New law will protect minors from forced marriage in New Zealand

NZ Herald 8 August 2018
A law that gives children more protection against forced marriage is expected to pass with unanimous support in Parliament today.

The Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill aims to prevent forced marriages of mostly girls, aged 16 and 17 and considered minors by the state, by changing the requirement of consent from parents to a Family Court judge.

The change also applies to civil unions and de facto relationships.

Dozens of teens are married in New Zealand each year and Shakti NZ, a community organisation which works with migrant and refugee women of Asian, African and Middle Eastern origin, says it sees the damage done by forced marriage.

The organisation has been one of the driving forces behind the legislation.

Shakti’s national youth co-ordinator, Mengzhu Fu, said the youngest bride she had seen in New Zealand was 14.

“It was not a registered marriage but it was a culturally conducted marriage,” Fu said.

“In the early 2000s we’ve had several cases of young women that have come to us for support because of either the threat of forced marriage or because they have been forced into a marriage at a young age. So we saw a real need for there to be some kind of legislative protection that can prevent these kinds of marriages from happening.”

The architect of the member’s bill, which languished in the ballot for five years before being drawn last year, is Jackie Blue, the former National MP who is now the Human Rights Commission Equal Opportunities Commissioner.

Blue said she was delighted the bill would finally pass.

“You’ve really got to give credit to Shakti who really have raised the issue of forced and underage marriage in New Zealand right from the early 2000s.

“I’m totally delighted, it’s a long time waiting. We know potentially there could be a lot of young girls … getting married against their will. Going against their family is very, very difficult. Hopefully going to the Family Court gives them the ability for someone to actually assess whether they are being coerced or not,” Blue said.

National MP Jo Hayes, who took up the baton on the bill after Blue left Parliament, said New Zealand previously had no legislation on child marriage.

But she said the problem was growing and the bill was about “nipping it in the bud”.

Hayes said the cross-party support reflected an acknowledgement that New Zealand was an increasingly multicultural society.

“You’ve just got to look out into the streets of Auckland. It’s been happening for many, many years there and it’s starting to come through all the other areas as well.

“Because we’ve shone a light on it, I’m hoping that from the bill it will actually start to reduce.

“As a Māori I sit there and think ‘This is our country, our culture is X. I respect what you do but there are some things that won’t be tolerated in our country’.”

Labour MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan, whose Masters thesis on forced marriage was the first research done on the issue in New Zealand, said it was largely a hidden issue.

“It’s a form of domestic violence rather than a cultural or a religious issue because no major religion endorses it. It’s not a cultural thing per se because violence manifests differently in different socio-economic circumstance,” Radhakrishnan said.

The bill has its third reading today and is expected to pass with support of all parties.


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