Alarm over 9yr old sent to be child bride in the Middle East
Child bride "epidemic": Dr Eman Sharobeem is concerned for the wellbeing of a nine-year-old girl sent to the Middle East. Photo: Sahlan Hayes
A women’s health service has fears a nine-year-old Sydney girl sent overseas may become a child bride.
The girl’s mother told the Immigrant Women’s Health Service that her daughter had flown out of Australia on Monday to travel to a Middle Eastern country.
Dr Eman Sharobeem, a doctor in psychology and the health service’s chief executive, said she feared for the girl’s safety and wellbeing.
While the girl’s mother did not specifically say her daughter would be involved in an arranged marriage, Dr Sharobeem feared the girl would become a child bride.
Dr Sharobeem said health service workers had become suspicious when the girl told them several days ago that she was going overseas and "wasn’t coming back".
"She said, ‘I’m going to go to my country and I’m going to stay there, I’m not going to come back to school. I hate school’," Dr Sharobeem said.
"The worker was trying to talk to her about schooling and how it’s important for her life, and she said, ‘No, my parents told me it’s better to go there and stay there and I’m going to be happier there.’
"In cases like this, many girls disappear from the radar and we don’t know anything about them, and then we are surprised with them coming back married or already pregnant."
Dr Sharobeem said staff immediately went to the girl’s home to speak to her family. The girl’s mother spoke limited English, but suggested her daughter would return to Australia in the near future.
"We tried to have another conversation with the girl, and she actually disappeared," Dr Sharobeem said.
"A colleague went there and she was told that she [the girl] already was sent overseas. Basically we were not able to have a conversation with her after the first suspected comments were made by the girl.
"I have fears for her safety. I have fears for her wellbeing. If the suspicion came and we didn’t attend to it, then it’s our fault."
Dr Sharobeem said girls often approached the Immigrant Women’s Health Service and asked for help to negotiate with their parents.
"Some others just go along with what the parents want and accept it," Dr Sharobeem said.
Dr Sharobeem said the youngest child she had encountered being sent away for an arranged marriage was 14 years old.
More needed to be done to educate at-risk communities, she said.
"Addressing this epidemic within the culturally and linguistically diverse communities doesn’t happen because the government is creating a website or creating glossy brochures. This is not the way to deal with this epidemic," she said.
"We really need to talk sense, we really need to address these communities in a culturally appropriate manner and we need to tailor our education to these girls. It’s a continuous battle and it’s not a quick fix by another brochure."
In October, Fairfax Media reported that Australian Federal Police were investigating a record number of human trafficking cases in Australia involving sex slavery, forced marriages and child brides.
In particular, the AFP revealed they were uncovering more cases of trafficking that were related to forced marriages. Police had more than 20 active investigations into alleged forced marriages, with 18 cases involving females aged under 18.