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An ethnic women's shelter has found the number of Indian women being subject to dowry abuse has nearly doubled in the past year.

Shakti, which runs four refuges for Asian, African and Middle Eastern women, says an increasing number of callers to its crisis line are from women of Indian origin - and two of every three reports made by these women were linked to dowry abuse.

"There has been a huge increase," said Shakti spokeswoman Shila Nair. "Last year, the number would probably be just one out of every three."

"It is also worrying that the intensity of abuse is also getting worse."

Dowry abuse occurs when the husband or his family continues to press the wife's family - sometimes with threats of physical violence - for more money or other gains after the marriage.

Although dowry has been illegal in India since 1961, it was still widely practised by many ethnic Indians, Ms Nair said.

It was becoming a widespread problem for Indian women in New Zealand because it had no laws against forced marriages or dowry abuse here.

Shakti receives about 600 calls a month on its crisis line, and a "significant number" were woman of Indian descent.

Dowry abuse cases being referred to Shakti included women who were sexually violated, made to live in slave-like conditions and were threatened with prostitution by their Kiwi-Indian husbands if they could not get more dowry money from India.

Three women spoke to the Herald about their plight, but Ms Nair estimated the number of Indian women affected by dowry abuse numbered in the hundreds.

A 22-year-old said her parents thought they had "struck Lotto" when they were told an Indian engineer in New Zealand was looking for a bride.

But after meeting the man's demand for a dowry of $30,000 in cash and a house in India, they are on the verge of bankruptcy as her husband continues to demand payments.

"He told them there are other Indian women who are prepared to pay more dowry to marry him, and threatened to dump me on the streets of New Zealand if they don't pay up."

Another 24-year-old said she had "lived like a slave girl" since her arranged marriage to a Kiwi-Indian IT technician, who already had a live-in partner when they wed last year.

Her duties included cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry for the couple. "I was shocked, but now I realise that he didn't want an Indian wife, he wanted an Indian slave," she said.

"I tried calling the police, but they said it was a domestic issue and he wasn't breaking any laws."

Another, 28, whose husband has threatened to leave her and their one-month-old baby for another Indian bride if she couldn't obtain e more dowry to match the $20,000 the other woman was prepared to pay, says her family is doing all they can to raise the money.

"I come from a good family and divorce is out of the question because it will bring shame to them," she said.

Ms Nair said Shakti had been campaigning since 2007 for the Government to follow India's lead in banning the practice of dowry, forced marriage and under-age marriage, but it did not seem to be getting anywhere.

Ethnic Affairs and Women's Affairs Minister Pansy Wong, said she would discuss with the Minister for Justice whether there was a need for new legislation, but blackmailing was an offence in New Zealand.

Shakti hotline - 0800-SHAKTI or 0800-742584

DOWRY LOWDOWN
* A dowry is money paid by a bride's family to the husband's to secure marriage.
* Although illegal in India, it is still widely practised.
* Some husbands demand more than the amount agreed before marriage.