Girls, Not Brides

Girls Not Brides - end child marriage now graphic

My submission on the Marriage (Court Consent to Marriage of Minors) Amendment Bill:

Thank you for the opportunity to submit on this Bill.

I agree that this Bill is a good first step, however it does not go far enough and should be amended to ban all forms of child marriage and civil unions. The legal minimum age of marriage and civil union should be 18 with no exceptions. This includes no exceptions due to judicial or parental consent.

I study a Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) and a Bachelor of Laws.

As a young person, I think it is important that the voice of youth is taken into account during the Select Committee process at all times, but especially when issues relating to young people are being debated and discussed.

We set legal ages for many activities. When someone is 16 they can’t vote, they can’t get their full driver licence, they can’t buy alcohol or cigarettes, they can’t apply for a credit card, they can’t buy Instant Kiwi scratchies, and they can’t gamble in a casino. We set these limits because we are conscious of the development stages of children.

A non-government organisation’s name states this bluntly. These are Girls, Not Brides. Their ‘Role of Parliamentarians’ report is attached.

Sustainable Development Goals

New Zealand has agreed to the Sustainable Development Goals. To achieve target 5.3 this Bill must be amended to ban all marriage for children under 18, with no exceptions.

The Sustainable Development Goals are the successor of the Millennium Development Goals and are intended to determine national and international development priorities up to 2030. There are 17 goals and 169 targets and one of them relates to child marriage.

All United Nations member states pledged their support toward achieving target 5.3, which is to end child marriage. Ending child marriage will contribute to achieving eight of the Sustainable Development Goals.

To be clear: New Zealand will not end child marriage by 2030 unless the practice is completely prohibited – this means there can be no loopholes such as obtaining judicial approval.

This Bill is the perfect opportunity to implement target 5.3 through an amendment that will prohibit child marriage entirely.

The Rights of the Child

The Committee for the Convention on the Rights of the Child recommends that the minimum age of marriage be 18 years.

Child marriage affects the rights of children, especially girls’ right to health, education, equality, and the right to live free from violence and exploitation.

Child marriage increases health risks.

For girls it encourages the start of sexual activity when they are still developing and when they might not know as much about their rights and sexual and reproductive health. Girls in a child marriage are forced to negotiate safe, consensual sex with usually much older husbands.

They are under social pressure to prove their fertility and so are more likely to experience early, unplanned and frequent pregnancies with an increased risk of pregnancy-related issues.

Girls married before 18 are more likely to experience domestic violence than unmarried peers and to report that their first sexual experience was forced. Child brides more likely to believe that a man is sometimes justified in beating his wife compared to women who marry later.

A rubber-stamping process

My preference is for this Bill to be strengthened so that no marriages of children under 18 occur.

However, if the judicial consent avenue is taken the process needs to be strengthened.

  • From watching the speeches at the first reading of this Bill, it seems clear that the intention of the Bill is to reduce the number of these marriages, however the Bill provides no criteria for Family Court judges considering an application from a 16-17-year-old to take into account.
  • The Bill does not empower judges to seek funded expert reports, such as psychologist or cultural reports, or to order funded counselling. A lawyer for child should be appointed and reports such as cultural, medical, psychiatric, and psychological reports should be able to be requested by a Family Court judge. Family Court Act 1980 section 16D would need to be amended too.
  • There is no need for the Bill to include provisions around public/media presence and other matters that are covered by other Family Court legislation. Sufficient controls on the media and public are contained in the Family Court Act – a person under the age of 18 or a vulnerable person cannot be identified in a report and the public are not able to attend hearings without consent of the Family Court judge.
  • The Committee should consider amending Family Court Act 1980 section 12A rather than including an evidence subsection in the Marriage Act.
  • This Bill should be compared to the law in Australia. If the judicial approval approach is taken the legislation should be reworked to be much more similar to sections 11 to 21 Marriage Act 1961 (Australia). For example: that authorisation should only be granted in exceptional circumstances, parental authorisation should be required as well, expiry of consent etc. The Australian law makes it clear that the intention is to reduce child marriages: “the circumstances of the case [shall be] so exceptional and unusual as to justify the making of the order”. However, please note that even this does not meet the Sustainable Development Goal requirements.

UNICEF recommendations

The Committee should consider UNICEF’s recommendations (PDF), such as:

  • child marriages should be voidable by either party with applications being able to be made within two years from the date the person reaches the age of majority (with considerations made regarding immigration status, division of property, and care of children);
  • in relation to penalties; and
  • child marriages taken place to date should be analysed.

Civil unions

The Civil Union Act 2004 should also be amended to make the minimum age for civil unions 18.

Image credit: Girls Not Brides

The Slippery Slope of Gay Marriage

Is, in reality, not so slippery. (ht: @hamfritta, from reddit)

Explaining gay rightsThe toaster part is hilarious, but here’s something to think about from SuperStuff01:

“Me and my toaster actually have more rights than a gay couple do.

If I bought my toaster in another country, I could bring it into the US.

If I’m sick in the hospital, I can bring my toaster in with me.

If my toaster breaks, I’m given the legal power to make decisions as to how best to fix it.

I don’t risk getting attacked when I carry my toaster with me in public.”

mistermordancy points out that would make a great ad:

“Does anyone else think this would make a really good gay rights/equality advert? Like you see this guy walk around with a toaster, holding on to the toaster, having the toaster with him in hospital, bringing the toaster into work and all his co-workers crowd round and congratulate him.

Then the ad repeats with two men…”

The Republic of New Zealand

The QueenSome people have commented that the Royal Wedding is going to encourage support for the monarchy from New Zealanders. I disagree. The wedding highlighted a lack of Kiwiness. A fairy-tale story of princes and princesses. A lavish old-fashioned ceremony. Backward gender roles. People from other countries enjoyed the wedding without being part of the monarchy.

