It may not be widely known, but arranged and forced marriages are part of life in Australia.
Tonight - what's love got to do with it? Arranged marriages in Australia -they can bring joy... But are arranged marriages also open to abuse?
JENNY BROCKIE: Hi. I'm Jenny Brockie. With me tonight - people with a wide range of views on arranged marriage. We'll look at successes and failures, and the whole question of choice. Welcome, everyone. Good to have you with us. Matten, I wanted to start with you. You have an Afghan background, and you want to arrange your son's marriages. Why?
MATTEN OLUMEE: Well, I don't have any bad feelings about what happened to me with my life and my marriage. Basically, I will do the same thing and make sure I choose their future life partners so we can have a better life as a family together.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you had an arranged marriage yourself?
MATTEN OLUMEE: I started, yes - turned out to be a love marriage.
JENNY BROCKIE: Was that something you expected?
MATTEN OLUMEE: Um, I expected as an arranged, not a love. Love will always follow. But for me, I was lucky. The love followed a lot quicker.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why do you think you should choose your children's spouses? Why do you think you're the best person to do that?
MATTEN OLUMEE: Being a parent, being involved in bringing them to life, looking after them for years of their lives, guiding them through their life - I've made gained experience through making mistakes in life. I'd be the better judge of characters to choose their life partners for them.
JENNY BROCKIE: Your 8-year-old, who is your eldest son, recently asked you what would happen when he got a girlfriend. What did you say to him?
MATTEN OLUMEE: It's a quick story. Picking him up from school. The younger one of the two which went to school was running away from the girls being kissed. He was crying that, "Dad, these girls are chasing me." I said, "You know that it's forbidden for you to be kissed, and for you to kiss the girl which is not, virtually, your wife. You're too young to have a wife."
JENNY BROCKIE: At eight.
MATTEN OLUMEE: At that age - Obviously. And an older one said, "Well dad, hang on a sec here. You can't tell us what to do. How am I gonna have a wife if I can't be kissed or have a girlfriend?"
JENNY BROCKIE: What did you say?
MATTEN OLUMEE: I said, "Hang on a sec, son. Let's slow down here. We have to know where we come from, what our origin is, what our cultural background is, and respect what we have in life, and have a look - ask your Mum how we got married."
JENNY BROCKIE: So will he have any choice?
MATTEN OLUMEE: I wouldn't like to say yes, but at the end of the day, I'd like to be the one who chooses his future partner.
JENNY BROCKIE: Sabina, you had an arranged marriage two years ago when you were 22 in Bangladesh.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tell us how you found out you were getting married.
SABINA: It was just all of a sudden. My parents arranged all the things for me. And let me know that, "You are getting married in the next three or four days."
JENNY BROCKIE: So there was no build-up to it?
SABINA: Actually letting me know that somebody, tomorrow will come to see me at our house, and "You can ask some questions if you want. We fixed him for you."
JENNY BROCKIE: What did you say?
SABINA: I said, "OK. My exams will be finished first, then I can talk to him." They said, "No, he has no time. He has to go back to Australia."
JENNY BROCKIE: So he was from here?
JENNY BROCKIE: And you were in Bangladesh?
SABINA: Yeah. Actually, there was no way to tell my opinion, to my agree or disagree. It was all arranged.
JENNY BROCKIE: Was that something you expected, given your family background?
SABINA: I was expecting from my parents that I have to complete my graduation, and then I will get married or something.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you have any choice, at 22?
SABINA: No, not like that, because it was prohibited for me from my family that you can choose for yourself.
DANIEL VIJAYAKUMAR: Just before your marriage, did you ever express your disagreement to your parents at all, or to anyone?
SABINA: No, not like the disagreement. It was like, um - I said to my parents that, "OK, you can arrange the marriage for me, but please give me some time to know that person." But...
DANIEL VIJAYAKUMAR: And they didn't?
JENNY BROCKIE: How soon after that were you married?
SABINA: Three days.
JENNY BROCKIE: Three days?!
JENNY BROCKIE: Daniel. You're from a Sri Lankan background, and you're all for arranged marriage. What do you think of Sabina's story, when you hear that?
DANIEL VIJAYAKUMAR: Um... I'm not all for arranged marriages. I don't want to lock myself in, tie myself down. But I'm open to arranged marriage. The reason for that is because my brother was involved in an arranged marriage which I think was similar to Matten's story. I think that was - that's what I'm seeing, was a difference between Sabina's story and my understanding of arranged marriages. It wasn't such a forced construct, where two people just meet up and then the next day, boom, you're getting married.
JENNY BROCKIE: It's more like getting people together so they can find out what they think of one another.
DANIEL VIJAYAKUMAR: It's more like online dating, but your parents do it. My Mum was the activist, and she took my brother and got to meet his wife's family. My brother was open to it and then got time to know her a bit more and over time, developed that - yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is it different for boys than for girls, do you think?
