Monday, April 16th, 2012
Forced and servile marriage in Australia among migrant women and girls is a major emerging and alarming issue for the nation, according to research released today by Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand.

Hidden Exploitation: Women in forced labour, marriage and migration is the first Australian study to identify gaps and emerging issues in labour rights for women and girls, particularly those who are in transit, have been forced to migrate or who are trafficked.

The report identifies that, anecdotally, incidents of forced marriage in Australia are common and that it is on the increase but because it is ‘hidden’ in the community, little is known about the patterns of forced marriage and accurate data is hard to find.

Ms Penny Williams, Australia’s Global Ambassador for Women and Girls, launched the report today in Melbourne.

‘Forced marriage has no place in Australia. No one should be forced or intimated to enter marriage.’

Ms Williams said, ‘The work that organisations like Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand are doing to draw attention to forced marriage so we can develop appropriate community responses, is vital to combat these abuses of human rights.’

Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand commissioned Anti-Slavery Australia to prepare the scoping document to ensure that its work remains focused and relevant.

Dr Rhonda Cumberland, CEO of Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, said of the 24 recommendations, the organisation will concentrate initially on the six recommendations focusing on forced and servile marriage.

‘Australia needs to understand better the links between forced marriage, forced migration and forced labour,’ she said.

The report is timely one not only because of legislation in front of Federal Parliament but also as Chair of the Commonwealth Heads of Government, Australia has a unique role to play in advancing action on forced marriage over the next two years, to achieve concrete outcomes for women and girls globally.

While the organisation welcomes the Australian Government’s current drive to introduce a new criminal offence of forced marriage through the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Slavery, Slavery like Conditions and People Trafficking) Bill 2012, it says more must be done.

‘We believe that action is required across the continuum of prevention and intervention to support victims of forced and servile marriage and to deter such marriages practices in Australia,’ says Dr Cumberland.

‘We call on the Government to increase funding for services supporting victims of forced and servile marriage to demonstrate a strong commitment to human rights in Australia. Ultimately we believe that empowering women with the choice to pursue civil and criminal avenues increases reporting, and improves access to support for actual and potential victims,’ she said.

Associate Professor Jennifer Burn, Director of Anti-Slavery Australia at the University of Technology, Sydney said the research showed that ‘forced marriage is under researched and that the nature of forced marriage is often misunderstood’. ‘Forced marriage is best addressed by working with and engaging communities to develop robust protections for those in fear of or experiencing forced marriage. In framing an effective response, recognition of the many challenges facing victims is critical as is protecting their human rights through systems of support.

She added that forced marriage should be defined broadly, consistent with international obligations as, “any marriage entered into without the full and free consent of one or both of the parties to the marriage”.

Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand’s view is that the following principles should underpin proposed reform on forced and servile marriage:
• Need for community engagement and education
• Additional immigration and emigration safeguards to prevent forced and servile marriage
• Systemic service provider coordination and training
• Obligation to identify and support women and children who are victims of forced and servile marriages
• Civil penalties to empower and protect women and children
• Criminal penalties to deter and prosecute offenders.

About Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand
Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand is an organisation established by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, a religious order in the Catholic Church, to ensure the continuity and growth of the Good Shepherd mission in Australia and New Zealand after 150 years of history. Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, which is made up of Good Shepherd Sisters and mission partners, is the parent body for those organisations and projects that work as part of the Good Shepherd network around Australia and New Zealand.

More information is available from [email protected]

Fact sheets and an executive summary of the report is available from:

Contact Profile

[email protected]

P: 03 9818 8540


Forced marriage, Hidden Exploitation, Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand, Dr Rhonda Cumberland, Anti-Slavery Australia



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