A special needs 18-year-old Kiwi woman with the mental age of 7 is targeted by a much older Indian national for marriage in order to get permanent residence.

An Indian woman who paid thousands of dollars in dowry to marry a Kiwi Indian is now in a safe house after the husband absconded with all her belongings.

Hundreds of South Asian men are entering into sham marriages for NZ residency and then using their status to extort dowry from women in their home countries, Auckland group Bhartiya Samaj Charitable Trust says.

Hundreds of South Asian men are entering into sham marriages for NZ residency and then using their status to extort dowry from women in their home countries, says Bhartiya Samaj Charitable Trust chairman Jeet Suchdev. Photo / Michael Craig
Hundreds of South Asian men are entering into sham marriages for NZ residency and then using their status to extort dowry from women in their home countries, says Bhartiya Samaj Charitable Trust chairman Jeet Suchdev. Photo / Michael Craig

"Indian men are seeking out Kiwi women for marriages of convenience, and once they have New Zealand residency the men will then find women from India to extort for dowry," said Jeet Suchdev, the charity's chairman.

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"Here they will want a registered marriage to prove to Immigration NZ (INZ) that they are in a real relationship, but in India they will just want a cultural marriage so they can get married again and again."

In one case, a woman who paid a New Zealand man a significant amount in dowry arrived in Auckland only to find her "husband" already had another partner - who was complicit in the arrangement.

Suchdev said until his organisation intervened, the woman was kept by the couple as an "unpaid domestic worker" and "a sex slave".

Dowry is a centuries old custom which involves a woman's family paying her new husband's family.

Suchdev said it is common for men in New Zealand to demand an initial dowry upwards of $50,000 and then make further "extortion" until the woman's family have nothing more to give.

Roopa Suchdev, chief executive of sister organisation Roopa Aur Aap Charity, said the number of cases involving
Roopa Suchdev, chief executive of sister organisation Roopa Aur Aap Charity, said the number of cases involving "marriage and dowry scams" are "spiralling out of control". Photo / Michael Craig

Roopa Suchdev, chief executive of sister organisation Roopa Aur Aap Charity, said the number of cases involving "marriage and dowry scams" are "spiralling out of control".

The girl being wooed for marriage by the Indian national has multiple disabilities, Roopa said, which includes intellectual disability, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia.

"His main intention is to claim residency in this country through her," she said.

"She is assessed to have a mental age of 7, so her capability of understanding is severely limited and unable to understand what is happening to her."

In the other case, the Indian woman was convinced by her husband to return to India for IVF treatment.

But she returned last week only to find everything of value in her house, including a scooter that she takes to work, gone.

"She was so shocked and went into severe depression when she realised this has been done by her husband, who had himself left for Australia," Roopa said.

She said both the police and INZ have been notified of the cases.

An Indian woman who suffered abuse at the hand of her husband. Photo / Doug Sherring.
An Indian woman who suffered abuse at the hand of her husband. Photo / Doug Sherring.

A police spokeswoman confirmed that a report has been made to police.

"The matter in the early stages of investigation," she said.

"These investigations can often be complex, however we are continuing to work with those involved to better understand the circumstances surrounding the matter."

INZ assistant general manager Peter Devoy said the agency could not comment on individual cases without a privacy waiver.

In the last five years, 808 victims of domestic violence applied for residence or work visas on the basis of relationships with NZ citizens or residents that has ended because of domestic violence.

Of which, 160 residence visas and 517 work visas were approved.

Since July 2010, INZ has received more than 1300 allegations about relationship fraud and about 50 had been investigated.

On average, nearly a third of partnership visitor applications and almost one in 10 of work and residence partnership applications gets declined.

"We encourage anyone being exploited to contact us safely via crimestoppers," Devoy said.

AUT University Professor of Diversity Edwina Pio said transnational marriages and their link to dowry, arranged marriages, deception and violence were often insidious.

"Such marriage traps may serve as a pathway for the bride's family to enter a western country and hence the bride's family encourages her to be stoic about the servility and slavery she may be forced into," Pio said.

It is believed that just a fraction of the cases involving dowry violence or abuse gets reported to authorities here.

Pio said South Asian women by far and large are brought up with the norm of being obedient to their father, brothers and husbands.

"Which translated can mean that the wife serves as the subjugated chattel of her all-powerful husband, particularly in a patriarchal society with coercive norms and culture," Pio said.