SYDNEY - Australia is bringing in new laws to ban forced marriages and labor trafficking. The government says the measures will help combat “slavery-like” practices. People found guilty of forcing others to marry will face up to seven years' jail and up to 12 years in prison for forced labor.
Forced marriage has been called Australia’s guilty secret. There are no official figures, but the government firmly believes the practice is common enough to warrant new legislation. It would broaden the legal definition of slavery to include those who coerce people into marriage.
The laws will apply both to marriages taking place within Australia and those involving its citizens in other countries. However, some Islamic groups worry that the legislation could be a subtle way to denigrate and marginalize the Muslim community. Islamic leaders in Australia stress that this type of coercion is not in accordance with Islamic
“It will be a part of the Crimes Act that deals with trafficking of people, sexual offences and others. It's a serious matter. It will be treated as a serious crime," said Australian Attorney General Nicola Roxon explaining why tough legislation is needed. "And, people should understand that in Australia marriage is between consenting adults and that consent must be real.”
Existing slavery laws mainly protect Asian and Eastern European women from being brought to Australia to work as sex slaves in brothels.
There will also be a new offense of forced labor to address a growing number of mostly foreign men and women who are exploited in manufacturing, agriculture and as domestic servants.
Organ trafficking would also be punishable by a 25-year prison sentence under the legislation, while forced labor would carry a 12-year prison term. Using coercion, force or deception to persuade someone to marry would be punishable by a seven-year term.
The Australian government says that slavery and people trafficking are “diabolical practices."