A law that gives children more protection against forced marriage is expected to pass with unanimous support in Parliament today.

The Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill aims to prevent forced marriages of mostly girls, aged 16 and 17 and considered minors by the state, by changing the requirement of consent from parents to a Family Court judge.

The change also applies to civil unions and de facto relationships.

Dozens of teens are married in New Zealand each year and Shakti NZ, a community organisation which works with migrant and refugee women of Asian, African and Middle Eastern origin, says it sees the damage done by forced marriage.


The organisation has been one of the driving forces behind the legislation.

Shakti's national youth co-ordinator, Mengzhu Fu, said the youngest bride she had seen in New Zealand was 14.

"It was not a registered marriage but it was a culturally conducted marriage," Fu said.

"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. 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 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.

Blue said she was delighted the bill would finally pass.

"You've really got to give credit to Shakti who really have raised the issue of forced and underage marriage in New Zealand right from the early 2000s.

"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.

Former National MP Jackie Blue, who initiated the bill, says she is delighted it will finally pass. Photo / File
Former National MP Jackie Blue, who initiated the bill, says she is delighted it will finally pass. Photo / File

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".

Hayes said the cross-party support reflected an acknowledgement that New Zealand was an increasingly multicultural society.

"You've just got to look out into the streets of Auckland. It's been happening for many, many years there and it's starting to come through all the other areas as well.

"Because we've shone a light on it, I'm hoping that from the bill it will actually start to reduce.

"As a Māori I sit there and think 'This is our country, our culture is X. I respect what you do but there are some things that won't be tolerated in our country'."

Labour MP Priyanca Radhakrishnan, whose Masters thesis on forced marriage was the first research done on the issue in New Zealand, said it was largely a hidden issue.

"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," Radhakrishnan said.

The bill has its third reading today and is expected to pass with support of all parties.

'I felt lost, defeated'

Ameena (not her real name) said she felt defeated when she found out her parents wanted her to marry someone against her will. She sought help from Shakti and was able to prevent the marriage. She wrote about her experience.

"My parents were forcing me into marriage, to the point that my father flew here from overseas for a week to try and force me into it in person.

"I realised it was wrong when my parents were making the decision for me to spend the rest of my life with a complete stranger who was significantly older than me. It felt completely wrong and against all my moral standards. I did not know him, I did not like him. There were no emotions between us. Marriages in the family are not for love, they're for convenience. I was not prepared to give up my happiness for mere convenience.

"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.

"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. You either have to listen to them and make them happy, but when you do that you have sacrificed your entire life up ahead. If I did not listen to them, I would have to live the rest of my life in shame with my family for not listening to them and rejecting a proposal.

"I also felt that I would never feel happy again. If I had agreed to it, I would move from a psychologically abusive family to an abusive husband. Having to deal with emotional/physical abuse as well as rape."