A generation of young Australian girls are being forced into illegal marriages, some younger than ten years old.
The stunning truth has been revealed in documents obtained by Seven News using Freedom of Information. They reveal dozens of children, most in the Sydney region, married to much older men with authorities relying on the community to alert them so they can intervene.
Last week in Melbourne, a video was played in court showing the wedding between a 34-year-old man and his 14-year-old bride. The Imam who allegedly married them, Ibrahim Omerdic, is charged over allegedly presiding over the ceremony and issuing an Islamic certificate and marriage.
It's alleged the girl knew the man for just a few days. 7 News understands the man allegedly paid for the underage girl by handing over a gold necklace in exchange for the bride.
It's also understood the girl's mother allegedly gave her blessing for the child to marry the man.
In some cultures and religions, children are considered mature enough to marry.
"It is deeply disturbing to think of little girls, pre-puberty, being considered for marriage and for people to be organising that marriage,’ said Pru Goward, the Family and Community Services Minister (NSW).
Using Freedom of Information, we asked the NSW Department of Family and Community Services how many reports of child marriage they received.
Between December 30, 2014 and January 31, 2017, FACS received 60 reports relating to 57 children.
Of those 34 children were aged between 16 to 17 years old, 12 were aged 14 to 15, Seven were 10 to 13, and four children were under the age of ten.
Almost all cases were in the greater Sydney region (51); there were single reports in the Hunter and Illawarra regions and two cases each in the Mid North Coast and Murrumbidgee regions.
"They can be things like migration benefit or financial gain, upholding family honour, they're some of the reasons that young people tell us,” said Laura Vidal, a social worker with The Freedom Project – part of the Salvation Army dedicated to intervening and helping children who may be forced in to marriage.
The number of cases being investigated by Federal Police doubled last year to 69.
One child welfare group, Plan International Australia, found 250 cases of underage marriage in Australia over a two year period. In truth, no-one can say how widespread the practice is. It was criminalised in 2013, meaning police cannot prosecute cases before then. Such unions are not legally registered and it’s believed most are kept hidden.
“They know that it is wrong, they know that it's unlawful and they hide it so it’s difficult to investigate but that's what we need the community to do for us,” said Minister Goward.
The penalty for forcing a child into marriage us up to 25 years prison.
“The long term impacts of people being forced into marriage can be quite serious  including forced or unwanted pregnancies, withdrawal from education,” Ms Vidal said.