The New South Wales government is currently targeting the issue of forced under-age marriage in a new campaign.
The public-awareness campaign titled “Child Not Bride” features two smiling schoolgirls (pictured above) and asks the question, “What girl dreams of being married at 15 to a man twice her age that she has never met?”
New South Wales Communities Minister Victor Dominello said that it’s crucial for the government to get the message across to the states culturally-diverse communities that under-age marriage is against the law in Australia.
“We want to make sure that we get the message out there across the community that this is a completely abhorrent practice and illegal in New South Wales”, he said.
“There are some communities that need to be heavily engaged, and we’ll be doing that through the campaign. And we’ll be making sure that we liaise with Multicultural New South Wales, who will speak to the various community leaders and seek expert advice as to which communities should be specifically targeted.”
The new campaign has been welcomed by the country’s largest migrant community group, the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia.
“Raising awareness with them and building the capacity for anyone who is affected to be able to get help,” says Advisory Committee chairwoman Pallavi Sinha, who commends the campaign’s use of an anonymous hotline* for witnesses or victims to call.
The issue of forced marriages is back in the spotlight in Australia, following a number of cases over the past year of under-age children being forced to marry partners twice their age.
In September last year, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison exclaimed that child marriages are an “assault on Australian values” shortly after authorities intercepted a 14-year-old girl on route to Lebanon for an arranged marriage.
Lately authorities have been on high alert for cases of arranged marriages in the wake of an Islamic State social media campaign to recruit young brides to wed terrorists.
While child marriage is often associated with countries in parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America, it’s also a custom which is practised in some communities in Australia.
Although forced marriages are illegal in Australia, arranged marriages are not, and remain a common practice among some communities.
Arranged marriages involve the spouse being chosen by a third party – usually a family member – but does require the full and free consent of both parties, who – at least by law – have the right to accept or refuse the marriage arrangement.
The Australian Childhood Foundation’s Joe Tucci says it’s vital that informed consent is able to be given.
“Young people still need to be able to give their consent to that and they need to be able to back out of that decision to be able to have the freedom of choice to make that decision. I think what we’re seeing is a clash of what is cultural scripts and what are children’s rights scripts. And I think, in these circumstances, children have the right to be able to choose and enter into a relationship when they’re old enough to be able to implement to that right. And they can’t do that whilst they’re young.”
The number of active investigations into human trafficking, sex slavery, and forced marriages and child brides in Australia have doubled in the past two years. Despite the increase, police warn trafficking crimes remain grossly under-reported.
Victoria Police detective superintendent Rod Jouning said forced marriages involved human trafficking and sexual assault and were grossly under-reported due to the fear felt by victims.
“There has probably been a real concentration on the fact that human trafficking equates to sex trafficking. It is far bigger than that. Far bigger. The other areas that are not as obvious involve labour trafficking and trafficking for forced marriages.
“With the growing number of communities we have with pre-arranged marriages, that becomes an issue for us,” Mr Jouning said.
“It’s really under-reported. It’s only when we have the women who have the courage to stand up and say no, I don’t want that. Or someone else sees it happening and gets concerned.”
Police have more than 20 active investigations into alleged forced marriages, with 18 cases involving women aged under 18.
Meet Thea, a 12-year-old girl from Norway who is to be married to her 37-year-old fiance, Geir. In her blog, Theas Bryllup (‘Thea’s Wedding’ in Norwegian), Thea details every step in the lead up to her marriage this month, from the dress she’ll wear to the cake the newly married couple will cut together at their reception.
Her blog has caused outrage not only in Norway but around the world, but there’s something you should know: this isn’t a real wedding and 12-year-old Thea is not a real bride.
The blog has been created to raise awareness of the fact that 39,000 children around the world are forced into marriage every single day. According to the charity behind the blog, Plan International, if the practice continues, 142 million girls will be married before their 18th birthday.
The campaign has started a petition in Norway against child marriage and says: ‘We believe that provocation is a powerful tool in order to demonstrate a reality that truly is very provoking. We hope people will mobilise against child marriage by being girl sponsors, so that most of the girls facing Thea’s situation every day can escape their brutal fate’.
Via The Independent
* “Child Not Bride” Hotline: 132 111
The New South Wales Government’s Child Not Bride campaign runs from February the 1st to March the 22nd