Collaboration to address forced marriage in New Zealand; more action urged

Police, Work and Income, the Ministry of Education, Immigration New Zealand, Family & Community Services, and Child, Youth and Family have signed an agreement outlining ways of supporting victims of marriages conducted without the valid consent of both parties and where duress is a factor.

Police family violence national manager Inspector Brigitte Nimmo said, "While we don't have hard data on the number of cases in New Zealand, we do know that forced and underage marriage is happening here."

Support and advocacy agency Shakti says it has seen dozens of cases of forced or threatened marriage. Spokesperson Shila Nair says many young women who have come out of forced marriages have experienced physical and emotional abuse, rape and isolation. She says such marriages cut short a young woman's education and career hopes and often lead to pregnancy at a young age.

Shakti says further action is required. It is advocating for requirements that people officiating at weddings are satisfied that consent has been given freely, monitoring of marriage celebrants and the age of marriage to be raised to 18.

Inspector Nimmo said, "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 those who spoke to police could face serious harm or death and officers could be used unwittingly to assist in forced marriages.

"For example a young person will run away from home knowing that [marriage] is imminent and then the family will report them missing as a runaway ... and we go along and end up assisting in taking them back, which of course is a horrific situation for them to be in.''

Research on forced marriage in New Zealand is available in Priyanca Radhakrishnan's 2012 thesis, Unholy Matrimony: Forced Marriage in New Zealand.

The multi-agency statement is available here.

Updates:

National MP Jackie Blue has drafted a Private Member's Bill which would require anyone under 18 years old wanting to marry to obtain the consent of the Family Court. At present, 16- and 17-year-olds can marry with the consent of their parents.

The policy statement says approximately eighty 16 and 17-year-olds marry in New Zealand each year. 80% of these are young women. There is concern some of these marriages may be forced marriage. It notes that forced marriage is not the same as arranged marrige. In an arranges marriage, the families take a leading role in choosing the marriage partner but choice of whether to marry is the parties'.

The MP now in charge of the Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill is Claudette Hauiti.

Media:

Column: Gordon Campbell on banning a leading Iranian film-maker, Scoop, 18.04.2016

'Young brides 'forced to wed'', NZ Herald, 13/01/14

'More action urged on forced marriages', Radio NZ, 22/12/12

'New strategy for forced marriage victims', TV3, 21/12/12

'Forced marriage an 'emerging issue' in NZ', 20/12/12