Forced child marriage is against the law. You do not have to marry someone you do not want to marry and you cannot be forced to travel overseas to marry someone. It’s OK to talk to someone and get help. The authorities can protect you if you let them know what is happening.
IS IT ILLEGAL?
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS WORRIED ABOUT BEING FORCED INTO MARRIAGE?
WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I OR SOMEONE I KNOW HAS ALREADY BEEN FORCED INTO A MARRIAGE?
WHO CAN HELP?
OTHER SERVICES YOU CAN CONTACT
HOW CAN THE LAW HELP?
WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO MY PARENTS OR FAMILY IF I CONTACT THE AUTHORITIES?
Forced child marriage is when someone under 18 is forced to marry. Under Australian law, children under the age of 18 are not able to give permission to marry, unless they are 16 or 17 and have permission from a Court.
Someone who is forced to marry may be tricked, threatened or pressured into it. It can involve being sent to or from Australia to be forced to marry someone. It can also involve being forced to stay home from school, forced to work, or being isolated and controlled in other ways.
Forced child marriage is a violation of Australian law and international human rights law, whether it happens here or overseas.
Yes, forcing someone to marry is a crime. You won’t be punished but the person who forces you might be.
Forced child marriage can include several crimes, including:
Under Australian criminal law, a forced marriage happens when one or both partners do not freely and fully agree because of coercion, threats or lies. Coercion means making you do something you don’t want to do. It can include taking advantage of a person’s vulnerability, for example because of their age or maturity. The law protects both adults and children from forced marriage. It applies to marriages that happen in Australia, as well as to marriages that occur in another country if the people getting married are Australian citizens. There is a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment for forcing a person into marriage.
Marrying someone who is under 18 in Australia is illegal under Australian marriage law. There is a very limited exception in the law for a person aged 16 or 17 to marry, but only if a Court carefully considers the situation and makes an order allowing this to happen.
Forced marriage often involves threats, imprisonment, violence, emotional abuse, forced sex, forced pregnancy, and being forced to leave school. These things are all child abuse. For more information about child abuse, see our Lawstuff page for your State or Territory on Child Abuse.
If you are under the ‘age of consent’, the law says that you cannot give your permission to have sex. Even if you agree to sex, anyone who has sex with you can be charged with sexual assault. But you won’t get in any trouble.
The age of consent in Australia varies between States and Territories and is generally between the ages of 16 and 17. For more information about the age of consent, see our Lawstuff for your State or Territory page on Age of Consent.
You have the right to be safe from all types of violence and harm. If you are in immediate danger of being hurt or abused, you should call the police on the emergency number 000. If you can, go to a secure place like to a trusted friend, your school, a police station or a medical centre. If it is safe to do, try to keep a detailed list of threats, violence, abuse or harassment. You might want to keep this in a private place on your phone, or hidden somewhere else where you only you know.
If you have any questions, concerns or would like to talk about options, please send us a Lawmail. We will be able to give you information, referrals and link you with the services you need.
If you are going to be sent overseas to be forced into marriage soon, you can contact us or directly contact the Australia Federal Police (AFP).
If you are already at the airport, you can contact the AFP by dialling 000 or 131 237 (131 AFP). You can call them from a public phone at the airport even if you don’t have money on you. 000 is a free call. This can make sure that the police can find you so you don’t have to get on the plane.
If you do go overseas and are concerned that you may be forced to marry overseas, make sure you tell someone you trust where you are going and your concerns. If while you are overseas forced marriage becomes a reality, try to contact the nearest Australian Embassy/Consulate for help. You can find the nearest consulate/embassy to you at http://dfat.gov.au/about-us/our-locations/missions/Pages/our-embassies-and-consulates-overseas.aspx
You can contact the Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra on +61 2 6261 3305 for help.
If you are worried that you are about to be forced to go overseas to marry someone, it is a good idea to think about where a safe place you can go is. Try to think of at least three you can go to quickly if you have to leave home quickly.
