A member of the New Zealand parliament has proposed a bill to make it more difficult for teenagers to marry.
The current law establishes 18 as the minimum age for marriage but does allow 16 and 17 year-olds to marry as well if they have their parents’ consent. However MP Jo Hayes believes this leaves the door open for teenagers to be forced into marriage against their wishes. Haynes is a member of the governing centre-right National Party.
She said forced teenage marriages were “slowly creeping into New Zealand society” particularly among Pacific and Asian communities. Parents can often pressure their daughters to marry older men in order to have financial security, the MP claimed, adding that some girls ended up being treated like slaves once they had married.
To address this issue, Hayes has sponsored the Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill. This stipulates that if a 16 or 17 year-old wishes to marry, they would have to convince a Family Court Judge to give them permission.
Jacinda Ardern is deputy leader of the opposing Labour Party. She said they would support any efforts to reduce the risk of forced marriage but warned that legislation may not be effective. Many instances are religious ceremonies conducted outside of the law, she explained. Marriages like this have “the same consequences for these young women” as legal ones.
“You can put laws in place, but if people aren’t going to conduct ceremonies within the law then it becomes a blunt instrument.”
Other Labour Party members are not convinced the proposed bill is even necessary. Their spokesman for Pacific Island Affairs, Su’a William Sio, claimed he had not heard of any instances of forced marriage in Pasifika (Pacific Islander) communities. He said he was “not sure what [Hayes is] aiming at. This is the 21st century. That just doesn’t happen”.
Photo of the New Zealand Parliament building by Michael Coghlan via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.