22 Dec 2012

More action urged on forced marriages

8:31 am on 22 December 2012

A support group for domestic violence survivors is calling for a law change and a safe house for girls forced into marriage, some of whom are as young as 13.

Police have drawn up an agreement with Child Youth and Family, Work and Income, Immigration New Zealand and other social agencies on how best to to deal with forced marriage.

In Auckland, refuge organisation Shakti says it has seen dozens of cases of forced or threatened marriage.

Shakti operates refuges for ethnic families suffering domestic violence and to create a safe house or emergency accommodation that is monitored 24 hours a day, and a dedicated service for victims of honour-based violence and forced marriage.

Spokesperson Shila Nair says young women who have come out of forced marriages have told of physical and emotional abuse, rape and isolation.

She says such marriages cut short a young woman's education and career hopes and lead to pregnancy at a young age.

The group wants a requirement that people officiating at weddings are satisfied that consent has been given freely by the bride and groom.

Ms Nair says there should be monitoring of marriage celebrants, some of whom fly in from abroad to carry out ceremonies.

She also wants the age of marriage to be raised to 18.

National MP Jackie Blue has proposed a members' bill that would put marriages of 16- and 17-year-olds before the Family Court. At present these marriages can take place with parental consent, and Ms Blue says her bill would allow the court to decide whether there was any coercion involved.