19 Oct 2014

Insight for 19 October 2014 - Culturally Motivated Crime

From Insight, 8:12 am on 19 October 2014

Calls for new laws to counter culturally sanctioned crimes

There are strong demands coming from those working with ethnic communities in New Zealand for more specific legislation to help counter culturally justified crimes.

Insight has joined forces with Radio New Zealand's Voices programme to explore what is needed.

For new residents in New Zealand  trying to find a balance between life here and traditions from a previous existence can be challenging,

But it is confronting to be told that something you regard as normal is actually a crime in your new home.

This was the experience faced by Syerina Syahrin, a Malaysian woman studying at Victoria University.

The tradition of a limited form of FGM (female genital mutilation) came through her mother, from her Indonesian grandmother.

Syerina Syahrin had no idea the practice was illegal in New Zealand. It was regarded as a special family occasion when it was performed on her at the age of five. But it prompted her to ask her family why it had happened?

Nikki Denholm, a former midwife and now FGM Educator,

Nikki Denholm, Photo: RNZ

The answer was it was a family practice and some suggestion that there were associated health benefits. Those working in communities where FGM is prevalent say education has been the number one tool in countering some of the arguments put forward in support of the practice.

Nikki Denholm has been working as an educator for more than two decades and she would like to see the legislation clarified to make sure there are no loopholes that can be exploited by those wanting to carry on the tradition of FGM. At present, she said there was some ambiguity around incisions as the legislation covers excision, or cutting away, rather than cutting into and that lack of detail could be used to justify some form of female genital mutilation.

Ayan Said, who is a FGM Educator in the Somalian Community,  would like this country to follow the lead taken with the legislation in the UK. But it also needs to be done to make sure New Zealand lives up to its obligation under the conventions that it has signed up to.

Ayan Said, FGM Educator, Somalian Community is interviewed wearing her hijab

Ayan Said, FGM Educator, Somalian Community Photo: RNZ

Forced and underage marriage

But FGM is not the only practice where many believe there is a need for clearer legislation.

Malalai Sadat is a youth advocate in Auckland for Shakti, an organisation that helps women, children and families of Asian, African and Middle Eastern origin.

A former refugee, she works with women aged between 16 and 24. They often come in reporting domestic abuse, but this often changes, revealing a backdrop of forced marriage.

Malalai Sadat, a young Afghani woman and Youth Advocate at Shakti Womens Refuge, Auckland

Malalai Sadat, Youth Advocate at Shakti Women's Refuge, Auckland Photo: RNZ / Lynda Chanwai-Earle

Malalai Sadat wants a justice system that clearly spells out that underage and forced marriage is unacceptable in this country. Despite moving often halfway across the world she says many young women feel their options remain unchanged.

"Those young girls in forced marriage cases are often going through a lot of abuse, but when they don't see a way out they ... tend to self harm or have thoughts of suicide... if they are coming to New Zealand where there is law and there is justice why are they still going through that?"

There is very little empirical evidence of the scale of forced and underage marriage going on in New Zealand.

 Judge Ajit Swaran Singh, who sits in the Auckland District Court and previously heard cases in Manukau, said he was not aware of criminal cases in relation to forced unions. But there have been several cases in the family court to annul marriages on the grounds that one party had not consented or they were coerced by parents on one side or the other, he said.

Judge Singh said he believed the issue was more widespread than evidence suggested and that it was under reported.

He would like this country to follow another piece of English law introduced this year which sets out a specific protection order for girls or young women at risk of being forced into marriage. Any breach of the order would carry penalties including up to five years in jail.

Although he supports legislative changes, Judge Singh said what was really vital was to have community leaders working as part of the team to address culturally sanction crime.

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