Modern Slavery

The Forgotten Crime of Forced Marriage

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[Martyna Żuchowska]

Since these laws were adopted, only a handful of cases have actually been brought to the courtroom.

This week I’ll be taking a look at a type of slavery that often gets forgotten about and not categorised correctly as modern slavery. As much as forced marriage mostly occurs in other continents like Asia and Africa, it is still an issue that happens domestically here in Australia and it is an issue that needs to be tackled. In 2013, the Australian government passed new laws in regards to modern slavery, and that included the addition of criminalising forced marriage. Before this time, this act was not considered illegal which caused forced marriage to not be seen as big of an issue.

These new laws that came into play in 2013, defined forced marriage as something that can be caused due to coercion, threat, deception or in any case that a party enters the marriage without freedom and consent to it. Australia now has two established offences for this crime which consist of; criminalising the person who causes someone to enter a forced marriage and the other being a part of an illegal and forced marriage. Of course these laws do not apply to the victims in these situations which in most cases is a young, underage girl.

An ABC article shows us that in 2018, since the updated laws in 2013, there had been over 230 reported cases of forced marriage. The biggest shock is that advocates don’t believe that this figure is an accurate representation of the reality of the situation because there are many more cases. Since these laws were adopted, only a handful of cases have actually been brought to the courtroom.

A commander from the victim crime unit of the Australian Federal Police has said that there are multiple hurdles that must be overcome before prosecuting someone for forced marriage. One of these hurdles is the difficulty of obtaining evidence from overseas and another one is the victim themselves who don’t want to share their evidence. This might be alarming but it is due to the fact that in many of these cases, it is a family member of the victim, or a close individual that forces the illegal marriage to occur. Many victims feel guilt and reluctance when sharing information because they could potentially harm their entire family, despite the fact that unwanted marriage is very damaging to the victims’ mental and physical wellbeing.

A labor justice spokesman has stated in the past that it is very often a parent or family member of the victim, who commits the unjustly crime. A UK based activist and a survivor of forces marriage herself, has been quoted saying that the police is often the last resort for a victim and that the more likely scenario is that victims confess their struggles to friends, teachers, doctors etc. One sentiment this activist has that I share with her is that more professionals need to be trained by the government to know how to handle a forced marriage situation. In this case, it will be easier for victims to come forward and they will hopefully feel safer doing so.

This is a section of modern slavery that we just cannot forget about and we need to continue shedding light on it and supporting politicians who can make these changes happen.

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