New Zealand’s parliament has passed a new bill that aims to protect youth against forced marriage.
The Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill will require minors to get approval to wed from a Family Court judge. Previously, consent was only needed from parents, who are often the ones forcing their teenage daughters into marriage.
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Shakti NZ, a community organization that works with migrant and refugee women of Asian, African, and Middle Eastern origins, says it has seen the harm done by forced marriages.
“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,” said Mengzhu Fu, Shakti’s national youth co-ordinator.
“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 New Zealand Herald reports:
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.
“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”.
Labour MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan, whose own master’s thesis on forced marriage was the first-ever research on the issue in New Zealand, said it is a largely hidden problem.
“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,” she said.
One girl, Ameena (not her real name), found help from Shakti and was able to prevent her marriage. Still, she recalls how difficult it was to go against her family’s wishes.
“I felt lost and completely defeated, because family are the people that you go to when you are feeling hurt and alone. I had no one to support me when I was going through this,” she explained.
“I know that listening to your parents seems like the right thing to do. But if it feels wrong, it’s wrong. Do what your heart tells you to do, fall in love and spend the rest of your happy life with that person, that is what makes life worth living for.”