Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Child Brides in Australia

Islam has many cultural practices that stem back to the birth of Islam and the world’s most notorious prophet, Muhammad. So to understand why there is a culture of marrying children within Islam, we need to look at where, how and why this custom began. To do that, we need to start at the beginning and understand that everything a Muslim does, right down to the very food he eats, was set out for him 1400 years ago by Muhammad and what he perceived to be God’s word delivered directly to him. Muhammad wasn’t happy with the two religions available to him at the time, Christianity and Judaism, but thankfully (for him) an Angel named Gabriel visited him in a cave near Mecca to deliver revelations from God, conveniently he received messages justifying his blood thirsty and self-serving desires. He mixed these messages in with scriptures from the Bible and the Torah and wrote the Quran. To this very day, not one single word has been changed in the Quran. There has been subsequent books and laws written since then, being the Hadith’s which are an account of things he apparently said passed down from Muslim to Muslim (much like the childhood game of Chinese whispers) and there is Sharia Law that is the law written from these two books as a guideline for all Muslims to follow.

Muhammad, married his best friend Abu Bakr’s, six year old daughter Aisha to align the two clans through marriage making her his third wife. When Aisha was nine years old, she left the family home and joined his harem where the marriage was consummated and she became the favourite wife out of his long line of 12. While the rest of the world recognises the detrimental effects child marriages have on the psyche of a child, Islam hasn’t progressed with us. Why? Because Muslims must obey Muhammad’s word as the word of Allah (God). Allah, (Muhammad’s alter ego) gave women little value other than to be wives and mothers. The more Muslim children born, the further the spread of Muhammad’s ‘religion’, this was always his ultimate goal and governed everything he did. Child marriage is the legacy of age and gender based discrimination against women and is the basis of their unequal status in the world’s poorest nations. How can these girls escape this when Muslims first and only priority is to follow Muhammad’s word and goals?

Today in Saudi Arabia, the birth place of Islam, there is a civil code that prevents child marriages, but Sharia Law is higher than man made law (which in and of itself is strange as men and women wrote the Sharia from another mans’ word. But I digress). The Sharia permits children to marry for the ultimate goal of Islam because it gives women more years to have Muslim children. The civil code is overruled by the Sharia, effectively making no minimum age for a girl to marry. Saudi Arabia is ignoring the UN’s law that a marriage must be between people over the age of 18. Unicef reports that the top five nations in the world with highest observed child marriage rates — Niger (75%), Chad (72%), Mali (71%), Bangladesh (64%), Guinea (63%) — are Islamic majority countries. It should be noted here that Child Brides is not limited to Islam, there are some other customs (Sikh’s and Hindu’s for example) that sometimes continue with this practice, though today that is the exception rather than the rule as, they too have recognised the problems this causes to the girl and have mostly abolished the practice. This blog is about Islam’s culture of child brides as that is where my research has been.

In Islam, the decision to marry is made by a girl’s closest male relative, it is deemed acceptable when she reaches child bearing years. The mother has little or no say in the welfare of her children as they are seen to be the property of the father or the father’s family and the mother is just as voiceless as what her daughter will be, that is the culture. Muslim parents marry their daughters off for many reasons, here are just a few:

Family honour. If the girl was to be raped, become pregnant or have sex outside marriage she would bring ridicule to the family, girls are subjected to honour killings for these crimes. In a twisted sort of way I guess you could say, Muslims feel it is best for the child to marry young to avoid this fate.
Financial gain. The situation of the family is helped when their daughter is married. They no longer have the financial burden of raising her and the parents are paid a price by the groom for them to consent to him marrying their daughter. In some countries, the younger the bride, the higher the price she will fetch. This practice creates an economic incentive where girls are sought and married to the highest bidder. Child marriage is a way out of desperate economic conditions, or simply a source of income to the parents.
Societal pressure. In many Islamic countries, there is pressure from society for women to have a large number of children to further the spread of Islam, to achieve this she needs to start bearing children as early as possible.
A woman’s worth. Muslim men see the woman as having little worth. She is seen as being half as valuable as a man. Her only duty in this life is to be a wife and a mother. She has little need for progression and must forego her wishes and desires for Islam’s cause.

These girls are left with little choice in the matter, to show eagerness in marrying she is showing disrespect to her family. To show sadness, she is seen to be disrespectful to the intended family. If she shows neither of these and is silent, her silence is taken as consent. Little consideration is given to what she actually wants in her life, because her value is so low. How can one progress if there is no opportunity for education? Should she try to avoid this future, she will bring herself ridicule, disapproval, family shame, the threat of violence and sometimes death. 

