Child safety campaigners have branded as "shocking" the news that hundreds of "prospective spouse visas" have been granted to 17-year-old girls under the sponsorship of much older men in Australia over the past five years.
Australian Department of Immigration figures just out show that more than 200 17-year-olds were granted prospective spouse visas, while hundreds more of the visas were granted to 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds.
Most of the teenagers were from Middle Eastern or Southeast Asian countries, News.com reports.
One 17-year-old from Thailand was brought out by a 57-year-old man, and a 17-year-old Iraqi girl was sponsored by a 50-year-old.
More than 100 17-year-olds from Lebanon were granted the visas after being sponsored by men aged 19 to 37.
Among the horror stories (and there weren't too many fairytales mentioned in the reports) was that of one girl forced to seek a protection visa when her prospective spouse turned out to be "a violent drunk who kept his previous wife and children in an adjoining house."
"She will be slaughter and killed," the girl's family wrote in a letter, News reports. "By God, I will kill you at the airport and I will bury you in the grave. O you dog."
Now for the balance.
ABC News quotes Maureen Horder, head of the Migration Institute of Australia, as saying that only a small portion of the 6,000 prospective spouse visas issued each year are for 17-year-olds.
Further, she says:
"I'm not keen to see any young woman with that kind of age difference in any relationship, but really, let's look at it objectively: In our society people make many choices about who their partners and who they marry are and it is very difficult for the state to get in the middle of that.
"We deplore any situation of forced marriage and I think there was a reference to someone being forced to marry. Now that is just unacceptable, I think, in our society completely. It is certainly unacceptable to our institute."
Back to the fear factor.
The Australian Childhood Foundation's Joe Tucci called for a "thorough audit ... to ensure these children are safe."
ABC quotes him as saying: "It is really surprising that there was such high numbers of young people who were being allowed to come into Australia on these sorts of visas."
Large age gaps — "Anything beyond two years" — Tucci reportedly said, should warrant extra scrutiny.
Australia's immigration department defended the visa program, saying: "Applicants for a partner visa or a prospective marriage visa must meet a range of criteria, including being able to demonstrate they are in a genuine and ongoing partner relationship with their sponsoring partner."