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At 14, Tasneem thought she was going on a holiday. When she arrived, she learned the truth.

When she was 14 years old, Melbourne girl Tasneem Fakhoury packed her bags. She was going to visit her grandmother in Lebanon, her parents told her; just a month-long holiday. It wasn’t until she arrived in Tripoli that she learned the truth.

Tasneem was forced into a marriage with a 25-year-old man. A man who she claims was physically and verbally abusive, and had an extensive criminal history that included rape and armed robbery, the now-20-year-old told 7 News.

She told the network he would strike her just for joining a conversation with his brothers, openly used drugs in front of her, and forbade her from leaving the house.

Tasneem was hopeful she could one day leave, and at one point packed her bags with the intention of fleeing.

“I heard this woman laughing, she was our other neighbour. She’s like to me, ‘Love, there’s no way out of here, they either kill you or break you,'” she said.

After four years, the Meadow Heights girl’s father ultimately helped her return to Australia, but the damage was done.

“There’s nothing I didn’t lose,” she said. “I lost family, I lost friends, I lost the most precious thing I held and that was freedom.”

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Tasneem is far from alone. An ongoing 7 News investigation revealed that Federal Police investigated 70 cases of forced marriage between January 2017 and September 2018, six of which involved children aged ten or younger.

Under Australian law, it is a criminal offence to force, threaten or trick anyone into getting married. This applies to legal, cultural and religious marriages, and includes cases in which the person is taken from Australia and married overseas.

In the latter case, when children are involved, the Australian Federal Circuit Court can make orders to prevent a passport being issued for them and place the child’s name on the Airport Watch List.

However, forced marriage prevention initiative My Blue Sky notes that those at risk often aren’t in a position to alert authorities to their situation. It points to warning signs including (but certainly not limited to): the person seems scared or nervous about an upcoming family holiday overseas, they spend long periods absent from school or work, and they seem unable to make decision about their future without involvement of their parents or family.

“It can be difficult to identify the signs of forced marriage and you should always seek help and advice as soon as possible if you are uncertain about how to respond,” My Blue Sky advises via its website. “It is important that you always act in the best interests of the person in, or at risk of, a forced marriage, including by being mindful of their safety and your own.”

For more information on the warning signs and support options for those in or at risked of forced marriage, please visit the My Blue Sky website or call on (02) 9514 8115.

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