This week Insight looks at the grey area between arranged and forced marriages, and where Australian laws might clash with cultural traditions.
The Federal Government is considering laws to prevent forced marriages, after a number of cases of young Australian women being pressured to wed or forced to marry abroad.
Some cultural groups in Australia – among them Indian and Lebanese – are choosing to keep the tradition alive, and their children are happily allowing their spouses to be chosen for them. Some people, however, are agreeing to the marriages because of family pressure.
Other young Australians have “semi-arranged” marriages, negotiating their way between old traditions and the desire to find their own “love match”.
Asha Goyal had her marriage arranged when she was 20, during a trip home to India. She was married within two weeks. She says it was doomed from day one and she endured many years of unhappiness. Despite this, she used online matrimonial sites to help her son find his wife.
Daniel Vijayakumar is a student and part-time singer who is open to an arranged marriage. After his brother married a Sri Lankan girl chosen by the family, he wrote a satirical R&B song called the “The Arranged Marriage Song” to defend and celebrate the practice. He says people who go into an arranged marriage share the same value system and that includes no sex before marriage.
“Meriam” was 14 when her father arranged her marriage to a 29-year-old family friend in a religious ceremony in Australia. She was legally married at 19. Thirteen years later, she is still with her husband but says she should never have been forced to marry so young. Meriam says her teachers and principal knew about the marriage but didn’t help her.
Associate Professor Jennifer Burn is a lawyer and director of Anti-Slavery Australia. Operated through the University of Technology Sydney, the group’s focus is on tackling slavery and human trafficking. Jennifer says there needs to be criminal penalties for forcing someone into marriage.
Vivi Germanos-Koutsounadis is the Chairwoman of the Australian Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Alliance. As a young Greek migrant to Australia, Vivi’s own marriage was arranged. She says there are important cultural reasons for arranged marriages. She says issues surrounding arranged marriage should be handled in a way that does not chastise parents.
Matten Olumee is the father of three sons aged eight, six and three. He says when his children are old enough he will arrange their marriages. Matten has already had this conversation with his two elder sons. Matten says he will not allow his children to date before marriage. Matten is happily married to a woman chosen by his mother.
Tasneem Chopra is chair of the Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights. A psychologist and sociologist, she is concerned by the number of cases of teenage girls entering arranged marriages and sometimes forced marriages overseas. She understands why the Federal Government is trying to address the issue of forced marriage but thinks legislating against it isn’t the best way to tackle the problem.
Tuesday at 8.30pm on SBS ONE.