If you or your friend are in a forced marriage or are worried you are going to be forced to marry, please know that help is available and that you are not alone.
You may be scared and unsure of your future, and confused about your feelings and duties. You can get help by contacting one of the numbers on this page.
It doesn’t matter what your age is; what country or family background you come from; whether you are male or female; or what your culture or religion is – nobody is allowed to force you to get married against your will.
Signs of forced marriage
If a person you know is in, or at risk of a forced marriage, they may find it hard to talk about their situation. If you notice some of the following things about a person, then it could mean they are in a forced marriage, or at risk of being made to enter into a forced marriage
It can be difficult to identify the signs of forced marriage and you should seek help and advice as soon as possible. It is important that you always act in the best interests of the person in, or at risk of, a forced marriage, and that you are always mindful of their safety as well as your own.
A sudden announcement that they are engaged and they don’t seem happy about it
They suddenly leave school, university or work
They spend a long time away from school, university or work with no reason
They have run away from home
There is evidence of family violence or abuse
Their older brothers or sisters stopped going to school or were married under the age of 18
They are never allowed out or usually have to have somebody else from the family with them
They show signs of depression, self-harming, drug or alcohol abuse
They seem scared or nervous about an upcoming family holiday overseas
What is forced marriage?
A forced marriage is when a person gets married without freely and fully consenting, because they have been coerced threatened or deceived. This can include emotional pressure from their family, threats of or actual physical harm, or being tricked into marrying someone. This type of marriage has long-term negative impacts on people and families and is against the law in Australia. People who have experienced forced marriage or the threat of forced marriage may suffer psychological trauma, increased risk to family violence, decreased access to education and work opportunities, financial dependence, forced labour and health issues associated with forced and early pregnancy. This is why it is so important to seek help early for yourself or your friend if you fear you may be forced to marry.
For more information about the law in Australia click here
In March 2013 a law came into effect making forced marriage illegal in Australia. It is a crime to cause a person to enter into a forced marriage or to be a party to the forced marriage (unless you are the victim). The law is included in Division 270 of the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995. The offences carry a maximum jail term of 7 years, or 9 years for an aggravated offence which includes forcing a person under the age of 18 to marry or forcing a person with a disability to marry. If someone helps to arrange for a child under the age of 18 to be taken outside Australia to be married, they could be jailed for up to 25 years.
Examples of forced marriage
1. “A 17 year old girl has a boyfriend but her parents tell her that she has to stop seeing him and marry someone else. She is told that if she doesn’t agree to marry the other person, she will be hurt. If the girl goes ahead with the marriage because she is fearful of being harmed, this is a forced marriage.”
Examples of forced marriages
2. “A 15 year old girl is told that she is going on a family holiday during the school holidays. When she and her family arrive overseas she is told that she must get married to a cousin. She is told that if she doesn’t agree to the marriage she won’t ever be allowed to return to Australia. If the marriage goes ahead, this is a forced marriage.”
Examples of forced marriages
3. “A 19 year old man tells his family that he is gay. A few weeks later, his family tells him that he must marry a young woman in the community he has known for many years. The marriage goes ahead because he is told that if he doesn’t marry her, he will bring so much shame on his family that his grandmother will likely have a heart attack. This is a forced marriage.”
WHAT IS AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE?
In some families, marriages are arranged. The couple are introduced to each other by a family member or another person. Each person can freely choose whether or not they want to go ahead with the marriage and their families listen to their choice without any consequences. Arranged marriages are legal in Australia for people over the age of 18 because the couple only get married if they both freely choose to marry each other.
Even if they first agreed to it, an arranged marriage can change to become a forced marriage if one or both of the people are threatened, tricked or pressured into saying yes to the marriage. The person may feel helpless to say no to the wedding. At that time, they are no longer giving full and free consent and the marriage becomes a forced marriage.
Click here for an example of an arranged marriage
A 19 year old person is introduced to a potential marriage partner by a family member, friend or other third party. The person can choose to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the marriage. If they decide to say ‘no’ to the marriage, it will simply not go ahead. If they decide to say ‘yes’ to the marriage with their full and free consent, the marriage will go ahead. Their full and free consent means that there were no threats, tricks or pressure on them to say yes to the marriage.
Where to get help
For free and confidential legal advice, Anti-Slavery Australia provides legal representation and assistance to people who are in, or at risk of, a forced marriage. You can also contact them if you are worried about someone. They are open Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm.
Australian Federal Police
The AFP can help people who are at risk of a forced marriage or who are in a forced marriage, including where a person may be taken overseas to marry. The AFP may also refer people for support, including safe accommodation, financial support, legal advice and counselling. Initial support is available for people even if they are unsure if they want to assist with an investigation or prosecution. Contact with the AFP can be anonymous if you wish.