Is ‘forced marriage’ bill necessary?

A Members Bill  “aims to crack down on forced marriages”, but how much of a problem is it trying to fix?

It is said to target ethnic groups such as Indians and Pacific Islanders but traditionally in New Zealand pressure to marry has come from Christians of European ethnicities.

National MP Jo Hayes had her Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill  bill drawn from the ballot last week.

This bill proposes that 16 and 17 year olds who wish to marry must apply to the court, and sets out how the court is to consider the application.

Getting courts involved in consent to get married looks like an unnecessary interference by the state unless it is addressing a real problem.

NZH: Marriage Amendment Bill in first reading to prevent forced underage marriages

National List MP Jo Hayes believes forced marriages between teenagers are “slowly creeping into New Zealand society” and that the problem exists primarily in Pacific and Asian communities, where parents can pressure a young girl into marrying an older man for financial security.

She said some young girls were treated like slaves once coerced into wedlock.

Hayes said the bill would sort out which marriages were between consenting teenagers and which were forced.

At present, the legal age to wed is 18, but 16 and 17 year olds can marry with their parents’ consent.

Is it actually a problem? And if so would court consent fix the problem? And if it’s a problem why have it for a limited age range?

“I think [the teenagers] do it for their parents sake. I think it’s hell on earth for some of them.”

Marriages and relationships entered into voluntarily are as likely to to turn bad, and probably do in far greater numbers.

The numbers of young people getting married has dropped significantly over the last half century.

Teenage marriages were more common in the 1970s. In 1971, a total of 285 boys and 2304 girls aged 16 and 17 were wed.

In the most recent data, for 2015, 12 boys and 36 girls were married aged 16 or 17. That was a slight increase on the previous year when 33 girls and 9 boys were wed.

I wonder what data, if any, Hayes has on the ethnicities involved in forced marriages.

Labour’s spokesman for Pacific Island Affairs, Su’a William Sio, said he had not heard of forced marriages happening in Pasifika communities.

“I’m not sure what she’s aiming at. Certainly in the Pacific community, look this is the 21st Century. That just doesn’t happen.”

Indian community leader Jeet Suchdev said forced marriages were not a problem he had observed.

He said he did not personally feel teenagers were mature enough to marry and believed most Indian parents in New Zealand would agree.

“Our tradition is to try and get a good education, after [that] they want to get married.”

There could be exceptions in any ethnic group.

Forced or pressured marriages were more common when giving birth ‘out of wedlock’ was frowned on by New Zealand society – and this was mostly a religious (Christian) pressure.

Anecdotally ‘shotgun marriages’ were common, with angry parents rushing their children to the alter to try to avoid family embarrassment.

A worse problem has been brought up again recently, where pregnant girls were hidden away (sent ‘up north’ for a few months) to give birth. And often forced to give their babies up for adoption. See Harrowing tales of ‘forced adoption’ amid call for inquiry.

That doesn’t happen any more, or at least I hope not. More liberal attitudes to de facto arrangements, sole parenting, contraception and abortion has changed things markedly.

I remember in the early seventies a girl sitting school certificate at school while pregnant – her family supported her being open about being pregnant, which was very unusual then.

In the late seventies I sort of pretended to be married when I moved town, it just seemed easier at the time to appear to conform. Now few care whether couples are legally married or not.

It seems like Labour may support the Hayes bill. Labour deputy leader Jacinda Ardern said…

…Labour would support any way to combat forced marriage. But sometimes marriages occurred outside the law.

“The marriage doesn’t have legal standing but it has religious standing. It’s the same consequences for these young women.

“You can put laws in place, but if people aren’t going to conduct ceremonies within the law then it become a blunt instrument.”

That seems to be sort of a yes, but acknowledges it doesn’t prevent non-legal forced marriages.

The Green Party have not yet decided their position as the bill is yet to go to their caucus.

