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Understanding forced marriage

  • Forced marriage happens when someone is made to get married even though they don't want to
  • A forced marriage can involve being pressured, bullied, tricked or not understanding the meaning of a marriage ceremony
  • Anybody can be a victim of forced marriage, regardless of their age, gender, sexual orientation, or religious or cultural background
  • Forced marriage is a crime in Australia

What is forced marriage?

A forced marriage is when a person gets married without freely and fully consenting. They may have been coerced, threatened or deceived or may not able to understand the nature of the marriage ceremony. This may be because of their young age or because of other factors that make it hard for them to understand what marriage means.

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 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.

A forced marriage is different from an arranged marriage. An arranged marriage involves family or friends introducing a potential couple to each other, but with both members of the couple being of legal marrying age and both truly consenting to the marriage.

What does it mean to freely and fully consent to marriage?

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. Being coerced, threatened or deceived, along with a person's age and intellectual capacity can all impact someone's ability to freely and fully consent. The information below explains what free and full consent means in relation to marriage.

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
  • 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, guardians, carers, or other important people in your life
  • 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

What are the signs of a forced marriage?

The following are a few signs that a person may be in, or at risk of entering into, a forced marriage:

  • A sudden announcement of their engagement and them not seeming 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 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

How to respond to forced marriage

  • If you do not respond to sexual, domestic or family violence often, our Introduction to responding page is a good place to start
  • It is also important to know your responsibilities under your state or territory's mandatory reporting laws
  • On this page you will find contacts and resources to support you in responding to cases of forced marriage

How to respond to forced marriage

Someone in or at risk of a forced marriage may find it hard to talk about their situation. Cross cultural competence, using the window of opportunity for engagement and risk assessment and safety planning are all important skills to for responding well.

If you have a reasonable suspicion that a child or young person is at risk of any type of violence or harm, it is important to seek help. Under state and territory laws you have certain obligations to report child abuse and neglect. 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.