DANIEL VIJAYAKUMAR: I think the process is similar. So I think if my brother didn't want to marry his wife, he probably wouldn't have. If she didn't want to, she probably could have said, "Look, it's not working out," and the parents would have been, "OK, fine, that's good." I think the expectations are where it's really different. I think that's a tragedy because, Sabina was saying, I think, for a woman, it's hard to - you're frowned upon a lot more if you say repeatedly, "This guy's not right for me." I think you're looked down a lot more heavily upon than a guy. That can actually act as a mechanism which prevents you from being open about what you feel.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you think that's the case, Matten?
MATTEN OLUMEE: We've got to take a step back and clarify what we're talking about. There's a forced marriage and an arranged marriage. There's nothing wrong with an arranged marriage.
JENNY BROCKIE: Preeti, you're not looking happy there, I was just wondering why you were looking the way you were.
PREETI GOYAL: I think when you sit there and dissect the concept of arranged marriages in a forum like this, it's pretty clear in real life, if you think about Sabina's example, the distinction is quite subtle and implicit. She's voicing her agreement, but to her parents, who've supported her. The aspect of choice, when one person is clearly in a greater situation of power than you - for example, your parents - in a culture where you're not given freedom and you're looked down upon if you were to disagree with them - I think this distinction is subtle.
JENNY BROCKIE: Daniel, you've written a song about arranged marriage which features your mum. Let's have is a look at a clip.
DANIEL VIJAYAKUMAR: And so I ask myself # Will I ever get married? # Man, I need some help # But then, my mother walked in # And my stress blew away # 'Cause my Muma told me it's arranged # To a girl I never met # She wasn't playing hard to get # It was kind of OK # Saw her picture on the Net # Then the wedding day was set...
JENNY BROCKIE: OK. Your mum's in the clip and she's also here. How do you feel about that, Christine? About being portrayed? You are a bit of a matchmaker, yeah?
DANIEL VIJAYAKUMAR: Yes. She's a pro matchmaker.
JENNY BROCKIE: She's a pro matchmaker?
DANIEL VIJAYAKUMAR: Yeah. She's good.
JENNY BROCKIE: How do you go about it?
CHRISTINE VIJAYAKUMAR: When the party approached me, there were some boys or girls, they were unable to go and find for themselves - the shyness or the culture we were brought up. They find it hard to go and meet a girl and find someone and getting married. The parents are very agitated when the children are getting older - 20, 30, 35, and thirty-eight comes - parents, even, are worried. This morning, two parties approached me – they are very worried about their children, so I note down the details. And it's just networking - introducing them - there's a boy in Melbourne, father is very concerned about the son.
JENNY BROCKIE: How old is he?
CHRISTINE VIJAYAKUMAR: 34-something. So this morning, a lady, 28 years, calls so I just note down and take the details. And introduce them.
JENNY BROCKIE: I think you're going to get a lot of calls after this program, I have a feeling. Daniel, how much say will you have in this situation with your mum? Is she going to find someone for you to marry?
DANIEL VIJAYAKUMAR: She always tells me that, when I'm 25, I'll come running to her and ask her to find me a wife.
JENNY BROCKIE: How old are you now?
DANIEL VIJAYAKUMAR: I'm 21. I take that as a challenge to go against that. But I'm open to the concept of arranged marriage as my Mum was just saying - like, you know, as I said, it's like online dating, but your parents are doing the compatible checks for you. I think that's where I find merit in the system.
JENNY BROCKIE: Christine, if Daniel finds someone that he wants to marry, and you've had nothing to do with it, is that OK?
CHRISTINE VIJAYAKUMAR: Yes - Absolutely fine. But I always say - religion matters. You have to find someone - Christian girl - who you can –
JENNY BROCKIE: So you have to check it out and make sure?
DANIEL VIJAYAKUMAR: It's that concept of - you want someone who's got a similar religious or cultural background - upbringing, so your value system is shared. A lot of guys my age, the first thing they talk about when they see a girl and say "Oh, she's hot." It's purely based on outward attraction, there is no concept of compatibility – it’s purely based on lust.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you're very skeptical about the idea of love in relation to choosing a partner, you see it as lust?
MATTEN OLUMEE: Till today, I have not found someone to describe "true love" to me - like what love really means to them. Young guys say every day, "I fell in love and want to get married." You ask them, "Describe love to me. How do you feel when you see her? Would you feel the same when you see someone else?" you get the same answer again. For me, that is lust. For me, love is when I see my wife and my legs are shaking. When I'm - not from fear. Definitely not from fear, it's from wanting her so much, for me to be wanting to go home is the love that I –
JENNY BROCKIE: That's something that grew with time?
MATTEN OLUMEE: It does.
JENNY BROCKIE: But didn't come immediately?
MATTEN OLUMEE: Like I said, my Mum chose my wife first, and indicated. I said to my Mum, "Hang on a sec. You can't choose my wife. I've grown up here. Let me choose my wife." She described, explained to me everything. The next minute, I said, "No." A year or so later, I fell in love with the same girl my Mum chose for me.
