Teenagers put on airport watch lists to stop arranged marriages.

Girls as young as 14 are being forced to go overseas to marry older men and have their children. Parents tell their daughters they are being taken on holiday only for them to end up in arranged marriages.

One desperate teenager has been placed on an airport watchlist to stop parents smuggling her out of the country after she pleaded with her school counsellor for help. The 14-year-old told officials she was convinced her parents intended to marry her off to an older man. Another case in June last year involved a 14-year-old Iraqi girl who came back from overseas pregnant, but later miscarried. In some instances the marriages are used as a vehicle to allow men from overseas to come into Australia.

Women’s Minister Pru Goward has ordered an investigation into cases of forced marriage following a rising number of complaints being reported to school counsellors and community leaders.

Dr Eman Sharobeem, Director of the Immigrant Women’s Health Service, said she handled 15 cases of forced marriages involving teenagers in the past two years. “I have been receiving many inquiries, recently from school counsellors, about cases of young girls who have been coming forward saying they have been forced into a relationship or risk being sent overseas for the marriage to take place,” Dr Sharobeem said.

“It’s now visual – girls are coming forward saying, `help me, save me’. We did not have this before.” Dr Sharobeem said girls are often punished for confiding in anyone.

Dr Sharobeem, also sits on the NSW Domestic and Family Violence Council, said: “Every party is happy until the domestic violence starts, when the pressure starts on her body to bear children at a young age and many cases end up in divorce.”

A senior NSW government official said instances of children going absent from schools only to return as married women had been occurring for years. Ms Goward confirmed she had ordered an investigation into the matter, saying it was also possible that actual instances of forced marriages may be under-reported.

“I have given an instruction to investigate any suggestion forced marriages of Australian girls, either here or overseas, are on the increase,” Ms Goward said. “I am concerned after all the progress this country has made on gender equality that this sort of oppression of young girls could still be occurring. “My Department is aware of only a very small number of cases in the past five years. “It has been suggested to me that these cases may be under-reported and I think it’s very important everyone in the community understands their obligation to let the authorities know when they suspect a child might be at risk.”

One case presently being monitored by the Department of Families and Community Services came to their attention last year in relation to a forced marriage involving a teenager. The teenager was at risk of being married off several years ago and serious concerns are now being raised for the woman’s younger siblings. Reporting of forced marriages to authorities remains extremely low.

Dr Sharobeem said most young girls are afraid and confused, and are often punished severely for confiding in anyone about the issue. A school counsellor said the issue was well-known within schools in Sydney’s south west. “I’ve worked with one girl who was 17 and in DOCS care and they put a stop on her passport,” the counsellor said, referring to a case several years ago. “A lot of this happens outside the school, so unless they go to a counsellor or teacher they trust, we wouldn’t necessarily find out about them.”

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