More than 70 cases have been reported to a government-run child protection helpline over the past two years, reports the Daily Telegraph. According to the Australian Federal Police, the rate of child-bride trafficking has doubled. Tip-offs have come from teachers, counsellors and school principals.
NSW Family and Community Services Minister Brad Hazzard is urging the federal government to take action against the "barbaric and cruel" practice. "There is no doubt that there is a tsunami of young girls - some as young as nine - who have been taken overseas and forced to become child brides, and quite simply the Baird government is saying to those communities this is Australia you are living in and you must acknowledge our laws and protect our children," he told the ABC.
"Many of these young children are ending up in our youth refuges in many parts of NSW."
Mr Hazzard said the Muslim community needs to condemn the practice. "The imams in the Muslim community need to speak up more and indeed any other religious leaders in communities who might pursue this practice," he said. "Each of these young people, who are being threatened, are obviously at grave risk from their families if they do not comply.
"I have been advised some feel even suicidal if they are not living up to their parents' expectations."
Muslims Australia president Keysar Trad told the ABC he’s shocked by the reports. "I know we have had a campaign for a long time to educate people that one of the conditions for a marriage to be valid under Islamic teachings is consent," explains Mr Trad. "For anybody to force a young lady or a young man into a marriage against their will is wrong."
But the Attorney-General's Department told marie claire, "Forced marriage is not limited to any particular cultural group, religion or ethnicity."
The NSW Department of Family and Community Services' (FACS) caseworkers and staff are deeply troubled by cases of forced marriages involving children, a FACS spokesperson told marie claire. ”Forced marriage involving children is an abhorrent practice incompatible with Australian law.”
Forced marriage is a serious crime and all suspected victims of forced marriage should be referred to the Australian Federal Police, urges the Attorney-General's Department.