Committee wants minimum age for Australia's Prospective Marriage visa increased to 18

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An Australian parliamentary inquiry has said that Prospective Marriage visa applicants under 18 years of age should be banned from traveling to Australia to get married. According to the inquiry, this would help protect minors from forced marriages and human trafficking.

Australia's Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee reported back to the senate on its inquiry into the Prospective Marriage visa program, which allows 17-year-olds to move to Australia and marry their Australian fiancées once they turn 18.

The committee recommended the minimum applicant age be increased to 18-years-old in order to minimise the risk of forced marriage and human trafficking. Their investigation revealed that 253 applications out of 39,100 made between 2006-2011 were from applicants under 18 years of age. Of those, 227 were granted, with one Thai applicant listing her fiancée in the 55-64 age bracket.

Half of Australian sponsors were more than eight years older than their partner and 11 were more than twice the age.

While the report found the program was not primarily used by older men to prey on younger women, it did say that greater protections would help stop younger applicants from becoming victims of forced marriage or human trafficking.

Currently, Australia's Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) does not store statistical information on the numbers of arranged marriages in their electronic database.

"It is not possible therefore to actually gauge how many visa holders actually entered into an arranged marriage after arrival in Australia," said the report.

Overall the committee found there was no need for complete reform of the Prospective Marriage visa program, but recommended that some parts be changed in order to better protect younger applicants.

Along with increasing the age limit, the committee recommended DIAC investigate the number of forced marriages in Australia and how victims may be helped. Also, new immigrants on Prospective Marriage visas should be told the definition of forced marriage and laws regarding family violence on arriving in Australia.

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