Real Life

Married at 13, a mum at 14 – it’s happening in Sydney

An Iraqi-born Sydney woman has revealed that child brides are not unusual in Sydney and little is being done to stop it.

We know that children are being forced into marriage overseas – but we don’t expect it to happening right here in Australia.

Bee al-Darraj went to al-Faisal High School in Auburn in Sydney’s western suburbs where she saw her friends and relatives being married off in their early teens, even as young as 12.

They went away overseas to get married and then came home with these older husbands, she has revealed in a story in The Australian.

She cites one case in which her 13-year-old friend was 13 when she got married and 14 when she gave birth in a public hospital. Her husband was 28, and the girl was still in school. “Nothing was done until he started to beat her, and then she was put in a safe house,” Ms al-Darraj said.

Ms al-Darraj said she knew of other girls at al-Faisal High School in Auburn who “were married, and they would come to school, a 15-year-old getting dropped off by her 30-year-old husband”.

Bee al-Darraj. PHOTO: Facebook
Bee al-Darraj. PHOTO: Facebook

In this story, she says how she contact the Australian Federal Police many times but was ignored.

The Australian says: NSW Family and Community Services Minister Brad Hazzard last month declared the problem of child marriage — involving girls being taken out of Australia to marry men they don’t know, or to whom they may be related — as barbaric and cruel, but also rife in certain communities. The AFP has confirmed it investigated 69 incidents of forced or underage marriage in the 2015-16 financial year, up from 33 the previous year, but there has been only a handful of successful prosecutions.

Ms al-Darraj herself was being forced into marriage at the age of 15. She said while her father was pro-education her mother was more old fashioned and had chosen a husband for her – so she left home.

“DOCS (the former Department of Community Services, now Department of Family Services) put me in a safe house with homeless kids who were doing drugs,” she said. She eventually found work as a hairdressing apprentice, and then in an antiques shop in the Blue Mountains, where she now lives. She has no contact with her parents.”

The AFP told The Australian they were unable to help the girls who Ms al-Darraj brought to their attention because they'd been married prior to 2013 when forced marriage was criminalised.

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