JENNY BROCKIE: Prashan, you're Daniel's mate. What do you think about arranged marriages?
PRASHAN THEVARAJAH: Well, we actually have very polarised views, I guess. I don't see where he's coming from. Like, when you look at it, you don't see a Disney or - you don't grow up in cartoons where you see the princess arranged to a prince or something like that. You know, they fall in love. I think that's what life's about - take risks, take mistakes. It's all part of the learning process.
JENNY BROCKIE: Does your family have an attitude about arranged marriage?
PRASHAN THEVARAJAH: Um: Well, my older sister just got married to an Anglo-Australian. I think that opened up a lot more views into my family, into my whole cultural... The way I thought about it was my sister would get married to a Sri Lankan.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you reject the idea of arranged marriage altogether, like you wouldn't have anything to do with it?
PRASHAN THEVARAJAH: Yeah, I wouldn't go near that.
DANIEL VIJAYAKUMAR: Can I just take you down for a sec? You said you don't see cartoons where the princess is arranged by her mum to a prince Right? The thing is, you don't see Western marriages where the husband comes home every day and gives his wife a billion flowers and says how much he loves her and how much he'll throw himself in front of a train for her. This is something that the Western culture of today has established marriages as this humanly impossible expression of love. I think that's actually something the arranged-marriage system counteracts, because you're brought up to understand love, like we're talking about, as not "This guy who's gonna pick me up and carry me to the top of my castle every day and give me everything I want," but we see love as something that's developed over time, and developed through character.
WOMAN: I think there's a huge disadvantage on the young person giving the onus of what is love solely to the parent. I think that you're placing the young person at a disadvantage, at a disadvantage of developing who they are and what they can become.
MAN: That's interesting you say that. At the end of the day, the parents are the best authority source to know what their child is like and how their child is going to perform in a relationship. I agree over here that he knows his child's personality and his development as he's growing up, and we do live in a Western society that has, since the days of Shakespeare, have dictated to us romantic love. Unfortunately, romantic love is causing so many marriages today to end in divorce.
JENNY BROCKIE: But do parents know how a child - I'm interested in the latter part of that sentence, that parents know how best a child will perform in a relationship?
MAN: From both sides, yes, I believe they have the ability to see who will be compatible. Not only that, the parents act as a buffer to make sure the marriage is stable.
JENNY BROCKIE: Asha, you're from an Indian background. How do you feel about arranged marriage?
ASHA AGGARWALA: I am actually from an Indian background, but I have not lived in India. I grew up in Sydney and I had an arranged marriage. I could relate to what happened to Sabina, because something very similar happened to me. I actually found myself married to a person and the day I got married is when I felt I did not have a life. I was married for 18 years. I have three beautiful children out of my marriage. I've been a single parent for 17 years. I've had a very, very difficult life. I'm not against arranged marriages, but I think the approach that needs to be taken with arranged marriages is where I would do it differently.
JENNY BROCKIE: How? In what way do it differently?
ASHA AGGARWALA: Differently in the sense that I told my kids, right from day one that what happened to me was not going to happen to them. They'll be free.
JENNY BROCKIE: What happened to you? Why didn't it work?
ASHA AGGARWALA: I just ended up in a very dysfunctional home and it just did not happen from day one.
JENNY BROCKIE: So how do you see it in hindsight - your parents chose badly for you?
ASHA AGGARWALA: It wasn't a question that they chose badly. They've lived out of India for a long time. Their intentions were good.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you feel you could object? Did you want to object?
ASHA AGGARWALA: I did. I did object two proposals before my husband. And yes, I've been through a very difficult time where, before I left Sydney, I actually told my Dad that I was quite happy getting married in India, provided, after my marriage, I did come back to Sydney, because I wanted to live here. When I went there, there was a situation where there was a lot of family pressure where they wanted me to marry somebody in India because he was financially very well off, but they wanted me to get married and settle there, and I actually said no. That created a lot of drama at home.
JENNY BROCKIE: Now, you've just helped arrange a marriage for your 32-year-old son. Let's have a look at the ceremony that was held here last month.
ASHA AGGARWALA: This is a dream that every Hindu always wishes and desires for their children. And yes, this is one of my dreams.
Personally, I felt that, yes, it was time for Vivek to get married. Vivek's a little bit lazy when it comes to things like this. But I had a fair idea he wanted someone - traditional Indian - family values.
But no support in the background, trying to find someone for Vivek. I just came into this room, I sat here, and I prayed. It just so happened that Preeti's mum approached me. We had a nice chat. We went and had a cup of coffee. And the best thing I liked about Preeti's family was their simplicity.
And I had a lot of my friends turn around and say, "Asha, Preeti is custom made, she is exactly what you were looking for." It's a wonderful feeling. You want the right person, and then you do actually end up achieving that. It feels great. Yeah. It's very good.
MINISTER: I now declare you to be husband wife!
