Sultana's Dream

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Sultana's Dream
April 2012


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Community Education and the Law  

Forced marriages tend to occur due to cultural, economic and even dysfunctional parent-child precipitators, where female consent is considered irrelevant. And so it remains that the practice of forced marriage occurs not because of Islam, but in spite of it, given that the absence of consent renders these marriages void under Islam.

The criminalising of forced marriages under the Sexual Trafficking Act, which is the current government proposal, acknowledges the abusive practice, but only when the victim is about to be sent overseas or possibly after departure.

However, the Australian Muslim Womenís Centre for Human Rights, (AMWCHR) favours an alternative to dealing with this problem under the Sexual Trafficking Act.  AMWCHR argues instead, for the criminalisation of forced marriages to be located within the Family Violence Bill currently being debated at a Federal level. The Centre contends that legislation needs to deal with this problem before girls are sent overseas: proactive, rather than reactive, interventions are the best. 

But legislation that prosecutes parents or guardians who facilitate forced marriages is not a solution by itself. Community education and rapport-building by welfare organisations need to take place in tandem with any proposed legislation to make change meaningful; otherwise forced marriages might be driven further underground, entrapping victims and ostracising communities.

Community-based agencies need to be adequately resourced to reach out to families who may be contemplating forcing their daughters into marriage. By explaining the associated risks to their daughterís psychological, emotional and physical well being (as well as the criminal implications they themselves might face), this more nuanced approach is likely to see a reverse in this trend and has been the experience of certain welfare practitioners in Victoria.

The value of welfare-based organisations working together with communities can be seen in SE Melbourne amongst certain Arab communities. In this instance the rates of early, albeit consensual marriages have been thwarted. Counsellors have witnessed a decisive increase in the number of young girls who complete school, attend university and after graduating, then consider marriage, instead of marrying immediately after Year 12. Government funding to support proactive efforts is crucial in circumventing the need for remedial support services later on.

Tasneem Chopra

Australian Muslim Womenís Centre for Human Rights