'Tsunami' of Australian girls as young as nine married off abroad in forced wedding epidemic

A "tsunami" of Australian children are being sent abroad to wed, with teachers and carers reporting scores of young girls in New South Wales being forced into marriage.

The Daily Telegraph reports girls as young as nine are being sent to countries like Afghanistan, Lebanon and Indonesia for child weddings, which are illegal in Australia.

At least 73 cases have been reported to the government's child protection helpline since midway through 2014, the paper says, with most reports coming from concerned teachers, principals and counsellors.

Figures from the Australian Federal Police showed twice as many forced or underage marriage cases in 2015-16, with 69 incidents under investigation, up 33 from the year before.

NSW Minister for Family & Community Services Brad Hazzard says Australian girls are being sent overseas in a 'tsunami' of forced marriages. Photo: AAP

In one case, a 10-year old Indonesian girl feared she would be forced into an underage wedding. She also feared she would be the victim of genital mutilation.

A nine year old reported she would be taken to Afganistan to marry. Others were told they would be forced to marry cousins of their parents when they turned 13.

One teenager reportedly began harming herself when she found out her father had planned an arranged marriage.

The practice of forced underage marriage is 'rife', according to the NSW Minister for Family and Community Services, Brad Hazzard.

He urged imams to take leading roles in educating their communities about the harm of the 'barbaric and cruel' practice.

“They should talk to their communities and make sure they understand it’s completely unacceptable and criminal,” Mr Hazzard told News Corp.

“One youth home service — which has children from interstate, overseas and a number of children from Sydney — says this practice is rife," he said.

“They told me they could fill their 65 beds with children who are escaping forced marriage. We have to get something done — it’s a tsunami of children out there seeking help.”

Mr Hazzard said a national approach was needed to tackle the issue but it would need to be funded first.

Rahima (L), 18, looks out the window of her room with another battered woman at a women's shelter October 8, 2010 in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Rahima, from Maydan Wardak, was a child bride, forced to marry at age 11. Until women's shelters were started, something that was unknown here before 2003, a woman in an abusive marriage usually had no one to go to for protection. Photo: Getty Images

Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison said he was sickened to hear so many children had been affected.

He urged anyone with information on child marriages to contact authorities.

Those with direct experience of child marriage, such as immigrant women's legal advocate Eman Sharobeem, told the paper many considered child marriage a cultural practice and that she did not expect the epidemic to "end any time soon".

Ms Sharobeem was force to marry her cousin in Egypt when she was 15.