Australia to make forced marriage illegal

SYDNEY, Nov 23, 2011 (AFP) - Australia on Wednesday announced plans to make forced marriage and "slavery-like" practices prevalent in the sex industry illegal.

Minister for the Status of Women Kate Ellis said the draft legislation was part of the country's response to combat people-trafficking and modern slavery.

"Every person has a right to choose whether to marry and who to marry," she said.

"These offences will reinforce that a marriage must be entered into with the full and free consent of both parties, and that forcing someone into marriage is an abuse of human rights."

Because there is no specific law against forced marriages that can be used to prosecute offenders in court, it is hard to gauge the extent of the practice in Australia, the government said.

But it was brought into the spotlight in September when it emerged that a 16-year-old girl had been placed on an airport watchlist after going to court to prevent her parents sending her to Lebanon for an arranged marriage.

The Federal Magistrates Court ruled that the parents of the teenager could not remove or attempt to remove their daughter from the country to marry the young man she had met only once.

In his judgement, Magistrate Joe Harman ordered the parents not to assault, threaten or intimidate the girl, saying the type of complaint she lodged was becoming increasingly common.

Home Affairs and Justice Minister Brendan O'Connor said the draft legislation was also targetted at people being trafficked into Australia to work, particularly in the sex industry.

"Information provided by law enforcement agencies shows that increasing numbers of people are being trafficked into a variety of industries, not just the sex industry," he said.

"It is vital that Australia has the most robust and effective framework possible to respond to slavery and people-trafficking, and I am confident that this proposed legislation will achieve that."

Under the proposed legislation, new offences of forced marriage and forced labour will be created, as well as laws to prosecute anyone who harbours or receives a victim of trafficking or slavery.

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