Shakti is the largest single provider of specialist domestic/family violence intervention, prevention and awareness services for Asian, African and Middle Eastern communities (ethnic migrants and refugees) in Aotearoa New Zealand. Shakti Youth has a mandate to inform, educate and empower young people from these same communities. Every year, the services support approximately 1,000 women and 700 children.
The Justice Committee looks at business related to constitutional and electoral matters, human rights, justice, courts, crime and criminal law, police, corrections, and Crown legal services.
The Bill was first put into ballot by Dr Jackie Blue, former National MP and now Human Rights Commissioner. Currently, 16 and 17 year olds can marry with parental consent. The Amendment proposes that consent can only be granted by a Family Court Judge after due diligence has occurred. It is currently being supported in Parliament by Jo Hayes.
Menghzu Fu, Youth Project Coordinator at Shakti, spoke to the submission first. She outlined the organisation’s support for the Amendment to the Marriage Bill, in lieu of the preferred option of New Zealand raising the minimum age of marriage to 18 years without exception. She spoke of the importance of culturally appropriate training and consultation for Family Court judges who will be tasked with granting consent to marry to 16 and 17 year olds from Asian, African and Middle Eastern communities. She outlined many known occurrences of marriage coercion taking place in these communities and introduced a survivor who shared her experience.
Mehwish Mughal and her sisters escaped forced marriage in 2004 with the support of Shakti. Her narrative was brave, articulate, and deeply felt by all in the room. We were very proud of this outstanding woman and all she has gone on to achieve in her life since she initially sought help.
Afterwards, the Committee members asked questions of the Shakti team. Along with Mengzhu, Saini, Shakti’s Legal Counsel, was on hand to answer these with complete skill and confidence. It was clear that the Committee was impressed with Shakti Youth’s knowledge and expertise, and every aspect of Mengzhu’s, Mehwish’s and Manisha’s submission had an impact on the J R McKenzie team.