Louise Hall, Sydney Morning Herald, September 30, 2011
A court has placed a 16-year-old girl on the airport watch list to prevent an arranged marriage taking place in Lebanon.
The girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, applied to the Federal Magistrates Court for an order to restrain her parents from taking her out of Australia to marry a man she had met only once.
The girl, given the pseudonym Ms Madley by the court, approached the Legal Aid Commission after her parents organised the wedding despite her telling them that she did not want to go to Lebanon and did not want to marry the man.
In a judgment delivered at Parramatta in April, but published this week, the federal magistrate Joe Harman granted the ex parte application and placed Ms Madley on the PACE Alert system at all points of arrival and departure to prevent her parents spiriting her out of the country before her passport was surrendered or cancelled.
Mr Harman praised the girl’s “act of great bravery” in using the legal system to challenge her parents’ authority.
Ms Madley was fearful of her mother’s reaction to her application, he said, and he ordered her mother and father not to assault, harass, threaten or intimidate her, or question her about the proceedings.
“Her actions in approaching the Legal Aid Commission, let alone this court, might be perceived as disrespectful of her parents and disobedient of their will,” he said.
Although legally a minor, the girl had displayed maturity not only by taking action to protect herself from an arranged marriage, but deciding to challenge part of the Lebanese Islamic culture which she was brought up in.
“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,” he said.
He said there was a psychological risk to Ms Madley if he did not make orders preventing her being forced into a marriage she did not want, which he described as “a principle that is contrary to all our legal processes [held] dear and which would indeed, under Australian law, render the marriage void, as it is absent genuine consent.”
However, he said he was not criticising any culture that engaged in arranged marriages.