'Married at 15 to a man twice your age' - ads against under-age marriage target migrants

A campaign against child marriage
A campaign against child marriage

The New South Wales government is targeting the state's migrant communities through a new public-awareness campaign about the illegality of under-age forced marriage.

The New South Wales Government's "Child Not Bride" campaign features an advertisement with two smiling schoolgirls.

It asks the question, "What girl dreams of being married at 15 to a man twice her age that she has never met?"

It goes on to emphasise that "being forced to marriage under-age ruins a girl's future and is against the law in Australia."

The advertisement is being printed in ethnic newspapers and through digital media, and a radio advertisement is also being produced in community languages.

"We want to make sure that we get the message out there across the community that this is a completely abhorrent practice and illegal in NSW."

The National Children's and Youth Law Centre estimates there were around 250 cases of self-reported under-age marriage in Australia between 2011 and 2013.

New South Wales Communities Minister Victor Dominello said it is critical to get the message across to culturally diverse communities that under-age marriages are illegal.

"We want to make sure that we get the message out there across the community that this is a completely abhorrent practice and illegal in New South Wales", he said.

"There are some communities that need to be heavily engaged, and we'll be doing that through the campaign. And we'll be making sure that we liaise with Multicultural New South Wales, who will speak to the various community leaders and seek expert advice as to which communities should be specifically targeted."

Mr Dominello said members of the public who wish to report suspected under-age marriages can call a 24-hour helpline* staffed with interpreters.

He said the anonymous phone line should also help those being pressured into forced under-age marriages come forward and get support in community languages.

"We make sure that not only on the helpline is there support, in terms of interpreters, but, in the communication packages that we'll be sending out, they will be sensitive to the culturally and linguistically diverse communities that we have here in New South Wales", Mr Dominello said.

The new program has been welcomed by the country's largest migrant community group, the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia.

FECCA Women's Advisory Committee chairwoman Pallavi Sinha said the state program should complement a federal plan launched last year.

That plan also directed more resources into community awareness of the issue and strengthened federal-state cooperation in tackling suspected cases.

Ms Sinha said the success of the New South Wales plan will hinge on how effectively migrant communities are engaged at the local level.

"Raising awareness with them and building the capacity for anyone who is affected to be able to get help," Ms Sinha said.

"Sometimes, there may be certain communities who listen to multicultural radio stations or television or newspapers more than the mainstream, or maybe they relate to those particular forms of media better than others. So that's one way of communicating with them. But I must emphasise that it's very important to get them at a grassroots level as much as possible."

That is a view shared by Anti-Slavery Australia chief executive Jennifer Burn.

She welcomed the New South Wales government's intention to work closely with migrant community groups to combat under-age marriages.

"Working sensitively, working in a culturally appropriate way, is critical."

But Professor Burn said it would be critical to approach the work in a way that recognises each community is unique and a single approach will not work in every case.

"The key will be to work respectfully with those communities and to see what kind of initiatives can be developed within each of the communities, because patterns of child marriage and forced marriage are different in different communities, and the best way to respond might be different in different communities, too", Professor Burn said.

"So working sensitively, working in a culturally appropriate way, is critical."

The New South Wales Government's Child Not Bride campaign runs from February the 1st to March the 22nd.

Source: SBS