A young woman from Sydney has claimed that authorities have been unable to act on her reports of girls she knows from a Sydney school being forced into marriage.
Bee al-Darraj spoke to The Australian about girls she knew who were as young as 12 and 13, who were sent out of Australia to be married underage. She reports that one had given birth at the age of 14, and a 28-year-old father had signed the birth certificate.
Ms Al-Darraj reported the incidents to the Australian Federal Police, however they released a statement saying that the incidents were not applicable to Australian law as they occurred before 2013.
“Forced marriage was criminalised in March 2013,” they wrote in the statement. “The legislation was not retrospective so the AFP is not in a position to investigate matters where a marriage or arrangement occurred prior to March 2013.”
The AFP has reportedly investigated 69 incidents of child marriage in the 2015-2016 financial year, but has only had a few successful prosecutions.
Ms Al-Darraj was unhappy with the response from authorities.
"It’s child trafficking, and they know it’s wrong, but it’s like they have no idea what to do, and if the girls have already left Australia, they can’t do anything”.
In correspondence with Ms Al-Darraj, a DFAT officer also explained that the issues she has reported are not covered by Australian law, referring her to officials in Iraq.
"The commonwealth legislation which criminalises the act of causing a person to enter into marriage without their full and free consent is not retrospective”.
Ms Al-Darraj worries that this forced marriage is occurring in secret, and the girls have no way out of it.
She claims that families “try to hide what they are doing. They might bring a girl over from Iraq or Iran for marriage, and everyone knows she is the bride but if questions are asked, she is the niece, or a family friend. And if the police, or the Department (of Family Services) speak to the girl, she’s terrified. Or else, it’s normal for her”.
Family and Community Services (FACS) Minister Brad Hazzard has also recently confirmed that there have been 70 cases of girls forced to marry overseas reported to their service since 2014.
"There is no doubt that there is a tsunami of young girls, some as young as nine, who are being taken overseas and being forced to become child brides," Mr Hazzard said.