Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Quick hit: Dowry abuse in NZ on the rise

From the Herald today:
An ethnic women's shelter has found the number of Indian women being subject to dowry abuse has nearly doubled in the past year.

Shakti, which runs four refuges for Asian, African and Middle Eastern women, says an increasing number of callers to its crisis line are from women of Indian origin - and two of every three reports made by these women were linked to dowry abuse.

"There has been a huge increase," said Shakti spokeswoman Shila Nair. "Last year, the number would probably be just one out of every three."

"It is also worrying that the intensity of abuse is also getting worse."

Dowry abuse occurs when the husband or his family continues to press the wife's family - sometimes with threats of physical violence - for more money or other gains after the marriage.

Although dowry has been illegal in India since 1961, it was still widely practised by many ethnic Indians, Ms Nair said.

It was becoming a widespread problem for Indian women in New Zealand because it had no laws against forced marriages or dowry abuse here.

Shakti receives about 600 calls a month on its crisis line, and a "significant number" were woman of Indian descent.

Dowry abuse cases being referred to Shakti included women who were sexually violated, made to live in slave-like conditions and were threatened with prostitution by their Kiwi-Indian husbands if they could not get more dowry money from India.
Click through for the rest of the article, including quotes from three women who have suffered dowry abuse.

Found via a friend's Facebook linksharing.


stargazer said...

what's happening to these women is really terrible, and certainly mirrors some of the problems that have been happening in india. while india has specific laws around dowry abuse, from what i can see, they have been pretty ineffective. the giving of cash and gifts to the groom happens just as much now as it ever did.

from what i understand, our current laws should already cover a lot of these situations, particularly laws on domestic violence and extortion. i'd say our domestic violence law should cover forced marriage, as this is a form of abuse. similarly, on-going demands for money should come under our extortion laws.

the reason i raise this is because i'd like to be clear that a law change is what is required. or could it be that we need our police to be enforcing current laws properly in cases where such abuse is happening? this quote in particular concerns me:

"I tried calling the police, but they said it was a domestic issue and he wasn't breaking any laws".

this is a case of a woman being overworked, so perhaps the police are assuming that she should simply leave the situation if she doesn't like it. however, things are not always so straightforward. for example, she may not have residency status and the husband may threaten to withdraw his support and send her back to her own country. she may also be facing intense pressure from her own family to stay in the marriage. one would think that police would consider these issues and provide support when it is requested.

it's certainly an area that needs a lot more work. in the UK, police have been using criminal law around kidnapping and assault to deal with some of the issues raised. can't see why that's not happening here.

Anna said...

Even if no law comes into play here (and it sounds like it should), a sensitive Police response is needed, including referrals to useful agencies.