Researcher Elsie Cheung and lawyer Sandeep Dhillon, facilitators from Anti-Slavery Australia and its forced marriage support service My Blue Sky, explained what forced marriage is and how it differs from arranged marriage, noting that forced marriage is illegal in Australia and characterised by coercion, threat or deception – when one or both parties does not give their free and full consent. Arranged marriage, in contrast, is lawful in Australia and widely practiced.
They also described how forced marriage can affect anyone in Australia, but most often impacts young women and girls. Most, but not all, are Australian citizens and permanent residents. Some of the common drivers of forced marriage in Australia include the expectations of family and community, rigid gender roles, and financial insecurity.
Faith leaders were also given some tips on how to identify whether a person is at risk of being forced to marry, including specific indicators such as a sudden engagement announcement, or changes in behaviour and mood.
Belonging to a conservative religious or ethnic minority group can increase the risk of being forced to marry along with a number of other factors, including gender identity, sexual orientation, and ability status. No major religion accepts or endorses forced marriage. Global Freedom Network recognises that faith leaders are in a unique position to see into the hearts of their communities and therefore have a special role to play in ending all forms of modern slavery including forced marriage.
Global Freedom Network predominantly works in regions of deep faith and high prevalence of modern slavery, such as Africa. However, modern slavery occurs in every country in the world so Global Freedom Network are also building a network of faith leaders in Australia who will be equipped with knowledge to raise awareness of modern slavery in their communities, as well as recognise and address it if it happens.