So how do we help these girls when their entire existence is based around this practice? Forcing anyone to marry without their full and free consent is a human rights violation. This is madness and is justified by her culture. This is not about religion, it's about abuse, subjugation and exploitation of young and vulnerable women. Why are our women’s lib groups silent? For fear of offending? Are these girls not valuable enough in our society to educate ourselves on their plight? Stand up and help these girls or the current call for the world wide caliphate may see your daughter or granddaughter living under these conditions in the future! To stand by, to say and do nothing you are allowing this to continue, hurting these women and helping the culture that subjugates them to this fate.

Australian citizens aren’t immune to this practice, we have slap on the wrist prison terms for forced marriages with a maximum of 4 years jail or 7 years if the victim is a child. If the victim is taken out of the country to marry, the term is risen to 25 years. This is not stopping Muslims from continuing with this practice, it simply means they need to take it underground. 

Over the last two years, the National Children and Youth Law Centre has identified approximately 250 cases of child marriages in Australia. Dr Eman Sharobeem, manager of the Immigrant Women’s Health Service in Fairfield, NSW reports that there are at least 60 child brides in south-west Sydney alone. A Sydney newspaper has published figures showing there are 23 child brides in the Wollongong region, second only to Wyong on the Central Coast with 26.

Our laws are not stopping Muslims and neither is Australian customs because Muslims hold our man made laws in contempt. The Government is fully aware of the cases happening here in Australia and are trying to educate and encourage young women to speak out. Federal Justice Minister, Michael Keenan is quoted as saying "We're very keen to make sure that if somebody is to come across this type of crime that they know how to go about helping that person to report it to authorities so we can do something about it,". "We're making sure that we have materials out there to educate the community about what to look for, so these crimes can be reported and the appropriate authorities can prosecute them".

But Dr Eman Sharobeem said the strategy would not work because girls were too scared to implicate their families. "Forced marriage and child brides happen among the culturally and linguistically diverse communities, those communities will not go to the website and will not share glossy papers to see what's written about legislation in the country," she said. "I don't hope and wish to see parents behind bars, I already tried with many of them to talk about informing the authorities, and as soon as I put that on the table the girls actually turn their back and say 'we're not even going to have a conversation with you'." Instead Dr Sharobeem said the Government's new strategy needed to put more resources towards grassroots education campaigns and to teach girls how to speak to their families. "'Teach us how to talk to our parents, because our own mother wants to send us to a man we don't know', are some of the words I heard from these girls." 
The Victorian Immigrant Refugee Women’s Coalition (VIRWC) has designed an innovative new campaign for high school students called The Choice is Yours and has a website and volunteers dedicating their lives to helping these women.

As we can see from an expert in the field, it is rare for victims to come forward for fear of the consequences, if she comes forward she is subject to ostracism from the only family she has ever known and will be guilty of shedding light on her culture which is then a crime of apostasy. It is a federal criminal offense to force a marriage in Australia and there are soft imprisonment terms for parties found guilty. In Islam though, to be guilty of apostasy, the penalty is DEATH. The sentence is carried out by the families to redeem themselves in the eyes of Allah. Women’s help centres are used to dealing with women who are hiding from an abusive husband or boyfriend, but Muslim women often need to hide from their entire family making their situation much more complicated. If you were brought up to believe you were worthless, could you recognise the need to speak out about your entire family and culture? And if you did recognise the problem, would you stand up or would you be scared? Westerners who have little knowledge of Islam are scared to stand up because of the violence that happens in this religion of peace, Muslim girls live that violence, day in and day out.

Are our soft laws enough to stop this? Clearly not as there are many cases happening right now in Australia, not Pakistan, Australia! The Muslim man will never see his wife as anything other than his property. In Sharia the pair are married until he (and only he) utters the words “I divorce you”. Until he does, in Sharia law, the girl is still his property and he will bide his time in jail until he can come out and they can pick up where they left off. But what will become of the girl who reported him? With a Muslim’s penchant for violence, whether she reports the crime or not, her future does not look bright. Is it any wonder these girls often turn to suicide as their only option?

The following is a small percentage of girls who have come forward to speak about this practice happening behind closed Islamic doors in Australia. *Names are all changed or unknown.

