Forced Marriage Going Forward

Anniversary of royal assent

It’s a decade since the passing of the legislation, criminalising forced marriage in Australia. It was a significant achievement after many years of advocacy by ACRATH and others. The then Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Attorney General Mark Dreyfus announced the law on International Women’s Day 2013.

A recent event at Parliament House marking the 10th anniversary of the legislation, which inserted forced marriage, forced labour and organ trafficking offences into the Criminal Code Act 1995, was a good time to reflect on what has been achieved and to target more reform in the next decade.

ACRATH’s Executive Officer Christine Carolan, who represents ACRATH at the National Roundtable on Human Trafficking and Slavery, was invited to speak at the commemorative gathering hosted by the Attorney General. Clare Condon sgs, ACRATH President, and Noelene Simmons sm, ACRATH Advocacy and Communications, attended the event.

“We knew a woman, Mae (not her real name), who had been forced to marry so we took the story to the Office of Women back in 2008. It was our ACRATH contribution to the conversation that said we need a law to stop this happening,” Christine reflected.

“Advocacy has always been ACRATH’s strength because we can link MPs to the reality of what is happening and that can lead to structural change. We took Mae’s terrible story of a forced marriage to the Department of Women; Tanya Plibersek was the Minister for Women at the time. Three Parliamentary inquiries followed, eventually leading to the legislation in 2013.”

“At the time there was opposition to making this a law, but Attorney General Nicola Roxon rejected that opposition and pushed it through. She believed the law would act as a deterrent for those forcing a woman to marry; it would also provide strength to a young woman who needed to avoid or flee a forced marriage.”

ACRATH has continued to carry the stories of young people facing a forced marriage to Parliament so that their voices are heard. This happens often through ACRATH’s highly successful Companionship Program. Several girls and young women who faced a forced marriage have been supported by some of ACRATH’s 16 trained and supervised volunteer companions. Some of the victim/survivors have been supported for years as they face the long journey of healing. 

As well as providing support to trafficked people, ACRATH has spent much of the past decade talking to community groups and training front-line health workers about forced marriage and the referral pathways of support for those who are trafficked or at risk.

Christine said ACRATH’s current advocacy focus was to ensure that forced marriage is recognised as a form of family violence. In late 2022 ACRATH worked successfully with 120 family violence workers and the Australian Federal Police in Gippsland to explore the links between family violence and forced marriage.

(Photo L-R: Christine Carolan, Prof Jennifer Burn, Assistant Minister for Social Services the Hon Justine Elliot MP, Attorney General the Hon Mark Dreyfus KC, MP, Jenny Stanger)