If Labour supports the bill (and National block votes for it) then it doesn’t really matter whether any other parties back it or not as there would be plenty of votes.

Ardern said the Family and Whānau Violence Legislation Bill, which is before the select committee, has proposed a new offence for the coercion of marriage with a sentence to imprisonment for up to five years. This would cover marriages not governed by New Zealand law or those not legally binding.

“We’re very supportive of taking action.

So there is already a bill that tries to address any forced marriage problems. So why would we need another bill?

“People are surprised to hear forced marriage is an issue in New Zealand, but it absolutely is.”

But how much of a problem? And how can it best be addressed?

I’m very much against forced marriages of any type, but I’m not sure that requiring court consent for young people to marry is going to solve much if anything.

Young people could still be pressured into convincing the court that they are happy about getting married.

Or families could just wait until the person or people getting married are both 18 or older.

So I wonder how big a problem the Hayes bill is trying to address (the numbers suggest quite to very small), and how effective it would be.

I really question whether the ‘Court Consent to Marriage of Minors’ bill is one that has sufficient merit to add to our statutes.

Leave a comment


  1. Brown

     /  19th April 2017

    Blame Christians for a cultural problem that ignores biblical teaching about morals, the relationship and especially how husbands should treat their wives? There is of course an elephant in the room but we musn’t mention that. Pretty shonky.

    • Christian pressures were a significant part of rushed or forced marriages in the past. I think that’s well known.It was a Christian cultural problem.

      If forced marriages are a problem in some Pacific Island families or communities then it’s still likely to be Christian related.

      Yes, there are also potential problems with other religions, but they weren’t prevalent in New Zealand’s history when it was a shonky situation, especially when the alternative to marriage was ostracising, hiding away and forced removal of babies from mothers.

      This has created a lot of problems for many people that are still obviously being felt on a far larger scale than forced marriage issues with Hindis or Muslims or whatever other religions try to force marriages.

  2. Alan Wilkinson

     /  19th April 2017

    My first thought is that the issue is coercion, not marriage, but detection and proof may be difficult given cultural and language barriers.

  3. Corky

     /  19th April 2017

    This is what happens when you have liberal immigration policies that allow people to enter the country who think its business as usual, with our values not being part of their worldview.

    Japan doesn’t have this problem……I wonder why?

    I’m not sure it we have laws regarding honour killings and FGM. if not, lets start there. Compulsory imprisonment and deportation should be the sentence.

    • We have laws regarding killings. Sentencing reflects how bad killings are viewed. I don’t know what appended laws would achieve – again for a problem we don’t seem to have.

      • Brown

         /  19th April 2017

        A work colleague has a friend who works as a nurse for a gynecologist. She says we do have a problem which practitioners bypass by going overseas.

        I find it a bit frustrating that you will absolve Islam of everything the religion teaches but will blame Christianity for everything it doesn’t.

        Maybe you need to go and find out stuff rather than repeat other people’s opinions that you like.

        • @Brown: “I find it a bit frustrating that you will absolve Islam of everything the religion teaches but will blame Christianity for everything it doesn’t.”

          Neatly put. This seems to me to encapsulate almost perfectly the suicidal irony of the Liberal West’s hatred of Christianity blinding it to Islam’s hatred of the Liberal West. The stupidity of this would be hilarious were it not so potentially lethal.

          In Europe today the authorities abjectly, and officially, refuse to blame Islamic atrocities on Islam for fear it might enourage Christians to object to Islamic atrocities. Monty Python couldn’t make it up.

          Future historians will look back on this period with mind-numbing disbelief. How could millions of educated Westerners not see the lumbering, red-eyed Islamic monster, crazed with Koranic musth, snorting and pawing its feet in the corner of the room? Had Specsavers been shut down for not being halal (for not carrying the ‘Mark of the Beast’ – without which “none may buy or sell”)?

