What is forced marriage?

A forced marriage is when a person gets married without freely and fully consenting.

A person does not freely and fully consent if:

  • They are coerced, threatened or deceived into getting married

OR

  • They do not understand the nature and effect of the marriage ceremony. This means they do not understand they are getting married, for example, because of an intellectual disability.

A forced marriage is also any marriage involving a person under 16 years old.

It does not matter if the person consented or not. This is because, in Australia, a person under 16 is not seen as able to consent or able to understand the nature and effect of a marriage ceremony.

What is the law on forced marriage in Australia?

Forced marriage has been illegal in Australia since 2013. It is a crime to force someone to get married or to be involved in organising a forced marriage. This law is found in Division 270 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995.

If a person is found guilty of forced marriage, they could go to prison for:

  • Up to 7 years.

  • Up to 9 years in more serious cases – for example, where the victim is a child or has a disability.

  • Up to 25 years if they help to take a child out of Australia for a forced marriage.

What types of marriage are covered?

Australia's forced marriage law covers:

  • Marriages that take place in Australia

  • Marriages that take place overseas, if they are organised by an Australian citizen or permanent resident

  • Religious, cultural and customary marriages

  • Registered relationships

  • Marriages that are not recognised by Australian law, like polygamous marriages and marriages between siblings

  • Marriages and relationships recognised by the laws of other countries

Who is affected by forced marriage?

Forced marriage can happen to anyone from any background. It most commonly happens to young women and girls, but people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations, cultures and religions can be forced into a marriage.

Why do forced marriages happen?

There are many reasons why a forced marriage may happen. A person might be forced to marry as a way to:

  • Control how they act and who they are in a relationship with

  • Protect their family’s honour

  • Maintain cultural or religious traditions

  • Strengthen family ties

  • Bring them or their family more money or life opportunities

  • Make sure they have someone to take care of them

  • Help their spouse or their family come to Australia

  • Hide a pregnancy or sexual assault

What are the impacts of forced marriage?

People who have been forced to marry, or are being forced to marry, can face many challenges and issues. Often, these impacts can be serious and long-lasting. These include:

  • Psychological trauma

  • Physical, emotional and sexual abuse

  • Loss of freedom and control over their lives

  • Loss of education and work opportunities

  • Being exploited in the home (e.g. forced to do all the housework)

  • Health issues (e.g. forced and early pregnancy)

Forced marriage can also damage important family relationships and community connections. Everyone – including the friends, family and community of the person in a forced marriage – can often experience loss and grief.

Want to learn more about forced marriage? Check out these other pages

Stories of forced marriage

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

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