Forced marriages in spotlight

Last updated 12:51 20/12/2012

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Victims of forced marriage will soon have a clear way of seeking help now that government agencies have agreed upon a way to respond.

The issue of forced marriage in New Zealand has come increasingly under the spotlight, although it is not clear how many people are victims of it each year.

Police define forced marriage as "a marriage which is conducted without the valid consent of both parties where duress is a factor".

Just last month, National MP Jackie Blue submitted a bill which would mean a teenager would require the permission of a court to walk down the aisle, rather than just the permission of their parents.

Marriage under the age of 16 is illegal in New Zealand, but 16 and 17-year-olds can marry with parental consent.

More than 1000 teenagers gained consent to marry over the past decade, according to Statistics New Zealand.

Four out of five of those were female.

Police have announced a "Letter of Understanding" has been signed between police, Ministry of Social Development, Ministry of Education and Immigration New Zealand.

Police national manager family violence Inspector Brigitte Nimmo said it was time the issue was recognised as a serious one.

"While we don't have hard data on the number of cases in New Zealand, we do know that forced and underage marriage is happening here.  

"We also know that victims rarely come forward for many reasons. Often they are very young, and it can be difficult for cultural and family reasons."

Nimmo said there needed to be a framework in place to deal with the young victims of forced marriage, so they could feel safe in coming forward.

Police, Child Youth and Family, along with other Government agencies, non-governmental organisations and communities have been developing the process around disclosures of forced marriage for the past year. 

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