JENNY BROCKIE: Vivek, how do you feel about your mum organising, or helping to arrange, your marriage at 32?
VIVEK GOYAL: Well, I didn't like the term she used - "lazy." Don't totally agree with that. I am lazy on some issues. Look, Mum's input, her say, was very important to me. Being born in Australia, I feel I am very Australian, but culturally very Indian in my ways. One thing we need to understand - it's not just about culture, it's about - and not just marrying the person you're going to marry - you're marrying into another family. Knowing what my mother has gone through, that was something that sort of - I didn't want to go through that same thing. And saying that, though - I always made it clear to Mum that, "Look, by all means find people. I'm happy to look." ""But whoever that person will be, we will need to be given time. Not three days. Not three weeks."
JENNY BROCKIE: Three days isn't long, is it?
VIVEK GOYAL: Unfortunately, Sabina has had it happen to her now. That probably happened more in the time that my Mum got married. I think now, arranged marriages have changed quite a lot, in terms of - yes, the parents are having a say, but the time is also given.
JENNY BROCKIE: Preeti, how do you feel about this, about being described as "custom-made", I think?
PREETI GOYAL: It's the nicest compliment heard - even better than the ones my husband gives me, showering me with flowers, like you said earlier. It's very flattering.
JENNY BROCKIE: You're 30, and your husband's 32. How did you feel about the process, though, and what was your family's role in this? How much pressure was there to marry this man?
PREETI GOYAL: Listening to these guys, I am very fortunate, because ever since I was young and thinking about dating and marriage, I think arranged marriage was like an insurance policy for me. I had the freedom to date anyone I like, but if I was unlucky enough to not find someone, I knew in the back of my mind that I would have options. It was like a bus lane opening up saying "You can drive through this lane." So to speak.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you didn't instantly click, did you, you two? There wasn't an instant "We must do this, we must get married"?
VIVEK GOYAL: No. And there was no pressure from either end. Actually, our families actually got along like a house on fire. When initially there was some conversation about –
JENNY BROCKIE: Was there pressure from the families for you to get on with it?
VIVEK GOYAL: Not really. There was probably initially a bit of pressure to actually start going out a bit more. When I initially met with Preeti, I couldn't get beyond coffee, right? It was difficult to go beyond that. I guess it was shyness from both of us. Obviously we were new to the concept.
JENNY BROCKIE: What do you think would have happened had you decided not to go ahead, once the families were already close? What do you think would have happened?
VIVEK GOYAL: Do you want to answer that? Look, I felt there was an understanding that "Look, whatever the case will be, we will remain good friends." Even if we made that decision, it would have been respected and everyone would have moved on from it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tonight, we're talking about arranged marriages, which are common in many cultures. I want to talk more about the idea of choice, Matten, you wanted to raise something with Preeti here?
MATTEN OLUMEE: I have a few questions for both these nice ladies. How would you feel if the gentleman's ex-girlfriend turns up and tells you some things about him? How would you feel knowing he knows that you've been dating?
JENNY BROCKIE: Preeti, do you want to answer that first?
PREETI GOYAL: Sure. Depends on - I mean, when we met up, we - when we realised that we liked each other, we had a full-disclosure conversation, saying what's happened in the past. That gives you a sense of "Have they moved on from their ex-girlfriend or not?" Consequently, Vivek had not dated anyone. But let's not lie about this - Vivek has crushes, and I've met some of them. In reality, if you did have an ex-girlfriend and she said "He's got an awesome body" or something embarrassing, my reaction would be if he has moved on mentally or emotionally from her, I can accept it.
DANIEL VIJAYAKUMAR: I think that’s different - I think guys are a lot less forgiving, though.
MATTEN OLUMEE: Very hard when he bumps into the guy, I can tell you that much.
DANIEL VIJAYAKUMAR: It raises a big question.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is there a double standard operating here?
DANIEL VIJAYAKUMAR: I think there is a huge spanner in the whole concept of arranged marriage in the Western culture today. You've got sexual freedoms and this concept of dating - "Try before you buy, do whatever you want, it doesn't affect you later in life." It's something I always questioned and struggled with, and I'll put it out there - do you feel that affects this concept of arranged marriages? You can date around, before you get married you can sleep with whoever you want to sleep? And if it does, how does it put it to bed?
JENNY BROCKIE: A bit of eye-rolling in the back row, I have to say, Daniel. Why were you rolling your eyes, listening to this?
WOMAN: Um, I guess it's such a different concept for me - completely different background. I've got freedom of choice, I can date who I want to, and you're right - unfortunately, the way that I'm now treated on the dating scene is a lot of disrespect from a lot of guys. So I see your point, but I still have to hold onto the fact that I am glad that I still have that choice and can still experience that and hopefully, the end of this process - which is quite a different journey to yours - I will find the right person, after all those experiences.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK. Matten, you mentioned earlier about the difference between an arranged marriage and a forced marriage, and the importance of that distinction. Recently, I spoke to a young woman who we're going to call Meriam, who lives in Australia, and says she was forced into a marriage when she was 14 by her father. Let's have a look at what she says.
