Motion on Forced Marriage

Mr PERRETT (MoretonOpposition Whip) (13:18): I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises that:

(a) some young Australians are being forced into marriage against their will;

(b) child marriage and forced marriage are forms of slavery; and

(c) the Labor Government in 2013 introduced into the Criminal Code Act 1995 specific offences for forced marriage;

(2) notes that:

(a) there has been a gradual increase in people referring to community services for forced marriage since the law was introduced in 2013;

(b) investigations of forced marriage by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) have increased from 3 in 2012-13 to 69 in 2015-16;

(c) the Australian Red Cross and the AFP consider that part of the increase in identifications of forced marriage is due to better community awareness and access to help; and

(d) it is crucial that community awareness continues to be raised so that young people know their right to refuse to be forced into marriage;

(3) notes that:

(a) the Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans produced curriculum materials for the Australian forced marriage Pilot Program for Australian schools;

(b) in every school that participated in the Pilot Program, girls at risk of forced marriage were identified;

(c) funding for the Pilot Program ceased in 2015; and

(d) it is crucial that the Pilot Program is continued as teachers are often the first person a child will tell of their fear of being forced to marry; and

(4) calls on the Government to immediately renew funding to further provide awareness of child marriage and forced marriage in Australian schools and the broader community.

I am very pleased to move the motion inspired by the work of ACRATH that has been circulated in my name calling on the government to renew funding to provide awareness of forced marriage both in Australian schools and in the broader community.

As a parent, I worry about my children eventually finding the right partner to navigate through life. My children are only young—seven and 11. Although, Stan is 11 going on 28. But I said 'eventually' finding the right partner. The very idea of forcing our sons or daughters to marry someone that they have not chosen is abhorrent to most parents. Sadly, this is a very real scenario for some young Australian girls. I am talking about forced marriage, not arranged marriage. I am talking about a marriage where one of the parties has not fully consented to enter the marriage. In some cases the victim is subjected to a complex family dynamic where pressure and coercion is exerted over many years. The victims know that they are expected to fulfil this gendered role and can feel powerless to resist the pressure from their family. They are deprived of their right to fully and freely consent to marriage.

The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has observed that a woman's right to enter freely into marriage is central to her life and to her dignity and equality as a human being. Put simply, forced marriage is an abuse of human rights.

Young Australian women may be at risk of forced marriage by three different means—by being taken to another country, usually the country of origin of their parents, to be forced to marry against their will; by being forced to marry against their will in Australia; or by being brought to Australia to marry but, on arriving here, these young women realise that the marriage that they are being forced into is not what they had agreed to before coming here. Forced marriage can result in the victim sustaining psychological and physical injuries, sexual assault and domestic violence, false imprisonment and estrangement from their family.

Sadly, we know that this is happening in Australia right now. The Australian Federal Police investigated 69 cases of forced marriage in 2015-16, and there would undoubtedly be many, many more cases that are never brought to the attention of the AFP. Many victims of forced marriage are reluctant to speak out against the family that they love, and the family members themselves often do not realise that their actions are wrong. A few cases have made it before the courts to prevent the forced marriage from taking place. In 2010 a 17-year-old Australian girl was about to be forced to marry in Lebanon, but she prevented the marriage by calling the Australian Federal Police. An Australian court then issued an order restraining her family from taking her outside of Australia. The Family Court made an order in 2010 to prevent the parents of a 14-year-old girl from taking her overseas to be married to another minor. She was also placed on the airport watch list. An Australian court made an order in 2011 to prevent the parents of a 16-year-old girl from sending her to Lebanon to be married.

There is no denying that the practice of forced marriage is occurring in Australia. The Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans, or ACRATH, has been working on the issue of forced marriage since 2008. In 2012 the Labor Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, introduced a bill to make forced marriage a criminal offence and, in February the next year, the Australian parliament passed that bill. To raise awareness of this new law, ACRATH sought and was granted funding to run the Australian forced marriage pilot program in nine schools in three states—in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. From that pilot program, ACRATH reports that a number of community leaders were surprised to hear that the law existed. On many occasions girls facing forced marriage had sought help from someone such as a teacher, only to find that the expected help was not forthcoming as the person did not know that the law was available or that there was support available. Professional development and support is crucial for teachers and school welfare staff.

The need for community education is crucial. Through the pilot program, girls at risk of forced marriage were identified by the pilot schools. The great work that ACRATH has been doing needs to continue. The aim is to prevent forced marriage from taking place, and that can only happen with greater community awareness from programs such as this. I call on the Turnbull-Joyce government to immediately renew funding for this crucial awareness program in Australian schools and in the broader community. I note that the member for Mitchell has previously spoken about this topic in this chamber, and I look forward to the bipartisan support for this motion from the following speakers.