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Teachers, nurses and marriage celebrants could save hundreds of women from forced marriages, religious body says

Forced to marry: “By working closely with the AFP and other key organisations, we can take a more holistic approach to the issue and ensure that victims of forced marriage are kept safe, and that laws and policies are developed to protect them.”

TEACHERS, nurses and other healthcare professionals are among those well placed to save hundreds of young women in Australia in danger of being forced into marriage each year, and resource tools are being launched this week to help them.

Australian Catholic Religious Against Trafficking in Humans (ACRATH) is holding a Zoom launch on Thursday (August 27) of a suite of new and revised resources for its battle against forced marriage.

A highlight of the launch will be the release of the 35-minute 2020 ACRATH Forced Marriage Video Presentation for educators, healthcare professionals and frontline responders including child-protection workers.

That will be followed by a Q&A session involving a representative of the Australian Federal Police, who deal with cases of forced marriage.

During the 2019/20 financial year, the AFP received 92 reports of forced marriage, with just over half of these relating to victims under the age of 18 years.

Seventy per cent of the reports alleged that victims were taken offshore or the intent was for them to travel offshore for the purpose of forced marriage.

The most vulnerable group seen by the AFP during that time was young females between the ages of 15 and 19 years.

Liz Payne, who developed the resources on dealing with forced marriage, spent more than five years with ACRATH building networks across Australia with her ACRATH colleagues, educating Australian secondary school teachers and frontline workers, and developing resources.

She has brought all her knowledge and collaborations together in the free-to-access 2020 ACRATH Recorded Forced Marriage Video Presentation.

The video has been developed for awareness-raising, education and training.

It outlines appropriate support for those in, or at risk of, forced marriage and for forced-marriage survivors.

“Importantly, the video also provides a consistent set of safe referral pathways,” ACRATH said.

“The forced-marriage video explores the complexities of forced marriage, the impact on a victim of forced marriage, the extent of the problem in Australia and globally, and referral pathways for victims and survivors.

“It is a compelling tool for those working to combat forced marriage, and provides disturbing information about forced marriage in Australia.”

Supporting resources developed specifically for educators, marriage celebrants and clergy, midwives, nurses and other healthcare professionals, and for frontline professionals, including child-protection workers, will accompany the video presentation.

Ms Payne said it was important for people working in those areas to know the right referral pathways for a person who disclosed a forced marriage or an imminent forced marriage.

“Without knowing the correct way to respond to someone, that person can be left very vulnerable and their safety jeopardised,” she said.

“If it’s on your radar, you’re more likely to be able to identify a case if you notice the indicators.

“So if you know what to look for then certainly you’re much more in the position to be able to help a victim to get the supports that are required for them.”

Ms Payne said the resources provided training “on what are the identifying behaviours – the indicators; what to do if you get a report (of a forced marriage or someone in danger of a forced marriage); what are the referral pathways; and who are the support agencies”.

“We know that even though the AFP was investigating almost 100 cases last year, there are so many more that will never be reported because of fear of retribution, or of the concern that the victim has in relation to the shame that will be brought upon the family within their community,” she said.

“In fact, the Institute of Criminology estimates that for every victim of human trafficking and modern slavery detected in Australia, there are another four that go undetected.

“As forced marriage is recognised under Australian law as a slavery-like practice, these statistics are sobering.”

Ms Payne said the past five years had seen great collaboration between agencies and organisations such as the AFP and ACRATH, Red Cross and Anti-Slavery Australia.

“By working closely with the AFP and other key organisations, we can take a more holistic approach to the issue and ensure that victims of forced marriage are kept safe, and that laws and policies are developed to protect them,” she said.

Ms Payne said the development of the video and supporting material was prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said requests for training for child-protection workers could not be delivered face-to-face in some states, but an online resource could be used.

The ACRATH forced-marriage presentation is not recommended for use with school-aged students; it has specifically been developed for workplace professionals.

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