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New Laws Governing Forced Marriage

Rupa is a 17 year old Australian citizen. She is in her last year of high school. Rupa wants to go to university, and become a doctor.

Last summer, Rupa’s parents who have lived in Melbourne for 20 years, sent Rupa overseas to her grandparent’s home for a holiday. The country she went to does not have an Australian Embassy, High Commission, or Consulate. Unbeknown to Rupa, a marriage had been planned between her and a 33 year old cousin. Despite her repeated refusals to wed, the family was determined that the marriage go ahead as a large dowry was involved.

Rupa was forcibly detained in a room at her grandparents place. They took her Australian passport, and she was abused both verbally and physically. She had no return ticket.

Luckily Rupa managed to contact the Consular Emergency Centre, part of DFAT. and through the help of close friends in Australia and Australian Government representatives, Rupa managed to get back to this country where she received further assistance and support.

In March 2013, new legislation was passed by the Australian Parliament and these laws now criminalise forced marriage. There are two separate offences, causing another person to enter into a forced marriage and being a party to a forced marriage.

It is important to note that the offence of being a party to a forced marriage does not apply to the victim.

There will now be a maximum penalty of seven years jail for anyone trying to force vulnerable people into marriage.

In certain circumstances, these laws will have extraterritorial application, meaning they apply to actions carried out overseas.

We must understand that there is a difference between forced marriage and arranged marriage. In an arranged marriage, the families take a leading role in choosing the partner, but the choice of entering the marriage is left to the two people concerned.

While government action is an important step, strong community support is critical.

If you think you are going to be forced into a marriage, or you know someone who may be forced into a marriage, you should contact the Australian Federal Police ( 131 237 ), they have a dedicated team to help prevent the occurrence of forced marriage.

You are also welcome to call the Consular Emergency Centre for advice ( 1300 555 135 ) 24/7.

If you have no choice and end up going overseas, take money with you, Australian currency, and local currency. Take a mobile phone with international roaming, and a copy of your passport and tickets, and the above phone numbers.

Leave copies of everything with a trusted family member or friends.

If you have dual nationality, check the Dual National page on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website for details as to how this will affect you, and the services the Australian Government can provide.

Support programs are available to suspected victims of forced marriages. These are referred through the AFP and are contracted to the Australian Red Cross, and help can be provided with accommodation, counselling, medical treatment, legal and migration advice, interpreter services and other benefits.