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Freedom Partnership's Laura Vidal earns Churchill Fellowship

Freedom Partnership's Laura Vidal earns Churchill Fellowship

9 December 2016

Laura Vidal has been awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship.

By Esther Pinn

Salvation Army Freedom Partnership National Projects Coordinator, Laura Vidal, has been awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship to develop policies, practices and strategies to help end early and forced marriage in Australia.

Laura is one of 106 Australians who have been awarded a Churchill Fellowship. Through the fellowship funds, Laura will have the opportunity to visit countries such as the United States, Kenya, Canada, Sri Lanka, Denmark and the United Kingdom to research these nations’ response to early and forced marriage.

The Freedom Partnership, launched in 2014, is The Salvation Army’s national initiative to end modern-day slavery practices in Australia. 

“Early and forced marriage is an issue in Australia that communities and policy-makers are faced with, and there is a lot to learn from others with advanced practice in the field,” Laura said.

“My Churchill Fellowship will provide me an opportunity to develop nuance and holistic responses, while building international networks to benefit and uphold the rights of individuals at risk.”

Under Australia’s current policy, individuals who disclose a risk of early and forced marriage or experience it first-hand must engage with law enforcement to access government support programs.

“The size and scale of early and forced marriage in Australia has significantly increased since it was criminalised in 2013,” explained Laura. “Criminalising the practice to prevent it is only one part of a complete response, but a great deal more work needs to be done, particularly for 15 to 18-year-olds, who are most commonly affected.”

Laura’s fellowship will provide her with opportunities to find other solutions to assist individuals who are faced with these traumatic experiences.

“Through this fellowship I [will] seek to understand alternative models and approaches. I am particularly interested in early intervention programs that work towards ending early and forced marriage,” she said.

“I will bring back with me recommendations to help enhance policy and practice, strategies for community education, and knowledge about how to best work with affected communities to advance their human rights.”

While early and forced marriage is a daunting topic to address, Laura said she feels honoured to be given the opportunity to help tackle the issue.

“It is an incredible privilege to become a Churchill Fellow and I am grateful to the Churchill Trust. I know this is a complex issue, and there is no simple solution, but for the Trust to recognise the importance of Australia enhancing its approach, is just outstanding.”

For further information about The Salvation Army’s Freedom Partnership go to endslavery.salvos.org.au.

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