A marriage must have the full and free consent of both people.
A forced marriage is one where 1 or both partners either:
- don't fully consent to the marriage, or
- can't consent because they are children
Victims of forced marriage may suffer:
- physical and emotional abuse
- threats of violence
- financial abuse — taking away wages or allowances
In some cases, people go overseas without knowing that it's for their own marriage. Their family may hold their passport to stop them from returning home.
Victims may suffer other crimes, such as rape and violence, within the marriage.
Forced marriages are different to arranged marriages. In an arranged marriage, the families may choose the partners, but both individuals choose to enter the marriage.
Forced marriage is a crime
Australia has laws against slavery, slavery-like practices and human trafficking. These laws make forced marriage a crime. In some cases, these laws apply to actions committed overseas.
By law, a forced marriage is one where, because of coercion, threat or deception, a person enters into a marriage without freely and fully consenting.
It's an offence to both:
- cause another person to enter into a forced marriage
- be a party to a forced marriage if you know 1 or both partners don't consent to it
Australian family members and guests present at the wedding are also guilty of a crime. This applies even if you didn't organise the marriage.
A victim of a forced marriage isn't considered a party to a forced marriage.
For the purposes of the offences, the term 'marriage' includes any union, which the parties and their community see as a marriage. This also includes polygamous marriages or religious marriages that may not otherwise be valid under Australian law.
In some cases, the offences apply if:
- the forced marriage happens overseas
- part of the crime happens in Australia, or
- an Australian citizen or resident commits the offence.
If you're an Australian citizen who travels overseas to enforce a marriage, you're still subject to tough penalties.
The penalties for forced marriage can include up to 4 years in prison. The penalty may be more if the victim is younger than 18 or subjected to cruel or inhumane treatment.
Human trafficking charges may apply if you send a child overseas, or bring someone to Australia, for the purpose of forced marriage. The maximum penalty for these cases is up to 25 years in prison.
Forced marriage laws protect:
- Australian citizens
- Australian residents
- international visitors to Australia — whatever their visa status
An example of a forced marriage
Summer holidays are the peak time for young people to be taken overseas. In some cases they are taken on what they have been told is a holiday to visit family overseas, but in fact a marriage has been planned.
Once overseas, victims can be more isolated than they were in Australia, and getting help is difficult.
Jasmine*, a 16-year old Australian citizen, went to visit her grandparents overseas. The country had no Australian consulate or embassy. She didn't know her parents had arranged for her to marry a 35-year-old cousin. She refused the marriage, but her family wanted to go ahead as a large dowry was at stake. Jasmine suffered verbal and physical abuse. Her family took her passport, and she had no return ticket to Australia. She contacted DFAT's Consular Emergency Centre for help. The Australian Government got in touch with Jasmine's supporters in Australia. With their help, they brought Jasmine home, where she got more support. Jasmine was lucky. However, no cases are the same, and what the Australian Government can do to help depends on each case.
Get help before you travel
If you think something isn't right and that an overseas trip may be for a forced marriage, call the Australian Federal Police (AFP) on 131 237.
Once you're overseas, it'll be much harder to get help or to help the victim of a forced marriage.
You can also call the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on:
- +61 2 6261 3305 from overseas
- 1300 555 135 from within Australia
If you have no choice and end up going overseas, try to take:
- money in Australian and local currency
- a spare mobile phone with international roaming
- a copy of your passport and tickets
- contact details for the Consular Emergency Centre
- contact details for the Australian embassy or consulate responsible for the country you're going to
Leave a copy of your passport, itinerary, and contact details with a trusted friend or family member.
If you're a dual national, read about how dual nationality may affect your trip and the services the Australian Government can provide.
Reporting on behalf of a victim
If you know someone who may be forced into a marriage, call the AFP on 131 237.
Calls can be anonymous.
The AFP has a dedicated team preventing forced marriages under their human trafficking program.
The more information you provide, the better. Information that can help find the victim includes:
- a photograph
- a passport number
- contact details of where they may be staying
- an email address or phone number
You can report a forced marriage online to the AFP. All information is confidential.
If you are already overseas
If you're already overseas and have been (or suspect you may be) forced into a marriage, contact the nearest Australian embassy or consulate.
You can also contact the Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305.
Consider your own safety when trying to make contact for help. If you believe your life is in danger, find a safe place where you can call the Consular Emergency Centre or Australian mission.
If you are an Australian citizen or permanent resident, and don't have access to your passport, we can advise you on the requirements for getting a replacement passport.
A consular official will work with you and your trusted friend/family member to help you if you don't have a place to stay and don't have enough money to fly home.
Please remember that our capacity to assist you overseas is limited. It's influenced by local laws and conditions, international rules governing consular work, and by the cooperation offered by persons and organisations outside the Australian Government.
- See our general advice about getting married overseas
- If you break the law, or an accomplice to a crime overseas, you could be arrested or jailed
- See our information about child sex offences and female genital mutilation
- The Australian Red Cross provides case management services for the Support for Trafficked People Program
- Anti-Slavery Australia supports people who've been trafficked and exploited in Australia by giving free, independent legal advice and representation
- International Social Services (ISS) Australia provides social work and legal services to families, children and adults across international borders
- My BlueSky Organisation provides support around forced marriage
Australian laws apply to acts of female genital mutilation overseas as well as domestically.