MERIAM: Um, I was just a typical 14-year-old - quite a tomboy, and at school, just enjoyed my sport, so had lots of awesome friends.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you know?
MERIAM: Yeah. That's what he had planned. And then I said to Mum I just didn't want to do it, and he was ugly and old.
JENNY BROCKIE: Who was the man?
MERIAM: Like a friend of his. And he was 16 years older than I am.
JENNY BROCKIE: What did you think getting married meant when you were 14?
MERIAM: Honestly? Just party and that's it. I didn't know what happens next. I was 14. I just thought it was a dress with people dancing, food. That's it.
JENNY BROCKIE: What about sex? Did you know about that?
MERIAM: No. Not at all?
JENNY BROCKIE: Not at all. So what was that like for you?
MERIAM: Rape. That's how it felt, four times a day. You were being raped because you didn't enjoy it and you just didn't want to do it.
JENNY BROCKIE: And did you ever express that to your husband?
MERIAM: Um... If pain is not enough, I don't know what is.
JENNY BROCKIE: That's a pretty shocking story, and obviously we can't identify that young woman, but I just wonder if people are aware of things like that, of teenage marriages, of girls as young as 14 being forcibly married in Australia. Does it happen?
TASNEEM CHOPRA, AUSTRALIAN MUSLIM WOMEN’S CTR. HUMAN RIGHTS: The organisation that I'm representing from Victoria - the Australian Muslim women's Centre for Human Rights - we have come across cases in the past where girls have consented to marriages at an early age, partly because of the associated glamour of the wedding, and not looking beyond that.
Often that naivety at that young age is exploited by parents in certain communities, because they know, perhaps, the child won't know differently. Marriages aren't forced, but they're certainly early marriages, and we find that problematic. Beyond that, we find that, by developing a rapport with these communities - not just being reactive about legislation but developing a rapport and a dialogue and building trust with communities - you can, in time, actually see that trend decrease.
I've spoken with counselors from the Iraqi community in Victoria who can verify that, over the past three or four years, by engaging parents about the concerns when girls are so young, they've actually see an increase in girls finish their education, go to university, and participate in broader society. So there is a flip side to this situation.
JENNY BROCKIE: In this case - I've spoken to this young girl at length, and in this case, there was no possibility of her being able to get her father to change his views?
TASNEEM CHOPRA: That's a forced marriage.
JENNY BROCKIE: A forced marriage, yeah.
TASNEEM CHOPRA: Any human being - as an Australian, we'd all take issue with that.
JENNY BROCKIE: What about the young women here? Do you know of stories similar to that, or like that at all? Safa, can I ask you about friends at school or anyone you know of that that's happened to?
SAFA OBEID: I know of a friend of mine who was forced to be married when she was 15. We were just in Year 10. Now she's pregnant, and I think she's going to have her baby, I think, in January next year?
JENNY BROCKIE: Forced marriage, or arranged?
SAFA OBEID: Forced.
JENNY BROCKIE: And this was at your school in Australia and people knew about it?
SAFA OBEID: No, she didn't tell anyone about it, only her close friends. She had no choice, she couldn’t tell her parents that she didn’t want to marry him. She didn't want to disobey them.
JENNY BROCKIE: Matten, I want to ask what you think about that story, and at 14, whether Meriam should have had a choice?
MATTEN OLUMEE: Well, she should have had a choice. But I'm really shocked to hear a forced marriage in Australia, in Sydney, or any part of Australia. Since our kids - my kids, the next day that I had a conversation with my kid, I get a phone call from the teacher - "Hang on a sec, what are you pumping into your kids' ears?"
JENNY BROCKIE: After you spoke to the 8-year-old?
MATTEN OLUMEE: Yeah. I am shocked to hear the young girl saying that her friend is about to have a baby because she was forced into marriage, in this society.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mm. Let's hear again from Meriam about how many people actually knew she was being married at 14.
JENNY BROCKIE: Was there anyone you could talk to about it?
MERIAM: No. My own teachers attended my wedding.
JENNY BROCKIE: Your teachers from school?
MERIAM: Yep. And they weren't Muslim, either. They weren't Arabs. They were Westerners. And that school can deny all it - I know so many girls that got married in that school. I know so many girls where they were made older than what they really are. They would be 14, but legally on their documents, they would be 18 or 19. Just so they can get married legally.
JENNY BROCKIE: How was it that you were able to get married at 14 in Australia with so many people apparently knowing? Can you understand how that happened?
MERIAM: You tell me. You've got thousands of people, um... And I need to clear something up here. It's not Muslims. It wasn't just Muslims that were invited. It wasn't just Arabs that were invited. It was everyone. The teachers knew what was happening. Can't really count on my friends - they were my age, what could they have done?
JENNY BROCKIE: Safa, you looked really upset watching that.
