NINE-year-olds are part of a “tsunami” of Sydney kids being taken overseas and forced to become child brides in an epidemic described by the Baird government as “rife”.

The Daily Telegraph can reveal at least 73 cases have been reported to the government-run child protection helpline since July 2014. The majority of tip-offs have come from worried school principals, teachers and counsellors.

Family and Community Services Minister Brad Hazzard described the practice as “barbaric and cruel”. He has called on the federal government to establish emergency housing immediately. Mr Hazzard also wants religious imams to educate their local communities to “recognise that forced marriage is completely unacceptable”.

The girls, most commonly aged 14-16, were at extreme risk of harm if discovered by their family. Some had become suicidal.

“They should talk to their communities and make sure they understand it’s completely unacceptable and criminal,” he said. “One youth home service — which has children from interstate, overseas and a number of children from Sydney — says this practice is rife.

“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.”

…A FACS case worker told The Daily Telegraph the girls, most commonly aged 14-16, were at extreme risk of harm if discovered by their family. Some had become suicidal.

…There are multiple cases of children who are being sent to countries such as Afghanistan, Lebanon and Pakistan during school holidays where they are married off to older men.

Immigrant women’s legal advocate Eman Sharobeem was forced to marry at 15 and says the problem won’t end any time soon. Picture: Ian Svegovic

…Another case involved a 10-year-old Indonesian girl who feared underage marriage as well as female genital mutilation, while a 12-year-old was told she would have to marry her father’s cousin when she turned 13.

New figures from the Australian Federal Police show a doubling in the number of cases the national agency is investigating. Federal police investigated 69 incidents of forced or underage marriage in the 2015-16 financial year, up from 33 the previous year.

Immigrant women’s legal advocate Eman Sharobeem, who was forced to marry her cousin in Egypt at 15, said the epidemic won’t “end any time soon”. She said the community must work with the government to make a difference. “Many consider it a practice of culture,” she said.

Laura Vidal, from the Salvation Army, recently told a child welfare conference forced child marriages were a big issue.

SHAME FILE

Some of the cases being reported by teachers, principals, counsellors, medical staff, police and social agencies in NSW between July 2014-April 2016:

* A nine-year-old disclosed she was returning to Afghanistan and the reporter had concerns she would be forced to marry

* A nine-year-old being forced by a mother to return to Pakistan to get married

* A 10-year-old Indonesian girl who feared underage marriage and female genital mutilation

* A 12-year-old girl told she would have to marry her father’s cousin when she turns 13

* A 13-year-old Indonesian girl’s parents were arranging marriage to a cousin

* A 14-year-old was travelling to Lebanon to marry an older male friend

* A 14-year old of Lebanese background promised to a cousin in Lebanon

* A 15-year old Lebanese girl forced by her parents to marry a cousin when she turns 18

* A 14-year old Pakistani girl told of sexual abuse and threats to marry

* A 14-year-old girl was self-harming because her father had arranged for her to be married

* A 16-year-old disclosed she married the father of her unborn child in an Islamic ceremony

* A 16-year-old Iraqi girl disclosed physical abuse by the father who had arranged a forced marriage

* A Turkish 16-year old disclosed her family was arranging for her to marry a cousin in Turkey

* A Lebanese 16-year-old to be married under sharia law

* A 17-year-old girl disclosed she was married under sharia law

-dailytelegraph.com.au

If you live in New Zealand and are in danger of forced marriage or female genital mutilation this organisation can help you.