Bill passes to protect teens from forced marriage

Long Lunch 09/08/2018
Photo: Getty.

A new Bill designed to protect teenagers from forced marriages in New Zealand has passed in Parliament.

While marriage under the age of 16 is illegal in New Zealand, 16 and 17-year-olds have been able to wed if they have their parents’ permission.

But that’s against advice from the United Nations.

On Wednesday, however, a Private Member’s Bill sponsored by National MP Jo Hayes was passed; meaning 16 and 17-year-olds must ask a Family Court judge for permission to get married.

The change has come about because of many stories of young brides forced by their parents to marry for cultural reasons or to help get a visa.

In the last eight years, there have been over 70 recorded cases of forced marriages here - but the number of women calling ethnic helplines to escape before they're married suggests a much wider problem.

“In some cases parents actually think that they’re doing what’s right for their child,” Labour MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan told RadioLIVE’s Wendyl Nissen.

She says forced marriage is not just a cultural issue.

"It's not a cultural or a religious practice. There is no major world religion that condones this practice. It’s a form of violence.

“As with other forms of domestic violence it’s to control the behaviour of young girls,” Ms Radhakrishnan says.

Forced marriage is different from arranged marriage in that one or both partners don't consent but are pressured into the marriage, often because it helps a family's financial situation or because it's seen as culturally more respectful.

In 2017, 42 16 and 17-year-olds were married in New Zealand - but that number is just for registered marriages.

The great majority of forced marriages occur within unregistered cultural marriages, so to make sure they too need court permission; the Bill has been extended out to include de facto relationships.

Listen to the full interview with Priyanca Radhakrishnan above.

The Long Lunch with Wendyl Nissen, 12pm - 3pm on RadioLIVE and streaming live to the rova app on Android and iPhone.