According to Human Rights Watch, 14 million girls are married, worldwide, each year – with some as young as eight or nine. While early and forced marriage appears most prevalent in countries of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, several recent cases have shown Australia is not immune to the practise.
If the global trend continues, Human Rights Watch estimates that 142 million children will be married by 2020.
Snapshot of Australia
There is no Australian research on the prevalence of forced marriage but the issue was brought to the fore following several recent high-profile family court cases. A 2010 case involving a 13 year-old Victorian girl began when her school alerted the state’s child protection service that she was not attending school. The school suggested the girl’s absence may be due to her parents preparing her for marriage to a fiance they had chosen for her – a 17 year-old living overseas.
Consequently, the Department of Human Services initiated proceedings in the Family Court that eventually resulted in the court ordering the girl not be removed from Australia before she turned 18. The court also ordered that her passport be surrendered, that her parents be restrained from applying for another passport on her behalf and that her name be placed on the Australian Federal Police watchlist until her 18th birthday. The next year, another prominent case came before the family court. The girl (known as Ms Kreet) had just finished year 12 and had a boyfriend (known as “Mr U”) who lived in Australia. Ms Kreet’s parents told her she was to travel to their home country to marry Mr U there. But they deceived her and had another man in mind.