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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 August 2005, 07:02 GMT 08:02 UK
Australia acts on forced marriage
By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Australian Justice and Customs minister Chris Ellison, 05 July 2005
Mr Ellison says the practice contravenes international law
Australia has brought in tough laws that could see people who traffic young girls overseas for forced marriages jailed for up to 25 years.

The Justice Minister, Chris Ellison, said the practice was tantamount to sexual trafficking and would be an offence under the new legislation.

Officials have confirmed a dozen girls, all aged under 18, have approached the Australian embassy in Beirut for help.

They had been sent against their wishes to Lebanon.

Australia has said the new laws will help to combat the trade in young brides.

A 14-year-old Australian girl said she was promised a holiday in Lebanon by her father, but was forced to marry an older man who imprisoned her in his home.

Officials in Canberra have said this is not an isolated case.

They believe that some Muslim parents have sent their teenage daughters overseas as a way of protecting them from promiscuity and Western influences at home in Australia.

Practise 'rare'

The Justice Minister, Chris Ellison, says forcing children into marriage in foreign countries will not be tolerated.

"This is an outrageous activity, one we won't tolerate and we're intent on stamping out. It is an offence to traffic a young person, a juvenile, overseas for sexual servitude, or indeed bondage, and a forced marriage could well constitute that sort of behaviour," he said.

Muslim organisations in Australia have also condemned sending teenagers abroad for marriage.

They have insisted that while it may have been commonplace a decade ago, it was now rare.

A senior Muslim cleric in Sydney said he considered the practice to be "against Islam".

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