Australia

Labor vows crackdown on forced marriage if elected

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The federal opposition has released a plan to stop forced marriages with new court protection orders.

Federal Labor has promised to crack down on forced marriages to protect hundreds of young Australians from sex abuse.

If Labor wins the next election, new forced marriage protection orders would be introduced to stop young people being forced into marriage, taken overseas or removed from school.

The Australian Federal Police have received 232 referrals relating to forced marriage since 2013.

But there have been no convictions.

The opposition's justice spokeswoman Claire O'Neil told SBS News under the existing regime, girls as young as 10 had to cooperate with federal police investigations.

She said in many cases vulnerable young people had to testify against their parents - possibly sending them to jail - to get support.

"The system that tries to protect these victims today is fundamentally broken. It's a system that is not preventing forced marriage from occurring. It is a system that is not bringing anyone to justice," she said.

"We've never had a successful prosecution under our forced marriage laws federally and it's a system that, because of the way these support structures work, is actually preventing victims from coming forward."

More support would be available for victims who will no longer have to cooperate with police to get government assistance.

The Salvation Army's Jenny Stanger welcomed Labor's announcement, saying a forced marriage unit within government will help streamline support services.

"There really aren't a lot of places that they (victims) can go and be supported through specialised support over the long term to re-establish their life."

She said young women are often tricked into marriage through the false pretenses of holidays. "We really started to see more... of these young people at risk of being taken overseas perhaps on a family holiday ...being lured by a false story to go overseas and be married."

Good Shepherd's Laura Vidal said Australia was no exception from the global problem of underage and forced marriage.

"What we know is really just the tip of the iceberg, it's an issue that's incredibly under-reported. [It's] something that's very hard to collect information about because the people who are most at risk are the most afraid of coming forward."

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