Forced marriage: What is it and where do I find support?
Everyone in Australia is free to decide whether they marry. There are some practical steps you can take to support people experiencing, or at risk of, forced marriage.
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If you are concerned that someone is in, or is at risk of, a forced marriage contact the Australian Federal Police on 131 237 or complete the online form on the AFP website. Their role is broad; they can help to increase safety and specifically seek orders to stop a person being taken out of Australia.
What is forced marriage?
A forced marriage happens when a person gets married without freely and fully consenting, because they have been coerced, threatened or deceived.
Coercion can include the use of physical or sexual violence or the threat of physical or sexual violence, and refusing to let somebody leave a particular place or location, like the family home. Other types of coercion involve psychological and emotional pressure, such as making a person feel responsibility for, or ashamed of, the consequences of not marrying, such as bringing shame on their family. Forced marriage is a crime in Australia.
The forced marriage offences apply to cultural, religious or legal marriages. They apply to marriages that occur in Australia, to marriages where a person is brought to Australia to get married, and to marriages where a person is taken overseas to get married.
Forced marriage is not limited to any particular cultural group, religion or ethnicity. Anybody can be a victim of forced marriage, regardless of their age, gender or sexual orientation. Forced marriage is not limited to any particular cultural group, religion or ethnicity, and there are reports of forced marriage from all over the world. While men and boys can be victims of forced marriage, most reported victims are young women and girls: forced marriage is a form of gendered violence.
Forced marriage is different from an arranged marriage or a sham marriage. An arranged marriage involves the introduction of potential spouses through the involvement of a third party or family member. It requires the consent of both parties who can agree or refuse to marry. A sham marriage is a fake marriage willingly entered into by both parties for fraudulent purposes.
What does freely and fully consenting mean?
Freely and fully consenting means that a person is able to choose if, who and when to get married and that they want to marry. Free and full consent cannot be given by somebody who is unable to understand what they are consenting to. This means that some people cannot give valid consent to marriage because they have been coerced, threatened or deceived, or because of their age or intellectual capacity. The information below explains what free and full consent means.
Free and full consent is:
- choosing to marry because you feel you are ready to marry
- choosing to marry because you wish to marry
- choosing to marry because you want to marry your potential spouse
- being able to choose not to marry without fear of the consequences for yourself, and
- being able to choose not to marry without fear of the consequences to others
Free and full consent is not:
- agreeing to marry because of the threat or use of force or coercion against yourself or others, including physical or sexual violence
- agreeing to marry because you are being unlawfully detained or held against your will
- agreeing to marry because of emotional or psychological pressure, including not wanting to cause shame to your family
- agreeing to marry out of obedience to somebody in a position of trust or authority such as your parents or grandparents
- agreeing to marry because that is what other people in your culture or community expect
- agreeing to marry because you are being financially abused (for example, your wages, money for everyday things like food, or other forms of support are being withheld)
- agreeing to marry because of other forms of coercion, including blackmail or somebody withholding important documentation from you, such as your passport
- agreeing to marry when you have been tricked or deceived about the proposed marriage
How can I tell if someone is at risk of forced marriage?
The following signs could mean that a person is in a forced marriage, or at risk of being made to enter into a forced marriage:
- a sudden announcement that the person is engaged
- the person’s older brothers or sisters stopped going to school or were married early
- the person’s family have a lot of control over the person’s life which doesn’t seem normal or necessary (e.g. the person is never allowed out or always has to have somebody from the family with them)
- the person displays signs of depression, self-harming, social isolation and/or substance abuse
- the person seems scared or nervous about an upcoming family holiday overseas
- the person spends a long time away from school, university or work
- the person often doesn’t come to, or suddenly withdraws from, school university or work
- the person does not have control over their income
- the person is unable to make significant decisions about their future, including without consultation or agreement from their parents
- there is evidence of family disputes or conflict, domestic or family violence, or running away from home
Legal obligation to report
If you have a reasonable suspicion that a child or young person is at risk of physical, sexual or emotional abuse, it is important that you seek help. Under State and Territory legislation, you may have a legal obligation to report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect to government authorities. These fall under your state or territory’s mandatory reporting laws. Information about mandatory reporting requirements is available from the Government departments concerned with children and families in your State or Territory. If you do not have a legal obligation to report, you can still contact the Australian Federal Police on 131 AFP (131 237) if you suspect someone is in, or at risk of, forced marriage.
Risk assessment and safety planning
A safety plan is a guide to help increase safety for your clients. Before making a safety plan, it is imperative to do a risk assessment. If you would like support in this process, you can contact a domestic and family violence service or call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732). A risk assessment will help you to understand the risk your client is facing. A plan can then help to think through options for increasing safety considering your client’s particular needs and situation. The following video explores working on risk assessment and safety planning with women from CALD backgrounds.
The Federal Government Attorney General’s department has developed a forced marriage safety plan booklet. It is available in English, Arabic, Dari, Farsi, Somali, Tamil and Urdu. It can be used to store information and key contact details.
Support for women and girls experiencing or at risk of forced marriage
The following organisations have a particular role to play in forced marriage:
- the Australian Government Attorney-General’s Department has produced comprehensive information for individuals, community organisations and service providers on responding to forced marriage
- the Australian Federal Police are specially trained to investigate suspected cases of forced marriage, they can provide access to appropriate support services and can respond quickly to seek orders to prevent a person being taken from Australia to be forcibly married, they also have a broader role
- Anti-Slavery Australia can provide legal advice
- 1800RESPECT can provide counselling and assistance with safety planning, as can local family and domestic violence services
The Forced Marriage Community Pack
The Attorney-General Department produced Forced Marriage Community Pack includes a range of materials about forced marriage for use by people in, or at risk of, forced marriage, the general community, the media and organisations and service providers. Visit the Attorney-General’s website and scroll down to the resources under the heading 'Forced marriage community pack'. Select materials are available in Arabic, Dari, Farsi, Somali, Tamil and Urdu.
The Australian Federal Police
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has a specialist team that respond to suspected cases of forced marriage. They are able to help people in, or at risk of, a forced marriage even when that person does not want to assist with an investigation or prosecution. If the person is a minor (younger than 18 years old), the AFP is compelled act in their best interests and will work alongside the relevant State or Territory child protection authority. You can contact the Australian Federal Police anonymously by calling 131 AFP (131 237), or by filling out an online form on the AFP website. The AFP can also refer suspected victims of forced marriage to the Government-funded Support for Trafficked People Program.
Anti-Slavery Australia provides a comprehensive legal service Australia-wide. Anti-Slavery Australia can provide information about rights and options, legal representation and referral to support services. Call 02 95149662 or email email@example.com
1800RESPECT is the national sexual assault family and domestic violence counselling service. They provide secondary consultation to support you with safety planning, counselling, information and referral. Call 1800 737 732.
Attorney-General Department's Forced marriage community pack (scroll down page for a range of resources under the 'Forced marriage community pack' heading)
The Australian Federal Police 131 AFP (131 237)
Anti-Slavery Australia 02 9514 9662
Translating and interpreting Service (TIS) 131 450
These resources were developed for 1800RESPECT in collaboration with