          As the late great Terry Wogan might have said: “Is it me?” Am I the only one to see the absurdity of Liberals praising a belief predicated on hatred and vengeance while excoriating one based on love and forgiveness?

      • Corky

         /  19th April 2017

        The telling detail in your comment is you are unsure. Therefore we should repair to overseas experience as a guide post.

        That means we have a problem needing quantifying.

    • Blazer

       /  19th April 2017

      ever heard of a ‘shotgun marriage’…Corky?

      • Corky

         /  19th April 2017

        No, but I have seen the results of one….Blazer.

      • A shotgun wedding, in American parlance, is enacted by parents to ensure that a pregnant daughter and her unborn child are provided with social and economic stability by her man. It is quite different from what is discussed here, which is parents forcing their, often very little daughters to marry rich old men so as to provide money and kudos for themselves – effectively selling their own children as sex slaves. It is quite unconscionable to equate the two, even light-heartedly.

        • Blazer

           /  19th April 2017

          its not actually.Economic reasons have always been paramount in matchmaking….the tribal african doesn’t want his daughter marrying a man with no goats or cattle.Compromising on age is nothing new.Have a look at the British royals,Henry V111 is a good example.

          • I think the present, liberal day is more relevant to this issue than the ancient, ignorant past. Frankly, if you cannot morally distinguish between a father protecting his adult daughter from lonely responsibility, and a father selling his pre-pubescent child as a sex slave, there seems little point in having a discussion with you.

            I am tired of reading these fatuous Lefty excuses for the vile, barbaric creed of Islam. It should have no place in a civilised world. ‘Honour killing’ of one’s own daughter – for refusing to be some revolting old man’s child sex toy – must surely rank as the foulest, most degrading oxymoron of all time.

            Yet where are the sanctimonious Liberals when such innocents are having their lives and their minds destroyed forever? Revering those who decree it; and reviling those who decry it. God help us all.

            • Blazer

               /  19th April 2017

              you are being selective and now introducing ‘honour killing’,murder is murder in NZ.Arranged marriages in the Hindi community have a great success rate,and more consideration is put into them than your raw anecdotes.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  19th April 2017

              An Indian friend and her husband were married when she was 16; an ‘arranged marriage’ although from what she says it was more like matchmaking and certainly not forced.

              People forget that shotgun weddings, even if one doesn’t take the term literally (which I hope that nobody does) make the groom marry the bride under pressure-it’s traditionally the bride’s father who brings out the shotgun. Parish councils in England could force a man to marry a pregnant girl by law at one time.

              An elderly neighbour, who’d be 87 if she was alive now, said that she hadn’t noticed until her mother was quite old and they were sorting some family papers that there were only four months between the wedding and her brother’s birth,

              This bill seems to be the old sledge-hammer to crack a nut.

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  19th April 2017

              Anyone who thinks that selling children as sex slaves is a Muslim thing (or even the norm in Islam) is very ill-informed. It’s universal among the small per cent of people who find that acceptable..

              Remember the man here who sold his baby for sex/porn ? Or the mother who had sex with her baby and sold the videos ? People sell pictures of their children for paedophiles to slaver over.

              Men from NZ and other countries go on sex holidays where their partners are children-or did, I hope that this has been cracked down on, but fear that it hasn’t.

            • Nelly Smickers

               /  19th April 2017

              According to the *Quran*…..Muhammad married Aisha when she was only six….and consummated the marriage once she turned nine :/

              (Ref: Sahih Muslim – Book 008: 3309)

            • Kitty Catkin

               /  20th April 2017

              That doesn’t make it any any better for a Kiwi mother to do a sex act on her baby and sell the video, or a father to sell the right to have sex with his baby or Western men to go on sex tours where the prostitutes are children.

  4. Blazer

     /  19th April 2017

    there was a nasty practice called .thighing’ …..which is just total abuse of a child.

    • Nelly Smickers

       /  19th April 2017

      That is also part of *Islamic Religious Teachings* … it not ❓


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