The Australian response to the practice of forced marriage is heavily embedded within a criminal justice framework. The true extent of forced marriage is unknown in Australia as available data is not comprehensive, and only refers to reported cases. The Australian Federal Police have received 325 reports of forced marriage following its criminalisation in the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act (1995) (Cth) in 2013. While not the only way forced marriage occurs in Australia, the common trend reported involves Australian residents or citizens under the age of 18 being forced into marriage overseas, with the expectation that the individual will sponsor their spouse for migration to Australia. Often relatives are alleged to have organised or be organising a marriage without full and free consent (Australian Government, 2016). Anecdotal reports from civil society organisations responding to forced marriage show that those commonly affected include females aged between 16 and 21 years of age, and most reports are received before the marriage has taken place. Access to dedicated victim support services is contingent on cooperation with law enforcement through a referral from the Australian Federal Police. To date, there have been no prosecutions under Australia’s federal law.
While criminalising forced marriage in Australia has sparked several initiatives led by the Commonwealth Government and civil society organisations, there is growing acknowledgement that criminal justice legislation is only one among many responses required to comprehensively support individuals and their families.
This issues paper highlights opportunities within existing domestic and family violence law and policy to prevent and respond to individuals impacted by forced marriage. It identifies possibilities for reshaping government and civil society responses to forced marriage away from a singular criminal justice lens and towards a more holistic response.
Given that empirical evidence on Australia’s response to forced marriage is currently lacking, this paper does not seek to develop a definitive framework for understanding forced marriage as family violence. Instead, it highlights areas within existing legislation that could be explored further to shape improved legal, policy and practice responses.