29th October 2015
A forced marriage is one in which a person marries without freely and fully consenting because they have been coerced, threatened or deceived. Forced marriage is illegal under the Commonwealth Criminal Code Act 1995 (the Criminal Code).
- Australian Government Attorney- General’s Department
Department for Communities and Social Inclusion (DCSI) Domestic Violence Forum on 26th October 2015
Jasvinder Sanghera CBE spoke about Breaking the Silence on Violence Against Women which was held on Monday 26th October. Jasvinder is from the UK and is a vigorous advocate against forced marriage, having lobbied relentlessly to criminalise forced marriage. Based on her personal experience, Jasvinder established Karma Nirvana, an organisation which aims to support victims of honour crimes and forced marriages. She recently visited Australia and spoke in 3 major cities, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney.
The Forum was planned and facilitated by a working committee comprised of the DCSI Office for Women, Speak Up and MCCSA. MCCSA’s role included inviting a list of contacts, hosting the Forum and welcoming the guests and participants. The Honourable Gail Gago Minister for the Status of Women officially opened the Forum while Fiona Mort from the Office for Women introduced the guest speaker. The panel for discussion consisted of MRCSA, MWSS, Red Cross, STTARS and MYSA representatives.
Jasvinder’s speech focused on the following:
Forced marriage is strongly influenced by cultural, religious and family values, especially within traditional communities. Families may proceed with forced marriage because it can increase family wealth and power. If a mother is forcibly married, she may also be more likely to force her daughter or son to marry. In many cases, multiple perpetrators (ie several family members) can be involved in the process of forced marriage beyond borders.
Although arranged marriages are different from forced marriages, there is a grey zone between them. An arranged marriage is a type of marital union where the couple is selected by a third party but has the right to say “NO”. However, if the couple feels oppressed or compelled to marry because of family and cultural values, they may find it difficult to say “NO”. In these marriages, it is common that men have more power than women as they control many of the important decisions such as pregnancy and ending the relationship. Jasvinder said that women are more likely to tolerate an abusive partner because leaving the marriage and and disobeying their parents is considered an insult and brings her family shame and dishonour. For the many women who make the difficult decision to leave, most will be unable to go back to their family unit.
Another disturbing issue in the UK is the marriage of girls as young as 16 and their removal from school. It is estimated that approximately 20,000 girls in the UK have left school suddenly without notice or explanation. It is suspected that these occurrences are due to forced marriage. Isolation from society makes it difficult for victims to know about laws which exist to protect them. Jasvinder emphasised education as a key actor in spreading awareness cross-culturally about child marriage and has personally collaborated with schools to draw attention to this issue.
A potentially meaningful statistic that should be investigated further is the alarming fact that South Asian women aged 16 to 24 have a suicidal rate 3 to 4 times higher than their Caucasian age group. Moreover, 12 people are murdered each year in relation to honour-based violence in the UK. In the case of failed marriages, families who feel shamed have also murdered their children.
To improve the situation, communities can :
- Increase awareness and accessibility to protective resources
- Encourage community leaders to participate and speak up against forced marriages within their communities
- Mobilise and educate communities across genders and ages
- Train professionals to identify risks and understand cultural competency
Service providers in SA against forced marriage
o Migrant Women’s Support Service Inc. Adelaide
Phone: (08) 8346 9417
Address: PO Box 83, Welland SA 5007
o Migrant Resource Centre of South Australia Adelaide Branch
Phone: (08) 8217 9000
Address: 59 King William Street, Adelaide SA 5000
Phone: (08) 8206 8900
Address: 81 Angas Street, Adelaide SA 5000
o Red Cross Adelaide Office
Phone: (08) 8100 4500
Address: 212 Pirie Street, Adelaide SA 5000
o Multicultural Youth SA Inc. City Office
Phone: (08) 8212 0085
Address: Shop 9 Miller’s Arcade, 28 Hindley Street, Adelaide SA 5000