SAFA OBEID: That's horrible. How can they do that to their child? She's only 14. Putting her through all of that pain...
VIVI GERMANOS – KOUTSOUNADIS, AUST. IMMIGRANT AND REFUGEE ALLIANCE: I think it's because the girls don't know their rights. The girls don't know, you know, what their human rights are. Because that is breach of human rights, as well as children's rights. Because, you know, they are under age. So they don't know their rights. It means that we need some educational campaigns, first of all with the girls after school to tell them what their rights are so it encourages them to speak up: The second thing is, to the communities, to say that the law here forbids them to do what they are doing with their daughters.
JENNY BROCKIE: It forbids them from having sex at 14, let alone getting married at 14. Jennifer, what did you think, listening to that?
JENNIFER BURN, ANTI – SLAVERY AUSTRALIA: I think what we've seen tonight is that there is such a stark difference between an arranged marriage and a forced marriage. Sometimes, of course, the line is not so clear. But I agree that, in Australia, there is not very much known about what forced marriage is, and of course, forced marriage is a marriage where there is no full consent.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is there evidence that it's a problem, that there's a problem around this issue with younger girls?
JENNIFER BURN: In Australia, we don't know very much. But we do know that at least three cases - three girls - have gone to the Family Court or the federal Magistrates Court and sought protection there. Those girls were in fear of being sent overseas to marry, in accordance with their families' wishes.
VIVI GERMANOS – KOUTSOUNADIS: There's no research whatsoever on the issue. No-one wants to touch the issue. Because it is a sensitive issue, it is an issue which everybody wants to hush-hush.
JENNY BROCKIE: Let's talk about age. I'd like to talk about the age at which people get married. Matten, apart from the question of it being forced, I mean, what do you think of the idea of a 14-year-old getting married?
MATTEN OLUMEE: For me, again, I'll go back - if she's right to have sex and have intimacy with a guy, then that is the person she chose. Even though I totally disagree to what we've seen, then yeah, if she's prepared to have it, then why not? But the law in this country does not allow it till you are 18 so I would say…
JENNY BROCKIE: The law doesn't allow it till you're 16.
MATTEN OLUMEE: We have to follow the law of the land.
VIVEK GOYAL: We're not following the law of the land. I understand that. I'm not pointing at you, but being a lawyer myself, if that's the general attitude of people in various cultures, then these problems are going to arise, and there's going to be more of these problems.
MATTEN OLUMEE: If it does happen, it must be very small amount of these young age... And I am again shocked to hear that a 14-year-old, who how know how to be on Facebooks, know how to date, know how to do a lot of things - and then turn around and say, "My friends and my teachers didn't stand up for me." Why didn't she pick up the phone and call the police? Again, I'm very upset to find out a young lady sitting there and saying another young friend got married and is having a child in the near future. What have you done for her?
SAFA OBEID: I can't go against it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Safa, what did you want to say?
SAFA OBEID: I can't go against her wishes.
MATTEN OLUMEE: So she agreed?
SAFA OBEID: She didn't want me to say anything to anyone because she was ashamed. I did speak to my parents and asked what I should do. They said it's her decision, it's up to her.
MATTEN OLUMEE: So she chose.
VIVI GERMANOS – KOUTSOUNADIS: That's why it's important in the school system that girls should be - there should be all these things discussed so you can prepare the girls to be able to understand and to speak up against the parents, or against society, and fight for their rights.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK. I want to go to Naveen. Naveen, in Lebanon, thanks for joining us. Good to have you back on Insight. You've been with us before. You were 14 when you were met your husband. You were 16 when you got engaged, and 18 when you got married. Was it an arranged marriage?
NAVEEN ELYASEH ALARAB: No, it was semi-arranged. I got to know my husband with my own choice, and then me and my husband decided to actually take a little step further and make our relationship more serious.
JENNY BROCKIE: So how old were you when you decided to get married?
NAVEEN ELYASEH ALARAB: The moment I started the relationship.
JENNY BROCKIE: So at 14?
NAVEEN ELYASEH ALARAB: When I was 14.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how did your parents react to that? Did you tell them that at the time?
NAVEEN ELYASEH ALARAB: Yep. The moment I knew my spouse and the moment I felt I had feelings for him, I opened up to them. They were very encouraging, and happy with whatever choice I made.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did they tell you to wait that four years, or was that a choice you made?
NAVEEN ELYASEH ALARAB: It was my choice. I've been studying all my life, and I really wanted to continue my education. My husband was very encouraging towards that and so were my parents.
JENNY BROCKIE: At what age do you think young people can give consent to get married, knowing exactly what they're doing and what it means?
NAVEEN ELYASEH ALARAB: OK. In my perspective, I believe any girl or any boy is ready to get married the moment they know the responsibility of marriage - so the moment they know they have to be socially, mentally, physically ready. I just want to ask you all a question. From what I've been hearing, why do we see in society a girl who's 18 or 16 being involved in sexual relations, OK with that, and she has the freedom, and she's such an independent girl, but when the girl with the same age comes to get involved in a marriage, we see that as being forced or arranged or not her choice?
