The results are very confronting: From UNICEF:
Child marriage, defined as a formal marriage or informal union before age 18, is a reality for both boys and girls, although girls are disproportionately the most affected. Child marriage is widespread and can lead to a lifetime of disadvantage and deprivation.
UNICEF data released in 2014 show that, while prevalence has decreased slightly over the past three decades, rates of progress need to be scaled up dramatically, simply to offset population growth in the countries where the practices are most common.
Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children. More than 1 in 3 – or some 250 million – were married before 15.
- Girls who marry before they turn 18 are less likely to remain in school and more likely to experience domestic violence.
- Young teenage girls are more likely to die due to complications in pregnancy and childbirth than women in their 20s; their infants are more likely to be stillborn or die in the first month of life."
But is that really so?
Increasing there are stories in the press about child and forced marriage happening in Australia:
- 19-year-old man: charged over 'wedding' to 15-year-old
- Sydney girl, 9: feared sent to Middle East for arranged marriage
- Forced marriage an emerging problem in Australia despite laws, welfare groups say
- "Just Married, Just a Child": Australia's Role in Ending Child Marriage
- Child bride? No, these secret marriages are child abuse
- Concern over high child bride statistics for Wollongong
- A CHILD bride allegedly married off at 12 was told sharia law “overrides” Australian law, court documents revealed.
- Muslim man in Sydney charged after ‘marrying’ 12-year-old
- Father charged after he allegedly allowed daughter, 12, to ‘marry'
How could a 13 year old girl living in Australia believe she could be legally married to a 25 year old man, when she could not?
This is a problem of civil law in the Australian Marriage Act, not of a specific religion. There are a wide range of religions and religious groups excepted under civil law from using all the same basic requirements that civil ceremonies and celebrants must use.
The Australian Marriage Act has the legal inconsistencies that allow child marriage or forced marriage to remain hidden.
In Australia, the Marriage Act 1961 requires
Same conditions for all couples to apply to be married in Australia but the
Same basic rules do not apply to all wedding ceremonies and all celebrants.
For example, not all religious wedding ceremonies require
- the couple to give consent in the ceremony
- the witnesses, the bride and groom, and authorised celebrant to be in the same room
- the ceremony to be in a language understood by the parties to the marriage, the witnesses and the quests
- the celebrant to give a definition of marriage according to Australian law
- the religious celebrant to be authorised by law
- the religious celebrant to state they are authorised by civil law, when conducting a valid marriage
- the celebrant, if not authorised by law, to tell the guests that the couple are already married according to civil law.
Public education about marriage in Australia would be easier if the same rules applied, so the couple, the witnesses and guests to a marriage would all be clear as the legal nature of the wedding ceremony being conducted.
Marriage started as a civil/ secular relationship in western culture, and continues to be so under our laws.
Whilst Child and Forced Marriage is complex issue, one basic strategy in conjunction with others, is:
- a simple revision of sections 45, 46 and 113 to clarify and make public the conditions for valid marriage in every wedding ceremony conducted in Australia, whether religious or civil!
Asking all marriage celebrants to adhere to some basic rules in all wedding ceremonies, whether civil or religious, is not too big an ask to minimise the risk of child and forced marriage in Australia