What's the child marriage rate? How big of an issue is child marriage?
There is no publicly available government data on child marriage in Australia.
The Immigrant Women’s Health Service reports that there are at least 60 child brides in south-west Sydney, and from 2012-2014, the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre identified about 250 cases of child marriage. Community groups argue that the actual number is much greater.
As of 2014 the Australian Federal Police had received 10 referrals for suspected forced marriage matters, nine of which involved children, since it was criminalised in March 2013.
Are there country-specific drivers of child marriage in this country?
Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that women and girls are somehow inferior to men and boys. There is very limited information on child marriage in Australia but available studies show that it is driven by:
- Migration: A 2014 study by Plan International Australia reports cases of forced marriage among girls and women who are taken overseas for marriage. This particularly affects asylum seekers. A 2013 study found that some girls are used as sponsors for spousal visas. The 2011 case of Madley v Madley and Anor involved a 16 year old girl placing herself on an Airport Watch List as she was being forced out of the country to be married.
- Traditional customs: Customary practices among Aboriginal communities, including promised marriages, sometimes involve young girls being promised to men for future marriage.
What has this country committed to?
Australia has committed to eliminate child, early and forced marriage by 2030 in line with target 5.3 of the Sustainable Development Goals. The government reported on progress made the against target 5.3 during its 2018 Voluntary National Report at the High Level Political Forum (the forum in which countries report progress made on the Sustainable Development Goals) through its initiative My Blue Sky, Australia’s first website dedicated to forced marriage prevention, information, referrals and legal advice.
Australia co-sponsored the 2017 Human Rights Council resolution recognising the need to address child, early and forced marriage in humanitarian contexts, and the 2015 Human Rights Council resolution to end child, early and forced marriage, recognising that it is a violation of human rights.
Australia co-sponsored the 2013 and 2014 UN General Assembly resolutions on child, early and forced marriage, and the 2013 Human Rights Council resolution on child, early and forced marriage. In 2014, Australia signed a joint statement at the Human Rights Council calling for a resolution on child marriage.
Australia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, which sets a minimum age of marriage of 18, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) in 1983, which obligates states to ensure free and full consent to marriage.
At the Girl Summit in July 2014, the government signed a charter committing to end child marriage by 2020.
What is the government doing to address this at the national level?
The Australian government implements the Support for Trafficked People Programme for any person identified by a law enforcement agency as a potential victim of forced marriage. Intensive support is provided by the Australian Red Cross to children facing forced marriage for an initial period of up to 45 days. Beyond that time, further support is dependent on the child’s willingness to assist law enforcement in the investigation of a criminal offence. This may require their cooperation in a criminal investigation into the conduct of their parents or other family members.
In 2014 Anti-Slavery Australia, through government funding, launched the country’s first e-learning course on human trafficking and slavery-like practices, including forced marriage. The course is designed for the wider Australian community, and frontline workers including teachers, counsellors, health care workers, child protection officers and law enforcement.
What is the minimum legal framework around marriage?
In Australia the marriageable age is 18. However exceptions under the Marriage Act 2011 lay out that a person who has attained the age of 16 years but has not attained the age of 18 may apply to a judge or magistrate in a State or Territory for an order authorising him or her to marry a particular person of marriageable age.
In February 2013, the Australian Parliament passed the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery-like Conditions and People Trafficking) Act (the ‘Slavery Act’), which introduced a range of new offences related to slavery and slavery-like conditions, including offences that criminalise the practice of forced marriage.
Australian Government Department of Social Services, Support for Trafficked People Program, [website], 2018, (accessed May 2018)
Girl Summit 2014, The Girl Summit Charter on Ending FGM and Child, Early and Forced Marriage, [website], 2015, (accessed February 2018)
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, Joint statement on child, early and forced marriage, HRC 27, Agenda Item 3, [website], 2014, (accessed April 2018)
National Children’s and Law Youth Centre, End child marriage Australia, research report on the forced marriage of children in Australia, 2013, (accessed June 2018)
Plan International Australia, Just married, just a child, Child marriage in the Indo-Pacific region, 2014, (accessed May 2018)
United Nations, Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform, [website], 2017, (accessed February 2018)
* Child marriage prevalence is the percentage of women 20-24 years old who were married or in union before they were 18 years old (UNICEF State of the World’s Children, 2017)