Court protection to prevent forced marriages

Protecting young people from forced marriages is the intention of Dr Jackie Blue’s Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill.

There are only about 80 marriages each year which involve a minor (16 or 17 year old) , the vast majority being young women.  I am concerned that some minors may be undergoing forced marriage.
Currently 16 and 17 year olds who wish to marry need parental consent. This Bill will require 16 and 17 year olds who wish to marry to apply to the Family Court.  It also sets out how the court should consider the application.
This is an important amendment to the Marriage Act 1955 and will make sure that all minors wishing to marry are doing with the acceptance of the court and with equal consent from both parties.
I have made it very clear in the Bill’s explanatory note that forced marriage is not an arranged marriage where parents take a leading role in choosing a partner but ultimately the son or daughter has free choice.
Marriage celebrants have the right to refuse to carry out a marriage ceremony. Suspicion that one or both parties was under coercion would be good grounds for doing so but that isn’t sufficient protection.
Hearing about a distraught girl who was forced into marriage prompted the Bill.
Dr Blue said only a small number of teenage nuptials would be marriages forced upon girls for cultural reasons.

“The majority are probably quite legitimate, but the majority of those minors are young girls. I can’t not do anything. If it saves one young girl it’s going to be worth it.”

No data existed on how many people have been forced to marry as affected women were often hidden from the glare of social services.

But while researching the issue Dr Blue heard of a recent incident in which a school girl approached a social worker after being forced into an engagement. . .

By forcing teenagers to seek the court’s permission to marry, Dr Blue said it would take parental coercion out of the equation.

“It’s not going to stop people from dragging their sons and daughters off shore to get married. We can’t stop that, but it’s another hurdle.” . . .

This Bill won’t stop young people marrying of their own free will but it will make it more difficult to force them into marriage.

It is unlikely to affect many people but it is still worth doing.

Forced marriages are more common in other countries. This Bill, if enacted, will send a strong signal that they will not be condoned here.

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