Recent reports reveal current instances of Child Marriage in Australia and the harmful effects it has on the developing psyche.
The reports, which were released two days ago, are on the backdrop of emerging video evidence of a man, Mohammed Shakir, marrying a 14 year old girl in a suburban Sydney Mosque. Shakir, 34, can be seen exchanging a $1480 gold necklace for the marriage of the young girl whilst the Mother and Imam look on, neutrally.
Further investigations by Plan International Australia have found that there is a shocking 14 million reported instances of child marriage each year – that is 39 000 a day. 69 reports of those 14 million have taken place in Australia this year, several of which were regarding children aged 10-13 years of age.
Although there are instances of child marriage among Muslim communities in Australia, it is overall a cross-cultural practice. The director of the Australian Muslim Women’s Centre for Human Rights, Joumanah El Matrah says that some Muslim communities have had cases of early and forced marriage, but in other Muslim communities it is completely unheard of.
“In Australia we have a broad range of nationalities and religions, and people who are not religious at all, who have forced their children to marry,” says Ms El Matrah.
A similar case occurred last year which involved a 13 year old Victorian school girl. The school that the girl attended became concerned after they saw an increase in her absences as well as change in her overall demeanour. They alerted Authorities and Anti-slavery Australia when the girl’s friends reported she had confided in them about her planned marriage to a man three times her age.
Karine Arwafa, a Melbournian woman and victim of child marriage can attest to the impacts that forced marriage can have on a child. Ms Atol was 14 when she was sent to live with relatives in Egypt by her struggling parents. Upon her arrival in Egypt it became apparent that an arrangement had been made between her parents and a man who was almost three times the age of Ms Arwafa- they would allow him to marry her in exchange for a dowry.
13 years on and Ms Arwafa explains that even though she was able to escape the marriage with the help of her next door neighbour who gave her the details to the Australian embassy, she is still stuck with the psychological effects today. Ms Arwafa was on the receiving end of extensive sexual and physical abuse which contributed to a long and hard battle with depression and feelings of hopelessness.
According to Melbourne clinical and forensic psychologist, Pam Copperwaite, mental health issues are prevalent among children who have been exposed to such violence and assault.
“ Children.. in fact any person that is a victim of sexual violence experiences lowered self esteem due to their internal trauma. They can see their worth as only being able to relate to others on a sexual level, and can experience feelings of helplessness as a result. This makes them at high risk of mental illness, “ says Ms Copperwaite.
Ms Arwafa along with other survivors of child marriage are part of a campaign by Plan International Australia, ‘Because I am a girl,’ which aims to provide more girls with access education in developing and developed countries as well as overall support for those who are at risk.