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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 3041

Ms CHESTERS (Bendigo) (13:28): I too rise to speak in favour of this motion on forced marriage that is before the chamber, and wanted to highlight specifically the last point:

(4) calls on the Government to immediately renew funding to further provide awareness of child marriage and forced marriage in Australian schools and the broader community.

This is the critical point of this motion. Yes, in 2013 we amended the laws, and those then made set out very clearly that coercion is illegal. It set out very clearly that it is a crime for a family member to coerce a young child, a young woman, into marriage. However, since the laws have been updated and since they have reflected the broader views of Australians, what we need to do is to continue education and awareness so that young women and girls in schools are aware of their rights.

I too have spoken to the Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans organisation, and they spoke about the merits of their program, the materials that they produced and the pilot program that they ran in Australian schools. The program, the Australian forced marriage pilot program for Australian schools, has been successful in raising awareness so that young women and girls know what their rights are. This particular program is one of many. But these programs can only be successful if this government gets behind them and funds them properly.

Welfare organisation Good Shepherd have also done work in this area. They have seen victims of forced marriages in their offices in Melbourne, and they say that most of the women they see are also victims of domestic and family violence.

Under Commonwealth legislation that was introduced in 2013, those involved in organising forced marriages, including family members and wedding planners, can face up to seven years if convicted. These are laws that were updated or introduced in line with Australian expectations.

As a woman—and this issue is raised regularly in the electorate by other women—it is just abhorrent to think that women can be coerced or tricked into marriage. We know that there are cultural barriers in some parts of our community, and, like all Australians, we do expect people to respect one another in the context of the law, which is why these rules were introduced and updated. But, whilst they were updated, the education in our community needs to continue.

Australia is not alone in this, as others have highlighted. Human Rights Watch estimates that 14 million girls are married worldwide—14 million girls are married! Whilst the countries that are most at risk are countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East, Australia is not immune to the practice.

Other speakers have highlighted individual cases from 2010 onwards of young women who have been brave in speaking out about their experiences. In 2010 there was a case involving a 13-year-old Victorian girl. The school was actually involved in this case. It alerted the state protection authorities about the girl not attending school. The school suggested that her absence may be due to her parents preparing her to marry her fiance—a 17 year old living overseas—who had been chosen for her. In this particular case, DHS and the Family Court did get involved, and the girl did not leave the country and was not married.

This is a situation where the law needed to be updated and it was updated. This is also a situation where the school acted in the best interests of the child, which is why we need to see funding restored to organisations so that they can continue this pilot program. We need to continue the education not only in our schools but also at our airports, by making sure that immigration officials, security officers and other people working in international airports can support young women and girls if they find themselves in this situation.

To conclude, I support the motion. Again I call on the government to immediately renew funding to this pilot program so that any school that needs to access it can.