is upheld in international law. 

Domestic and family violence involves harmful or violent behaviour towards a family member or towards someone who lives with you. This behaviour is used to control, threaten, force or dominate someone through fear. Through this lens, forced marriage is in itself a form of DFV, and can also be accompanied by DFV. It is most often family members who force, or are being forced, into marriage.

 It mostly affects women and girls (but also affects men, boys and all genders).

HBV is any act of violence or abuse in response to behaviour that’s believed to have brought shame on a person’s family or community. People inflict HBV with the intention to protect or restore ‘honour’. In this contex, marriages might be forced on someone who: has fallen in love with someone not approved of by family, has refused or tried to refuse a marriage, is LGBTIQ, or seems too ‘westernised’. 

Child abuse and neglect includes “any behaviour by parents, caregivers, other adults or older adolescents [that has a serious] risk of causing physical or emotional harm to a child or young person”. Child abuse includes physical abuse, emotional and sexual abuse, neglect, and exposure to family violence. ​When people under the age of 18 are forced to marry, it can be considered child abuse.

Slavery is when someone treats a person like a commodity or object – like a ‘thing’ able to be sold, purchased or traded. Under Australian law, forced marriage is a form of modern slavery. Forced marriages take away people’s freedom not just to choose who they marry, but often across their lives. They can also involve other kinds of modern slavery, such as exit trafficking (forcing or tricking someone into leaving the country for the purpose of a marriage).


Myth-busting Quiz

Test your knowledge on forced marriage in the quiz below.

Who are most at risk of forced marriage in Australia?

Those on temporary visas or without visas
Australian citizens and permanent residents

Which age range is most at risk of forced marriage?

Under 18 years old
Over 18 years old
Under 16 years old
Both adults and children are at risk, and exact numbers are difficult to know

Which of these is the strongest sign that a marriage has been freely consented to?

The person has verbally agreed to be married
The person doesn’t fear any negative consequences if they were to say ‘no’ to the marriage
No physical violence has taken place

When is it too late for someone to seek help?

When they have already been in the forced marriage for years
When the marriage ceremony has already taken place
When they have been taken overseas and into another legal jurisdiction
It’s never too late

Explore our Toolkit, and find out how you can make a difference.

Section One: How to support a friend

Section Three: Engaging with your community

Section Four: Responding to prejudice and racism

Examples of awareness-raising

Human Rights Calendar