The Marriage Act specifies that a person is of marriageable age in Australia if the person has attained the age of 18 years. There are limited circumstances in which minors who are 16 years of age and over can apply to the Court for an order authorising him or her to marry a particular person despite the fact that the applicant has not attained the age of 18 years.
In a somewhat unusual case, a 16 year old girl has applied to the Federal Magistrates Court for orders restraining her parents from taking her out of Australia to Lebanon, and effectively preventing an arranged marriage.
The Court found that there was a psychological risk to the child if orders were not made preventing her being forced into a marriage she did not want. The Court further found that the marriage under Australian law would be void due to lack of consent.
The child’s name has been placed on the airport watch list, so the child will be unable to leave Australia.
Federal Magistrate Harman who presided over this case, was of the view that ‘‘It is not the right of any parent to cause their child to be married against their will, whether in accordance with the Australian law or otherwise,”
Some may view this decision as another way the Court can protect children from psychological and other harm. On the other hand, it raises questions as to whether the Court has gone too far and was in effect making decisions impacting on people’s freedom of religion.
It will be interesting to see whether this decision will open the floodgates for other minors who are being forced into arranged marriages against their will, and whether other members of the Judiciary will take the same approach as Harman FM.