Unicef New Zealand has called for legislation to be introduced in New Zealand to prevent forced and child marriages here.

Such marriages were a serious violation of human rights, executive director of Unicef New Zealand Dennis McKinlay said.

He was commenting on a report of a 17-year-old Wellington woman whose parents - worried that their daughter was becoming too westernised - trapped her into marrying a distant relative.

The unidentified teenager was reportedly threatened for months by her Muslim father and mother with deportation and violence when she refused to wed the 21-year-old she barely knew.


They eventually got her to sign what she was told were visa documents but later found out were marriage papers.

The shocked young woman was made to go to her new husband's house where he and his family kept her tightly supervised for two months.

When she was able to escape, the teenager went to the police and sought support from the ethnic women's organisation, Shakti.

Mr McKinlay referred to a report by the rapporteur for the Committee of Equal Opportunities for Women and Men, Rosemarie Zapfl-Helbling of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

In it, Mrs Zapfl-Helbling said: "It is an outrage that, under the cloak of respect for the culture and traditions of certain communities, there are authorities which tolerate forced marriages although they violate the fundamental rights of each and every victim.'

Mr McKinlay said a select committee that reported to the New Zealand Parliament two years ago made a set of recommendations to protect young women who could be subjected to forced marriages.

A national education and awareness campaign on the issue should be undertaken to provide government officials, community leaders and professionals with more information, he said.

Meanwhile, his organisation applauded the Shakti Community Council for their work in raising awareness of the subject.