JENNY BROCKIE: Sabina, you were shaking your head. You didn't...?
SABINA: I have to disagree with her, because the girl Meriam, before - she was not ready for the sex at 14. She said that she doesn't know about the sex or anything like that. So yeah, many of the girls in Western society who are 14 or 16 are getting sex, but they are concern - it's but it's their concern, they want it to.
JENNY BROCKIE: Asha, what do you think?
ASHA AGGARWALA: I think girls 14 years old are not mature enough to know about relationships, to be able to take the responsibility. And like this gentleman just said there, although the female consents, yes, there is pressure on that too.
JENNY BROCKIE: It's illegal, I hasten to point out. It's illegal in Australia to get married at 14. Yes, Naveen?
NAVEEN ELYASEH ALARAB: In regards to the age, I believe any girl who's 14, 13, 16, gets involved in a sexual relationship - a boyfriend/girlfriend - I believe they're ready to take a step further to marriage. If they really love their spouse, their partner.
JENNY BROCKIE: Naveen, I'm going to stop you there. I just want to get a reaction from here. Prashan?
PRASHAN THEVARAJAH: I don't quite agree with that. Girls, guys, 13, 14 - you can't say that you're feeling any emotion at that age. I think the way the media is portraying sex at this day - it's a lot more acceptable. And I think at 13 to 14, you're going to see a lot more people just going and having sex just for the fun of it, seeing what it's about, that kind of thing.
JENNY BROCKIE: I'm going to move on. Sabina, I want to ask you - what happened to you after you got married? Because you had a terrible experience, yes?
SABINA: Yep. Actually, mm, it started when he - when we get married, he came back to Australia after seven days of our marriage. He started to show his real colours - He wanted me not to make friends, even not to call my family in Bangladesh.
JENNY BROCKIE: And there was violence as well?
SABINA: Yeah... The very first time was - it was only the verbal abuse. But it start... Getting worse day by day, the physical abuse.
JENNY BROCKIE: What did you do? Did you have anywhere to go? Did you tell anyone what was happening?
SABINA: I didn't know anyone here, because most of them are his friends that I see once or twice with him. But I don't know anyone in Australia around me. And evian didn't contact with my family in Bangladesh.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why?
SABINA: He don't want to - before getting my job, he refused me to buy the calling card because I did not have any money with me.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you were really isolated here?
SABINA: Too much.
JENNY BROCKIE: Can you go back to Bangladesh or do you want to go back?
SABINA: I really don’t want to go back to Bangladesh because the society over there, they don’t get a separated or a divorced woman, they didn’t get on so well over there, it’s quite insulting, it’s quite insecure.
JENNY BROCKIE: You feel that you would be ostracized or pushed away?
SABINA: Exactly, even my family – if I get separated or divorced – maybe my family will not accept me like that.
JENNY BROCKIE: so are you still with him?
SABINA: No, I am separated, we are separated now. There was an incident last time, and we had to call the police. Now we are separated.
JENNY BROCKIE: Jennifer, I know the Federal Government is looking at laws around forced marriage. Could you just sort of tell us where that's up to, and what may or may not happen?
JENNIFER BURN: Forced marriage is an emerging problem in Australia. The challenge, for us, is to work out how to deal with it. The kinds of responses that we're looking at are legislative responses, and the Attorney-General has recently issued a proposed bill which would include an offence of forced marriage.
JENNY BROCKIE: That would be in Australia, though, not a forced marriage overseas?
JENNIFER BURN: It's actually really interesting, because there are some situations where there could be an offence committed under Australian law where the actual conduct takes place outside Australia.
JENNY BROCKIE: How do people feel about the idea of criminalising forced marriages, making it a crime? Matten?
MATTEN OLUMEE: Forced marriages? I'm all up for it. If it is forced - doesn't matter what age it is, it is not right. If you're young, old - you can't force anyone.
JENNY BROCKIE: What did you want to say?
FARID NASIRI: I'm against forced marriage. And the main point to make here is that no child will allow their parents to be imprisoned by the law. That's the main point and I think there should be more liberal ways into solving this issue by consulting with a psychologist, and that should be the first step. Because imprisoning the parents would be even more stressful.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK. Jennifer, you don't agree with that?
JENNIFER BURN: Look, I think the proposed offence of forced marriage would deal with the most grave criminal type of conduct. It's absolutely critical that forced marriage is dealt with holistically, and that involves a lot of consultation with communities, development of other resources, looking at whether we need to improve the measures under the Family Law Act so that there are more civil protections available.
MATTEN OLUMEE: Where we're bringing the law into it - I agree with what Farid said earlier on - is why do we have to bring legislation against the parents? These people get consent, they get married. After two years or three years –
JENNY BROCKIE: We're not talking about consent, though.
