Forced marriage in Australia

Child, early and forced marriage is a global human rights abuse that cuts across countries, cultures, religions and ethnicities—and Australia is not immune.

 two hands bound together with barbed wire, with barbed wire rings on wedding band fingers

  • Forced marriage is an abuse of human rights and is against the law in Australia
  • A marriage is forced if it is entered into without free and full consent. It is different to arranged marriage, which is a legal practice where both parties freely consent to the marriage.
  • Victims and perpetrators of forced marriage are not limited to any particular cultural group, religion or ethnicity
  • Forced marriage is harmful and can result in violence, isolation, servitude, imprisonment, mental health problems, even death

Forced marriage was criminalised in Australia as a practice of slavery under the Commonwealth Criminal Code in 2013. However, the true extent of forced marriage in Australia is unknown as available data is not comprehensive. Over the last five years, the Australian Federal Police have investigated over 170 cases of alleged forced marriage. This number is only the tip of the iceberg.

In the media

27 June 2018: Thomson Reuters Foundation News All underage marriage is child labour - campaigner  Laura Vidal, Policy & Research Specialist Safety and Resilience
24 July 2018: Fairfax Print and Online (Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Brisbane Times, WA Today) Afghan teen who burnt to death came here as child bride on fake papers  Laura Vidal, Policy & Research Specialist Safety and Resilience
24 June 2018: SMH Online Tricked into leaving Australia and struggling to get back  Laura Vidal, Policy & Research Specialist Safety and Resilience
24 June 2018: Ten Daily Forced Marriage In Australia: The Conflict Between Family And A Future  Laura Vidal, Policy & Research Specialist Safety and Resilience
8 June 2018: Good Shepherd media statement 
8 June 2018: Radio National Breakfast  Laura Vidal, Policy & Research Specialist Safety and Resilience
8 June 2018: Ten Eye Witness News  Laura Vidal, Policy & Research Specialist Safety and Resilience
8 June 2018: SBS News — Laura Vidal, Policy & Research Specialist Safety and Resilience

Improving outcomes for women and girls

As a leader in Australia’s social research and policy arena, our Women's Research, Advocacy and Policy (WRAP) Centre advocates for systemic change to improve opportunities and outcomes for women and girls.

In 2012, we published Hidden Exploitation a research report into the practice of forced labour, marriage and migration in partnership with Anti-Slavery Australia.

This led to the 2014 landmark report The Right to Refuse: Examining Forced Marriage in Australia co-produced with Domestic Violence Victoria.

Since then we have been at the forefront of research and advocacy on forced marriage.

We work with civil society, state and federal governments to identify best-practice interventions in prevention and protection. We are one of five key drivers of the Victorian Forced Marriage Network, and an active member of the New South Wales Forced Marriage Network.

Policy advocacy

Forced marriage is defined as a practice of slavery in Australia. We identify forced marriage as a practice that occurs along a continuum and Australia must consider a range of responses to prevent the practice and meet the needs of those at risk. We work with civil society, state and federal governments to identify best practice interventions in prevention and protection. We are one of five key drivers of the Victorian Forced Marriage Network, and an active member of the New South Wales Forced Marriage Network.

Our position:

  • In addition to understanding forced marriage as slavery, we recognise forced marriage as gender-based violence. We call for the recognition of forced marriage within nation-wide family violence and child protection frameworks.

We advocate for:

  • Expanding the definition of family violence to include forced marriage
  • Full de-linking of support for victims of forced marriage from engagement and participation with law enforcement
  • Introduction of forced marriage protection orders
  • Development of a central point of coordination for government and civil society stakeholders

Our other work in this policy area

The Modern Slavery Bill 2018: Policy Analysis and Reccomendations While the Bill is a welcome step towards addressing modern slavery, it reveals some significant shortcomings. Of particular concern to Good Shepherd is the inclusion of forced marriage in the bill, likely to have unintended, negative consequences for victims.

Statement to the Commission on the Status of Women- Session 62 (2018)

Trafficking in Persons Report 2018

Submission to the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence