Sydney – A 14-YEAR-OLD girl was saved at the last minute from an arranged marriage after she and her uncle were stopped from boarding a flight to Lebanon.
The teenager was intercepted at Sydney airport on Friday afternoon after a joint investigation response team learned she was being taken overseas to wed.
After several hours of questioning the pair were released but not allowed to leave the country, a spokeswoman for Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison said.
It is understood the girl had been known to both to State and federal authorities, which place children at risk on an airport watch list.
Authorities have been on high alert for cases of arranged marriages in the wake of Islamic State extremists launching a social media recruitment campaign to lure young jihadi brides to wed terrorists.
There is no suggestion this incident was ISIS-related.
“The government can confirm that an adult male and a female minor were prevented from boarding a flight at Sydney International Airport,” the spokeswoman said. “The prevention from boarding was not counter-terror related.
“After questioning by Government authorities, both were allowed to depart the airport.
“For privacy reasons, no further details can be provided.”
Dr Eman Sharobeem from the Immigrant Women’s Health Service last week warned ISIS’s public appeal for wives could leave Australian girls vulnerable to being dispatched overseas against their wishes.
The interception came after NSW Minister for Women Pru Goward urged the Commonwealth to play a greater role in stamping out the practice.
Cases of under-age marriage — whether or not the marriage has actually taken place — are dealt with by both the NSW Family and Community Services Department and police.
A FACS spokeswoman said it relied on information from the community to report children at risk.
“Legislation does not allow Family and Community Services to discuss the details of any cases that involve child protection matters,” she said.
“Regardless of whether or not a marriage has purportedly taken place, sexual relations with an underage person is a crime and will be dealt with as such by both FACS and NSW Police.”
Ms Goward, who last year launched an investigation into the practice, wrote to Mr Morrison and other relevant senior ministers in relation to the case of a 12-year-old girl allegedly being married to a 26-year-old overseas student.
The alleged marriage was performed by an Imam.
“It is our understanding that underage forced marriages can also be detected during immigration processes, and we seek information about how Department of Immigration and Border Protection employees are currently informed about identifying and responding to underage forced marriages,” the letter said. “Do you provide any targeted information to new arrivals outlining the penalties associated with underage forced marriage and related support services?”
The Sunday Telegraph revealed last year of how girls as young as 14 were being forced to go overseas to marry older men, with parents luring them on planes under the guise of a “holiday”.
Another 14-year-old avoided being smuggled out of the country by her parents to be wed after pleading with her school counsellor to intervene.
In a separate case in June, 2012, a 14-year-old Iraqi girl returned to Australia pregnant.
Ms Goward, who sought co-operation from her Federal counterparts in stamping out arranged marriages, said it was up to everyone to put a stop to what she described as an “abhorrent practice” by reporting known cases to authorities.
“Every young girl in Australia should have the opportunity to make her own choices about her future, and underage marriage is completely unacceptable,” she said.
“Girls should have the right to a childhood free from abuse, or a marriage imposed upon them.
“It doesn’t matter if the arrangement is religious or cultural, if the law in this state says it is illegal, parents and the community need to accept that and abide by it.”
It is understood Ms Goward is set to launch an awareness campaign with Communities Minister Victor Dominello to encourage communities to become more involved in stamping out the practice.
Daily Telegraph, AU