Today, on International Women’s Day, we mark three years since the insidious and hidden crime of forced marriage became a Commonwealth offence.
While anyone can be a victim of forced marriage, it is young women and girls who are most vulnerable to this slavery-like practice.
Thankfully, the criminalisation of forced marriage has empowered young people who are at risk to seek help.
The AFP has specialised teams trained to investigate forced marriage cases, and victims can receive assistance through the Government’s Support for Trafficked People Program.
Since July 2015, forced marriage referrals have accounted for nearly 50 per cent of human trafficking, slavery and slavery like referrals received by the Australian Federal Police (AFP). In the three years since 8 March 2013, more than 60 referrals have been received.
The majority of referrals have related to teenage girls who are Australian citizens or residents, and who are at risk of being, or who have been, taken overseas for an alleged forced marriage.
This is vital work, but more can always be done to protect our most vulnerable.
That is why last year the Government introduced new laws that not only clarified what constitutes forced marriage but also increased the penalties.
Under the new laws the definition of forced marriage has been amended to include circumstances in which a person does not consent because he or she is incapable of understanding the nature and effect of a marriage ceremony, for reasons such as age or mental capacity.
In addition, these changes increase the penalty for engaging in conduct to cause another person to enter into a forced marriage, or being a party to – but not a victim of, forced marriage. The penalty for an aggravated forced marriage offence has increased from a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment to a maximum of nine years’ imprisonment.
These new laws build on the Government’s significant prevention and awareness programs, including My Blue Sky – a national referral mechanism, helpline and legal advice service– in partnership with Anti- Slavery Australia, and established awareness-raising workshops on forced marriage for frontline officers and service providers.
Forced marriage is an abhorrent crime and has no place in Australia.
The Government will continue to take a strong stance against forced marriage and prosecute anyone found to be coercing, threatening or deceiving someone into marriage.
More information on forced marriage is available from: www.ag.gov.au/forcedmarriage and www.mybluesky.org.au.