What is forced marriage?

Forced marriage is a serious breach of human rights which affects millions of girls and women as well as boys and men worldwide, including in Australia. A forced marriage is when a person gets married without freely and fully consenting. This may be because they do not understand the nature and effect of the marriage ceremony or they have been coerced threatened or deceived , because of emotional pressure from their family, threats of or actual physical harm, or being tricked into marrying someone. A person under 16 years of age at the time of the marriage is not usually considered to be capable of understanding the nature and effect of a marriage ceremony. This type of marriage can have long-term negative impacts on people and families and is against the law in Australia.

The impact on men and women who have been forced to marry is severe and long lasting. 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.

If you 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. You may be confused about your feelings and duties and may not know what to do next. You can contact one of the numbers on this page to get some help and support.

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.

Marriage in Australia

Marriage in Australia is for men and women over the age of 18 who fully agree to and understand the marriage. In some rare circumstances, a person aged 16 or 17 can get married with the approval of a court. It’s against the law to force anyone to get married.

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.

Examples of forced marriages

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.

For more information about arranged marriages, click here

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.

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