Rania Farrah
Rania’s mother Margaret met her father in Australia, but the couple moved to Saudi Arabia soon after their marriage. According to Rania, it was a violent relationship, and she remembers that her dad “used to beat my mum. He never beat us, but he beat my mum all the time.”
When Rania was eight-years-old, Margaret and her five young children fled to Australia, leaving their father behind. The family’s life changed for the better. They lived with Margaret’s “true blue Aussie” family, as Rania described them in the interview, and for many years they only heard from her father occasionally by telephone. Rania Farrah was just like any other ordinary Australian teenage girl. Like most kids her age, her biggest concerns were trying to get away with not doing homework, and deciding where to go out with her friends on the weekend.
But when Rania was 13, her life changed. Her older brother said he would take her on a trip to Egypt for a holiday. After one week in Egypt however, Rania was taken to Jordan to see her father. Her father held her captive in Syria and horrifically beat and emotionally abused her. Rania spoke with her mother over the phone every three weeks, and begged her mother to bring her back to Australia. Each time she was told, “We can’t afford it” or “One more year.”
Her new family controlled every aspect of her life; When she was 17, she found out she was to marry her 30 year old, second cousin. Her passport was confiscated and she was told she would be living with her new husband. “We never spoke, ever. I’d never make eye contact with him. I just met him on family visits and served coffee and tea,” she says of her relationship with him. “I went along with it. I did all the things I needed to do. We had the engagement party, I got given the gold, the money to go buy all the clothes that newlywed women buy, and I did it all and put on the face and I didn’t feel anything, because by that stage I was already planning my escape.”
Through a young girl who lived next door, Rania was secretly given the British Embassy’s phone number. When she called them, she was told she would have to wait until she was 18 to make an escape. So she waited. And waited. And when she finally turned 18, she organised to meet an official in a safe location. Rania says that it was her “one and only” chance. “If I didn’t get out, I was going to kill myself that very day, because it would’ve been my entire life, just there,” she says. “I wasn’t going to do it. That wasn’t worth living for.”
Thankfully, she did make it out and came back to Australia. Rania told 60 Minutes that even once she made it back to Australia, she didn’t feel protected. Her family never asked her what had happened in Syria. She says, “It was never spoken of. No-one ever talked about it. No-one ever asked what happened. To this day they don’t know what happened.”
Troublingly, Rania’s father has since returned to Australia with his new family. She saw him once, and at that meeting she says he told her, “No western pig government is going to tell me how to raise my daughters. And if it comes to it, I’ll slit your mother’s throat and I’ll slit your sister’s throat and I’ll slit your throat.” Rania fears that he will come after her, and has taken out a restraining order against her father.
Rania is still visibly traumatised by what she has experienced. Still haunted, and still scared. But she has also decided to speak out, in the hopes that she might be able to save other young girls from the same fate that she had to endure. Rania’s advice for other girls, who may have been forced into marriage – or who know that they will be – is: “Run for your life. You’re in a country – if you are in Australia – you’re in a country that believes in women’s rights and your safety and freedom. So run. Cut them off. Your life will be the better for it.”

Ms Kreet’s story
Another case came before the family court. The girl (known as Ms Kreet) had just finished year 12 and had a boyfriend (known as “Mr U”) who lived in Australia. Ms Kreet’s parents told her she was to travel to their home country to marry Mr U there. But they deceived her and had another man in mind. The court heard that on arrival, Ms Kreet was introduced to the man her parents had secretly chosen to be her husband. Her father told Ms Kreet that if she did not acquiesce to the marriage, he would have her boyfriend’s sisters and mother kidnapped and raped. Ms Kreet consented and the marriage took place.
But when Ms Kreet returned to Australia, she withdrew a visa application for her husband and applied to the Family Court for an annulment. The court accepted that Ms Kreet believed that her father would carry out his threat and said that at the time of the marriage ceremony, Ms Kreet’s consent was not real because it had been obtained through duress. The court declared that the marriage was not a valid marriage and that the marriage was void. 

Ms Elia’s story 
Ms Elia made an application to the Federal Court of Australia for a parenting order on behalf of her six-year-old daughter. The evidence to the court was that Ms Elia was 14 when she underwent a “non-legally sanctioned marriage ceremony” with a man who was over the age of 18. The court found Ms Elia, at the time of the marriage, was legally and psychologically a child: “My mother pushed me to get married. She would say to me, words to the effect, ‘You will have your fun. Your dad is strict. You can come and go as you please. You’ve always wanted to go out to Jamberoo and Wonderland. You get to go to movies, have popcorn, lollies, ice-cream and chocolate. You get to have fun and live life. What you see of everyone having fun on the TV, this is what it is going to be like. You’re very, very lucky”.
Ms Elia asserted to the court she had told a teacher at her high school about her marriage; the court noted there had been a failure by the teacher to comply with legislation relating to mandatory notification of harm.
After her marriage, Ms Elia attempted to continue her education but after a year she reported that her husband burnt her homework and forced her to leave school. He would threaten her, “if you don’t drop out ... I’ll move so far away you won’t ever see people”. She was subjected to violence, including being kicked, punched, stamped on and thrown into walls.
In court, she gave evidence that she’d stopped speaking to her parents after her divorce. “My father has said to me, ‘So what if he raped you? So what if he bashed you?’ He has also said, ‘The only way you can come back to me is in a coffin to pray on you’.”

