Parliament passes Bill to protect teens from forced marriage

A Bill that protects teenagers from being forced into marriage has been passed in Parliament.

The change has come about because of many stories of young brides forced by their parents to marry for cultural reasons or to help get a visa.

In the last eight years, there have been over 70 recorded cases of forced marriages here - but the number of women calling ethnic helplines to escape before they're married suggests a much wider problem.

"On average, we've been getting one new case about every two weeks," says Shakti Youth co-ordinator Mengzhu Fu. "We've had ages from 14 up to 29."

While marriage under the age of 16 is illegal in New Zealand, 16 and 17-year-olds have been able to marry if they have their parents' permission - against United Nations advice.

On Wednesday, a Private Members Bill sponsored by National MP Jo Hayes was passed, meaning 16 and 17-year-olds must instead get permission from a family court judge after the judge has carried out an investigation.

"Cultural report, for starters, is what he or she is going to be looking for," she told Newshub. "An interview with the two young people by themselves without the parents there."

Forced marriage is different from arranged marriage in that one or both partners don't consent but are pressured into the marriage, often because it helps a family's financial situation or because it's seen as culturally more respectful.

In 2017, 42 16 and 17-year-olds were married in New Zealand - but that number is just for registered marriages.

The great majority of forced marriages occur within unregistered cultural marriages, so to make sure they too need court permission, the Bill has been extended out to include de facto relationships.