Legislation to abolish forced marriages

In the last term of Parliament, I became very concerned over the issue of forced marriage in New Zealand.

There is no data to understand the extent of the problem but I heard anecdotal evidence that it was occurring.

In New Zealand, the marriageable age is 18.

Marriage is illegal under the age of 16 years. However, 16 and 17 year olds (minors), who wish to marry, can do so with parental consent.

This occurs on an average about 80 times each year, with 80% of 16 and 17 year olds being girls.

More than 20,000 marriages are held in New Zealand each year. While we are talking about a very small number involving minors, it is important to understand that they are vulnerable and not in a position of power.

My Private Member’s Bill, ‘Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill,’ proposes that 16 and 17 year olds who wish to marry must apply to the Family Court, and sets out how the court should consider the application.

A forced marriage is a marriage where one or both people do not consent to the marriage and pressure or abuse is used.

Of course, forced marriage may not be limited to 16 and 17 year olds.

I have made it clear that an arranged marriage is not the same as a forced marriage.

In an arranged marriage, the concerned families take a leading role in choosing the marriage partner, but the choice of entering marriage is left to both people.

Police initiative

I am pleased that the Police signed a ‘Letter of Agreement’ last year outlining an interagency response for victims of forced marriages in New Zealand.

The signatories to the Letter of Agreement with the Police are Child, Youth and Family, Work and Income and Family and Community Services (part of Social Development Ministry), Education Ministry and Immigration New Zealand.

The Agreement has defined forced marriage as one where “a marriage is conducted without the valid consent of both parties where duress is a factor. Duress may include physical, psychological, financial, sexual and emotional pressure. Duress may occur prior to, during the arrangement of a forced marriage and continue once it has taken place.”

It is vital that there is a recognised, effective and safe pathway for victims of forced marriage. Victims need support from a range of agencies to make sure they, and their families can successfully move on with their lives.

Emerging issue

New Zealand Police National Manager (Family Violence) Inspector Brigitte Nimmo said that forced marriages have been identified as an emerging issue.

“While, we do not have hard data on the number of cases in New Zealand, we know that forced and underage marriages happen. We also know that victims rarely come forward for many reasons. Often they are very young, and it can be difficult for cultural and family reasons,” she said.

Jackie Blue is a Member of Parliament on National List. The above appeared in a communication issued by the NZICA Women’s Conference Committee which is organising a conference and workshops under the theme ‘Just do it!’ due to be held in Rotorua on April 6, 2013. We obtained additional information from Dr Blue for the above article. A related report appears in this Section.

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