Calls for Tougher Action on Forced Marriage in Australia


Campaigners are urging Australia to do more to stop forced marriages in its migrant communities. Since the practice was made illegal five years ago, more than 230 alleged cases have been referred to the Australian Federal Police, but there have been no prosecutions.

Since forcing an individual to marry was criminalized in Australia in March 2013, there have been no successful prosecutions. The police say that does not reflect the work they do to successfully prevent or disrupt forced marriages.

Campaigners say most victims are girls under the age of 18, but many are unwilling to go to the authorities, fearing isolation or retribution from their families and communities. There is also a reluctance to speak to the police or start a criminal case against a relative or friend.

Jennifer Burn, the director of Anti-Slavery Australia, a campaign organization, says the true scale of the problem is unknown.

"I have no doubt that there are many more in the community who are unidentified, who are either in a forced marriage or facing a forced marriage," she said.

Bee al-Darraj ran away from her home in Australia after two older sisters were forced to travel to Iraq to marry.

"Seeing what they were going through really terrified me and I did not want to experience it. I argued as much as I can, stalled as much as I can and then around 15 I just had enough and ran away because I knew, like, within a week I would have been married if I had stayed at home," she said.

Earlier this year, the Australian government announced a year-long trial to make it easier for victims to get help. Under the project, they can seek support without the involvement of the police.

The government in Canberra states that forced marriage "is a slavery-like practice, a form of gender-based violence and an abuse of human rights".

Britain introduced a similar law to outlaw forced marriages in 2014, where the first prosecution has just finished.

In Australia, this type of crime has affected women and girls from migrant Middle Eastern communities and others from Bangladesh, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.

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