A male Muslim refugee has become the first individual to be sentenced to prison in Australia since forced marriages were criminalized in 2013.
The unidentified man, aged in his 30s, pleaded guilty to marrying a 14-year-old school girl nearly one year ago. He married the young girl at the suggestion of her mother after he became close with the family.
According to Herald Sun, the man paid a dowry of $1,480. While the marriage lasted only five days, the child bride was instructed by her family to obey her husband.
"It is clear you knew what you were doing was wrong"
While the Judge Lisa Hannan recognized the struggle the man faced assimilating into Australian culture, she pointed to numerous warnings he had received prior to the marriage.
The man had been warned against marrying the young girl by police and officials from the Department of Health and Human Services, Hannan said.
“It is clear you knew what you were doing was wrong. You knew you were contravening the law of this country.
To say you come for a culture permissive of child marriage carries no weight. We have one set of laws for those who choose to live in our community," she said.
Hannan sentenced the man to 18 months in prison but ordered his release on a $2,000 good behavior bond after he serves just 12 months. Since the man has already spent nearly one year in detention, he will be released within two weeks and will be transferred to the custody of immigration officials.
Australian Muslims condemned the marriage
Australian Muslims were quick to criticize the marriage.
“It is true that marriage at a younger age is permitted in other countries and cultures, but this is not a justification for marriage below the legal age or child marriages here in Australia," the Islamic Council of Victoria said in a statement.
The Victorian Board of Imams also strongly criticized the man's actions and the wedding.
"As Australian Muslims, we are required to observe and respect the laws of Australia," the imams said in a statement.
Child marriage is a major global problem
Child marriage is a problem in countries around the world, including the United States. According to the World Economic Forum, 117 countries around the world allow child marriages, either because there is no age specification or it is allowed under certain circumstances.
Globally, UNICEF claims 39,000 child marriages occur daily. While one in three girls in the developing world are forced into marriage before the age of 18.
In recently released global slavery statistics forced marriage was included for the first time showing ‘money and debt’ to be at the heart of the exploitation. The figures, from the UN’s International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Walk Free Foundation revealed that 15.4 million people were forced into marriage last year. Children account for 10 million of the overall 40.3m total, while women and girls accounted for 71% or 29 million of all modern slavery victims in 2016.
As the problem persists globally, individuals and organizations have been fighting against the practice in the Arab world.
Members of Saudi Arabia's Shura Council sent a letter to the Justice Ministry, demanding that marriage for girls under 15 years of age be banned back in July.
Lebanese NGO KAFA has long been fighting for change, launching campaign after campaign in an effort to amend Article 9 of the Lebanese Constitution, which gives religious authorities the freedom to impose their own laws on various issues including marriage, divorce, and child custody.