V’s story 
In 2010, the Department of Human Services (DHS) in Victoria received a report that “V”, then aged nearly 14, had ceased to attend school because she was about to be married. In response to the report, DHS interviewed V and applied to the Family Court for orders to prevent her from being taken out of Australia. V told the DHS child protection officer she was engaged to be married to her 17-year-old fiancé and she was going to travel overseas to meet him. V had not met her fiancé but had seen his photograph.
In an affidavit prepared after the interview, the DHS officer concluded: “It is my belief that it would not be in [the child’s] best interests to travel to be married as she is a child and does not appear to understand the consequences of marriage. Furthermore, she would be deprived of a school education, and she may be at risk of sexual exploitation and emotional harm”. The court accepted that permitting V to be taken overseas for marriage was contrary to her welfare and that “a 14-year-old child would not have the understanding of the significance of marriage which would be attributable to an adult”. The court issued an injunction preventing V’s removal from Australia prior to her eighteenth birthday. The court also retained V’s passport and prohibited her parents from applying for a new one while she was still a child.

Ms Kandal’s story 
Ms Kandal, a 17-year-old, secretly telephoned the Australian Federal Police (AFP) operations centre. She told the police her mother and other family members had arranged to take her outside Australia for marriage against her will. Ms Kandal was aware of the airport watch list (also known as the PACE Alert system) and asked the police that her name be placed on the list. She wanted minimal involvement from other authorities. The AFP, DHS and Legal Aid NSW assisted Ms Kandal. On hearing the application brought by the AFP on behalf of Ms Kandal, the court ordered that Ms Kandal’s name be placed on the airport watch list, at all Australian arrival and departure points, that her passport be surrendered to the court and that her parents be restrained from assaulting, threatening, harassing or intimidating her.

Ms Madley’s story 
Ms Madley was 16 years old when she asked Legal Aid NSW to help prevent her proposed marriage, which was planned to take place within two weeks in a country outside Australia to a person she had only met once. With the help of Legal Aid, Ms Madley made an application for ex parte orders to the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia. In her evidence she was insistent that she did not want to marry or travel overseas. She also gave evidence that she was fearful for her safety when her family became aware of the legal proceeding. The court commended Legal Aid NSW “for their prompt action and their efforts in accordance not only with their charter but with the spirit of the legislation [(the Family Law Act 1975)] to protect this young person’s rights.” In making his orders, Federal Magistrate Harman observed, “it is not the right of any parent to cause their child to be married against their will, whether in accordance with Australian law or otherwise” The court ordered her parents be restrained from removing, attempting or causing her removal from Australia. Ms Madley’s passport was surrendered to the court and she was placed on the airport watch list

Name Unknown
In February 2015, Police charged a 61-year-old Australian father with procuring a child under 14 for illegal sexual activity and being an accessory. Tragically, it is alleged that the father believes he has done nothing wrong and thought his daughter was deeply in love. Her new husband was twice her age. The illegal marriage took place at their home in the Hunter region of New South Wales. 
It was discovered that a 35 year old Pakistani Imam, Muhammad Riad Tasawar had allegedly married the 12-year-old girl to the 26-year-old man in the girls family home in the Hunter Region on January 12, 2015. Both the imam and the “husband” were charged, with solemnisation of a marriage by an unauthorised person and multiple counts of having sex with a child respectively. Muhammad Riaz Tasawar pleaded guilty at Parramatta Local Court before Magistrate Peter Mizzalski who gave him a mere $500 for an offense that carries up to six months jail.
Tasawar was sacked from the mosque which sponsored him on a religious leader visa for the past four years and is now being held at Villawood Immigration Detention Centre. He is likely to be deported. Tasawar is the first person in NSW to be charged with solemnisation of a marriage by an unauthorised person.
The “husband”, a Lebanese national who is facing 25 counts of sexual intercourse with a child, was granted bail on March 4, despite telling authorities that he was keen to see his wife again and believed he had done nothing wrong.

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