A nine-year-old Sydney girl has allegedly left the country to be married overseas, just one of a dozen cases since June, a women’s health service says.
The Immigrant Women’s Health Service in western Sydney said it received a tip-off on Monday about a case involving a nine-year-old child bride.
The service spoke to the girl’s mother but said it could not get specific information. It is suspected the girl will be married in the Middle East.
The ABC could not confirm the claims.
Federal Justice Minister Michael Keenan said the Government had launched a new arranged marriage safety plan to encourage young women to speak up if they were being forced to marry.
“We’re very keen to … make sure that if somebody is to come across this type of crime that they know how to go about helping that person to report it to authorities so we can do something about it,” he said.
“We’re making sure that we have materials out there to educate the community about what to look for and so these crimes can be reported and then the appropriate authorities can go and prosecute them.”
But Dr Eman Sharobeem, director of the Immigrant Women’s Health Service, said the strategy would not work because girls were too scared to implicate their families.
“Forced marriage and child brides happen among the culturally and linguistically diverse communities, those communities will not go to the website and will not share glossy papers to see what’s written about legislation in the country,” she said.
It is suspected the girl will be married in the Middle East.
“I don’t hope and wish to see parents behind bars … I already tried with many of them to talk about informing the authorities, and as soon as I put that on the table the girls actually turn their back and say ‘we’re not even going to have a conversation with you’.”
Instead Dr Sharobeem said the Government’s new strategy needed to put more resources towards grassroots education campaigns and to teach girls how to speak to their families.
“‘Teach us how to talk to our parents, because our own mother wants to send us to a man we don’t know’, are some of the words I heard from these girls,” Dr Sharobeem said.
“It breaks my heart to see that we’re trying our best to save lives and yet the Government is printing glossy paper.”
The Government says a new national action plan will refine Australia’s response to forced marriages over the next five years.
Mr Keenan said the Government would also develop a forced marriage community pack for frontline service providers.
Islamic Council of New South Wales chairman Khaled Sukkerieh said while he does not know about the case, any alleged act is illegal and against the Muslim faith.
“Islamically (sic) that’s not acceptable and we don’t know anything about the case, but on the face of it a nine-year-old hasn’t got the mental capacity or the age to marry herself off or to consent to a marriage,” he said.
This article originally appeared on the ABC here and has been republished here with full permission.
To commemorate International Day of the Girl Child last year, photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair teamed up with National Geographic to create a series of photos depicting girls as young as five years old being married off to middle-aged men in countries like India, Yemen and Ethiopia. Take a look. All images from the Daily Mail.
If you want to help end the forced marriage of children, CARE is working to help stop this practice – and provides support to millions of women and girls living in developing nations around the world. You can find out more information about their campaign to end child marriage here.