Ask A Celebrant - CCN Blog
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The Seriousness of Underage Marriages & Forced Marriages
Underage marriage is a sensitive and complex issue that affects communities around the world. This issue impacts on women and girls who marry at a young age and often without giving consent. Our guest blogger, CCN Celebrant Melanie Lawson - takes us through the stats and legalities of underage and forced marriage...
In Western cultures many of us are familiar with the concept of the ‘star-cross’d lovers’ – William Shakespeare’s play about Romeo and Juliet who were passionately in love but could not be together due to the opposition of their families. Many people do not realise that Juliet was only 13 years old and while Romeo’s age is not stated in the play, he is thought to have been a young adult of 18-23 years of age.
Research shows that getting married as a child can lead to a lifetime of poverty, health risks, isolation or lack of education.
World vision has found that:
- 15 million girls – every year, 15 million girls marry before their 18th birthday – that’s nearly two-thirds of the Australian population
- 1 in 9 girls – one in nine girls marry before they turn 15
- 50% in Asia – almost half of all child brides live in South Asia – one-third of these are in India
Child brides: what does the law say?
In Australia, the law says that a person between the ages of 16 and 18 years can marry an adult if they have the permission of the court. Two people under the age of 18 years cannot marry each other. Civil celebrants have a duty under the law to:
- Explain the nature of marriage
- Confirm the ages and identities of the couple
- Ensure each party is consenting to the marriage
Australian law has some inconsistencies and the same rules do not necessarily apply to religious marriage celebrants.
Civil celebrants are sensitive to cultural norms and diversity, which may include marrying consenting adults who have met by arrangement between families, or with the help of a matchmaker. These ‘arranged marriages’ are legal in Australia and can result in happy and long-lasting unions between two people who have had some help in meeting a compatible partner.
Image: World Vision
However, we also need to be aware of any potential that a party is under age or being coerced into the marriage. Some signs to look out for include:
- Arrangements being made primarily with the groom, where the bride may be overseas or not available to meet with the celebrant
- Requests for ‘shortening of time’ or quickly arranged ceremonies
- Any signs that the bride may be uncomfortable, not understanding, or feeling anxious about the marriage ceremony
- Documents that have not been fully or professionally translated
Read more about underage marriage on CCN’s website.
It's hard to believe, but when I was a Social Worker in the Welfare system in Victoria a lifetime ago (in the 1960s) there was a case in the Children's Court where two young people (the girl was 13, I don't remember how old the boy was) applied to get permission to marry, and the Magistrate approved it saying that she was convinced that they were mature enough.