An MP is calling for Immigration New Zealand to immediately stop approving partnership visas for overseas children, amid concerns around forced marriage.
Joanne Hayes, a National MP who pushed for a law change to require 16 and 17 year olds to get permission from a Family Court judge before marrying, said she was concerned that people married overseas were exempt from the process.
On Thursday, Stuff revealed Immigration New Zealand (INZ) had granted more than 20 partnership visas to 16 and 17 year olds married or engaged to people living in or migrating to New Zealand since 2009.
An INZ spokesman said as long as a marriage was legally recognised in the country where it took place, INZ could grant a partnership visa without approval from the Family Court.
Hayes said she is closely reading the Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill because she believed it applied to all people younger than 18.
“I’m pretty disappointed with INZ and thought they would be more aware of the work the women MPs had been doing leading up to the passing of the child marriage bill.”
If Hayes’ review found a loophole in the law that allowed for the marriage of minors to be recognised in New Zealand without a Family Court judge signing them off, she would push for the legislation to be amended to close it.
Before Parliament passed the Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill in May last year, anyone in New Zealand aged 16 or 17 could marry with their parents’ consent.
The law was changed in an effort to prevent the coerced or forced marriage of young people. Hayes sponsored the bill.
“I’m concerned of the consequences of a rise in violence towards the child from her husband, the impact that we have already seen and heard about of child brides and from young women who were child brides,” Hayes said.
Hayes wanted INZ to immediately stop granting partnership visas to minors until it had investigated the situation thoroughly.
The agency should only approve partnership visas if a New Zealand Family Court judge was satisfied the child had not been coerced. she said.
Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway said INZ had signed an agreement which required it to work with other agencies to support victims of forced marriage.
The Government agency was committed to working with people who contacted it for immigration assistance, treating enquiries confidentially and working with external partner agencies on immigration-related issues.
Any visa applications made due to concerns about forced marriage were prioritised, Lees-Galloway said.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which New Zealand has signed, defines a child as a person younger than 18.
The Human Rights Commission, Unicef and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) have all called for the legal marriage age to be raised to 18 in New Zealand.