The Australian Government has an excellent Forced Marriage Safety Plan that can help you, step by step, to stay safe while accessing your options and situation:
The information on this page also applies to people who have already been forced into marriage. If this has happened to you, you do not have to stay married and you can get help. There are many services available to help and support you or anyone you know who has been forced into marriage.
They can give you help and connect you with services that can help you leave the marriage safely. These include legal services, emergency accommodation services so you have a safe place to stay, and any support or counseling services you may need.
If you are worried about being forced to marry and are looking for information and help online, it is important that you do not use a computer that anyone involved in forcing you to marry has access to. See our page on protecting your privacy for more information.
You have options. The contacts below can help you leave your spouse to start a new life, help you leave your spouse and prosecute those involved, or help you return to your family (if it’s safe), among other options.
**If you are worried about your parents or anyone else checking your phone calls, you can use the phone at your school, a friend’s mobile phone or a public payphone (at somewhere like a shopping centre or train station).**
If you are about to be forced into marriage, or sent overseas to be forced into getting married, you should contact the police. If you need urgent police help, call the police emergency number 000.
Speak with a counsellor
If you want or need to talk to some about your situation, you can call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 at any time. Kids Helpline is a free, confidential and supportive counselling service for young people under 25.
If you decide to talk to a school counsellor or teacher, first make sure that they won’t contact your parents against your wishes. You can ask them to report what you have told them to child protection authorities.
Child protection authorities
You can contact child protection authorities yourself by calling the Child Abuse Hotline for your State or Territory. Child protection authorities provide protection services and advice to ensure your safety.
Australian Capital Territory
Office for Children, Youth and Family Support - Child Abuse Hotline
1300 556 729 (24 hours)
New South Wales
Department of Human Services (Community Services) - Child Protection
132 111 (24 hours)
1800 212 936 (TTY)
Department of Children and Families – Child Protection Line
1800 700 250 (24 hours)
Department of Child Safety - Child Safety Services
1800 177 135 / (07) 3235 9999 (24 hours)
(07) 3012 8655 (TTY)
Department for Families and Communities – Child Abuse Report Line
131 478 (24 hours)
Department of Health and Human Services – Child Protection Services
1300 737 639 (24 hours)
For TTY call 133 677 and ask for 1300 135 513
Department of Human Services - Child Protection Services
13 12 78 (24 hours)
Department for Child Protection
1800 199 008 / (08) 9223 1111 (24 hours)
(08) 9325 1232 (TTY)
Your Local Community Legal Centre
You can find your local community legal centre by going to <http://www.naclc.org.au/>
Translation and Interpreting Service
This service will be able to assist you if you need help with translation and interpretation when seeking help.
Phone: 131 450
1800 RESPECT: The National Sexual Assault, Domestic & Family Violence Counselling Service
This service is a confidential phone and online counselling service that will be able to assit you if you or someone you know is at risk of family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.
Phone: 1800 RESPECT (1800737 732
Anti-Slavery Australia provides legal advice, assistance and legal representation to people who are in or at risk of, a forced marriage.
Phone: 02 95149662
Once you tell authorities about your situation:
- They can move you to a safe place, if you are in immediate danger
- They can seek a court order to prevent someone from sending you overseas
- If they think there is a chance that you will be harmed, they will work with you and other professionals to make sure you are safe. This might include giving you help, counseling information and recommending you to health or other services
- If the situation is more serious, they might create a formal safety plan to protect you. You would only be removed from your family as a last resort, if you are considered to be at an immediate risk of serious harm, or if it is necessary to keep you safe and unharmed
If someone contacts the police or the child protection authorities, they will investigate what is happening. The information that is given to them is kept confidential, so the people who are forcing you into a marriage will not be told who contacted them.
Once the information you have provided has been investigated and once it has been shown that you are safe, your parents may be asked to promise not to force you to marry, or to make you travel overseas to do so.
For more information about forced child marriage, see our Prezi presentation.
Page last updated 28 June 2015