MATTEN OLUMEE: Let me finish what I'm saying. After one year or two years, all of a sudden this consented marriage turned around to be forced marriage after a long time, then the parents go to jail, or AVO get against them not to see their kids. She accepts it.
JENNY BROCKIE: That's not what we're talking about. That's not what we're talking about in that case. We're not talking about somebody who got married willingly and then turned around later and said "I changed my mind." We're talking about a 14-year-old girl who says she was forced to get married, had no choice...
MATTEN OLUMEE: Where you pick up from the conversation, there were Muslims, non-Muslims at the wedding, teachers at the wedding, people who knew of her being a 14-year-old in the wedding. How did these people sleep at night?
JENNY BROCKIE: How did her father sleep at night? Should he have been punished for that?
MATTEN OLUMEE: Let's leave the father aside. Let’s leave the father aside? Because the society, at the time, accepted that, right?
VIVI GERMANOS – KOUTSOUNADIS: You should not force a woman or anyone into something against their will.
MATTEN OLUMEE: I understand that. I totally agree with you.
VIVI GERMANOS – KOUTSOUNADIS: And use violence and force to do so. It is a criminal act! And people need to know that.
MATTEN OLUMEE: I am not supporting that. I am totally with you.
VIVI GERMANOS – KOUTSOUNADIS: You're breaching the human rights – Childcare, protection of children, you're breaching all the legislation in Australia. We can’t just discard them just because the father likes to marry the daughter off - I'm sorry, that's not on! That father and mother are criminals!
MATTEN OLUMEE: I've been raise would a single mother... But all these 200 people accepted that wedding. That's the question.. I agree, and I applaud you for that. But why wasn't the father jailed that night?
JENNY BROCKIE: What do people think about the idea of love, and the Western concept of love, in this whole discussion about arranged marriages? Let's put forced marriages out of it, let's just talk about arranged marriages. How do people feel about that?
SADIQ SABA: As far as the question of love is concerned, as we believe in the Western culture, we say "Love is the dawn of marriage, and marriage is the sunset of love."
JENNY BROCKIE: So you think it's preferable to the Western notion of love?
SADIQ SABA: No, I not do not negate it. But instead of going here and there for a compatible life partner, see, arranged marriage is a sign of a solution between the boys and girls because arranged marriage is not connecting a boy and a girl together - country, cultures, families, as well as societies together.
JENNY BROCKIE: And you married your cousin, didn't you?
SADIQ SABA: Yeah, I married my cousin, yes. And I'm having the happiest life in my life, because I have been married for 32 years and I have six kids.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, Daniel, we haven't heard from you for a long time?
DANIEL VIJAYAKUMAR: I think, as you were saying - it's all about everything else as well, you know? Family values, cultural values, the way you've been brought up, which ultimately, in the long term, will sustain your marriage. So I find - I hang out with a lot of people at uni and I just feel like, yeah, straightaway, there may be an attraction there, they may look amazing, but in the long-term, I see realistically, we're going to clash on this, this and this issue. And that's what arranged marriages get rid of.
JENNY BROCKIE: We have cultures with very different attitudes here.
WOMAN: I've read that in Western culture, after marriages or whatever, one tries to find reasons to separate. But in arranged marriages, one finds reasons to stick together.
GIRL: Is that not because you're stuck together and you're creating a false sense of love that you think is love, but maybe it's just because you're together?
WOMAN: We try to look at the positives, you know? There are negatives and there are positives in everybody's life. You take love marriage, you take arranged, or you take dating - whatever.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you're saying it's a different attitude to marriage?
WOMAN: Attitude, yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Preeti?
PREETI GOYAL: I think, in cultures where love marriage is prevalent, there's more choice and it's more acceptable, in a sense, to leave them. Which is why you get that biased divorce and separation rates. My feeling is that, growing up here, I view arranged marriage as an option to go for if I don't find love another way. With the freedom of choice, with the ability to consent, and with the freedom to meet them for as long as I want to meet them, ask of them whatever I want to ask of them.
JENNY BROCKIE: Sabina, what do you want to say to wrap up? What are your feelings about marriage now?
SABINA: Oh, of course not much good. Actually, I want to tell the parents who wanted to get their child an arranged marriage - just let them know each other, at least. Don't emotionally blackmail them. Just give them some space to show your love as well, and to show the children love towards the parents.
JENNY BROCKIE: Asha, final comment from you?
ASHA AGGARWALA: I think, personally, there's nothing wrong with arranged marriages. I had a failed one, but I still went ahead with my son. He had a semi-arranged marriage. Children should be given the freedom of choice. Yes, parents are mature, they can be there for guidance. But at the same time, I do not believe in forced marriages. I don't think that's the way it should be. If the children do find their partners, I think it needs to be looked at, and the parents need to be open about it.
JENNY BROCKIE: We're going to have to wrap up here, unfortunately, but we can continue this online, and will. Go to Insight's Twitter or Facebook page.