At the age of 14, Rebecca, an Australian Citizen, was married off to a much older partner by her mother. At 16 she gave birth while her much older husband was present, not raising concerns with any of the public hospital staff. And then when she experienced violence as a minor at the hands of her husband, it was treated as domestic violence, and not as a forced or underage marriage. It is cases like Rebecca’s which demonstrates why forced marriage has remained unreported in Australia. Young girls forced into illegal marriage, exposing them to long term abuse and rape at the consent of their families. Regardless of religious and cultural background it is unacceptable and reprehensible to expose children to a forced marriage, whether that is here in Australia or taking the child overseas. This is a key issue that emerged during the Human Trafficking inquiry that needs to be addressed in both New South Wales and Australia.
In 2013, forced marriage was introduced into the criminal code in Australia, but this has not been enough to protect Australian residents and citizens from being sent overseas for marriages against their will, and why more needs to be done. The recommendations that emerged from this year’s Human Trafficking Committee hope to address the gaps that still exist. Primarily this will be to criminalise under aged forced marriage in NSW, as well as establishing specific support systems for victims of under aged Forced Marriage through the Department of Family and Community Services and for the NSW Department of Education to extend the respectful relationships within the PDHPE syllabus to include forced marriage. I believe it is the role of adults and parents to be the caretakers and leaders of children, the most vulnerable of our community. Around 50% of child brides live in the region of South Asia, and it is our job as Australians, as leaders within our geographical region to protect societies most vulnerable and to stand against this deplorable crime.