A new digital campaign has been launched to raise awareness that forced marriage exists in Australia and to let young people know services are available to help.
The non-profit Core Community Services, in partnership with Why Documentaries, has produced three short films that will be distributed online in a bid to reach communities across the country.
Depicting different scenarios of forced marriage, they have been prepared to capture the harsh realities of the hidden problem.
Mostly women under age 18 are affected, with relatives or people close to them allegedly organising marriages without their free and full consent.
The national manager at The Salvation Army Freedom Partnership to End Modern Slavery, Jenny Stanger, told SBS News she had seen the devastating consequences it can have.
“The effect on mental health is huge, and it can really shatter someone’s sense of identity and self,” she said.
“So it’s important that service providers in the community and government and everyone works together to help young people, in particular, re-establish and redevelop that sense of self and choice and control and that the support is there to help them rebuild a new life.”
Australia has taken steps to recognise and respond to forced marriage, but much work remains.
The practice became illegal in Australia five years ago, but it still occurs across social, cultural and religious groups.
Since the criminalisation of forced marriage, the Australian Federal Police said they have received 174 referrals.
Ruth Pilkinton, a solicitor at Legal Aid NSW, told SBS News she had seen people as young as age 15 seek help in fear their parents want them to leave Australia to marry.
“Under the Commonwealth Criminal Code, it’s illegal for someone to force another person into marriage, and someone could be imprisoned for seven years, or even longer. And the Australian Federal Police assist people to access services to make sure that they’re protected.”
Lawyer Grace Thangasamy, the forced marriage project manager at My Blue Sky, she said was working with over 40 victims from about 21 different countries.
“Some people have been pushed into marriage because family feel that this is a stage of life that needs to happen at a very distinct point in time,” she said.
“Sometimes they’re pushed into marriage because there is a point of difference, a way of leading their lives, which their families disagree with – so, for example, because they have different sexual preferences.
“All of their circumstances are really different.”