Irrelevance of the British monarchy to us (and I guess vice versa) was shown in the Queen’s (very religious) 2010 Christmas message. The Governor-General in his 2011 New Year Message spoke about the Pike River mining disaster and the Canterbury earthquake, both which would’ve been appreciated by New Zealanders as topics in New Zealand’s real head of state’s address.

No need for a Rolls-Royce. A Toyota Corolla, a minimalist’s republic, will be fine. –Dean Knight

Becoming a republic could be quite painless: changing the Governor-General from being our head of state in effect to our real head of state. Everything could else could stay the same.

Our Head of State should be chosen by us, from amongst us, and be able to reflect the values of our nation. It’s time for a Kiwi Head of State.

As Dean also points out, becoming a republic doesn’t mean we can’t still be part of the Commonwealth. We’re one of 16 (out of 54) countries that have Queen Elizabeth as our head of state.

Change seems most likely when the current Queen passes away, by referendum. Her mother was 101 when she died, so there might be some waiting to do.

Image credit: Steve Punter

The Remedy To Be Applied Is More Speech, Not Enforced Silence

Christchurchquake.netHRC pressures King & Spalding to drop case defending the Defense of Marriage Act

King & Spalding, the law firm hired by House Republican leaders to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) dropped the case. The U.S. Defense of Marriage Act aims to “define and protect the institution of marriage”. It says that no state etc. is required to recognize a relationship that is considered a same-sex marriage in another state.

It’s concerning when lawyers bow to pressure to not take a case on (or to drop one, in this case) because of public opinion. A similar argument could apply to people accused of rape, murder etc.—that lawyers are horrible people for representing them.

The Human Rights Campaign pressured K&S to drop the case. The cost is capped at $500k and a lot of Americans would rather the focus be on other issues—“when read statements for and against defending DOMA in court, 54 percent of voters oppose the House Republicans’ intervention, while only 32 percent support it.…”.

K&S has a high rating on HRC’s Corporate Equality Index, meaning they hire without discrimination. Just because they were going to defend this viewpoint doesn’t mean they supported it.

The pressure should be targeted at the House Republican leaders and not at the people doing their jobs.

Earthquake moon man silenced

Mr Ring said he also feared he would be prosecuted for inciting a riot following his quake prediction.

“I’ve been virtually told by [ACC minister] Dr Nick Smith and Sir Peter Gluckman [the prime minister’s scientific advisor] that I’m not qualified to put statements out about earthquakes. They will have me legally if I do that.

“Until they reverse that, I’m completely bound to silence. I don’t want to go to jail.

“They said it was like calling out fire in a crowded theatre and that’s against the law — it’s called the riot act, and inciting riot.” –

The Crimes Act defines a riot as “…a group of 6 or more persons who, acting together, are using violence against persons or property…”. It also seems like the Riot Act (or at least the reading of the Riot Act?) was repealed.

To my unqualified eye this seems like a questionable interpretation of the law and a questionable use of status to silence someone.

Website blaming earthquake on gays taken down by host

A website was put up shortly after the Christchurch earthquake at (now suspended), blaming the quake on the gay community, and the people supporting it. It was widely covered, including by the Sydney Morning Herald. Bluehost received many complaints about it (in the thousands, according to a source) and said they’d only act if they received a court order to do so (I asked and they said they would accept a New Zealand one), but eventually pulled it down because of a copyright complaint.

People or corporations using copyright complaints to get content taken down that they don’t agree with or would rather not have up isn’t uncommon. In this case a whole site was taken down because of one image.

The complaints used Bluehost’s terms of service, section 9.14 as the reason:

Obscene, Defamatory, Abusive or Threatening Language. Use of the Services to store, post, transmit, display or otherwise make available obscene, defamatory, harassing, abusive or threatening language is prohibited.

Several people have pointed out that web hosts shouldn’t have to decide whether something is legal or not. Bluehost refused to decide and asked for a court order. This reasoning would have been better received by complainers if Bluehost didn’t include clauses in their terms of service that say they will take down a site if it contains x. However I am sure Bluehost isn’t the only host that does this.

The site reportedly suffered a DDoS attack as well, which affected other customers on the same server.

This is a change of tune from what I said immediately after I heard about the website, but I support this decision by Bluehost. The site was in bad taste, however should still be protected as free speech until potentially being deemed illegal by a court. If this had been a pro-gay website and anti-gay people had pressured the host to take it down then succeeded because of a copyright complaint, these same people against this site would be angered.

Bluehost let themselves down by taking down the website because of one copyrighted image. I am curious as to whether the customer behind the website was given a chance to respond to the copyright complaint. They received lots of complaints and bad press about this. This would’ve been a perfect topic for the CEO’s blog on why they weren’t going to take action without a court order.

However this event brings up an interesting idea: that the Internet has unwritten rules and if something or someone goes against those rules, people come together over forums or social media etc. to try fight it. This has happened before with child and animal abuse (the perpetrators tracked down), fights for democracy (help with the spread of information to citizens) and corporations with questionable business practices (unfortunate documents released) and because of the nature of the Internet will continue to happen.

Image credit: Christchurchquake/DomainTools

Win a Mail-order Bride with The Rock

“Total cost for services: $10,500.00 U.S. A beautiful woman to sleep with at night, kiss in the morning, and love all day long, for so little–less than an economy car.”

“Win a trip to beautiful Ukraine for 12 nights and meet eastern European hot lady who maybe one day you marry.”

Wedding dressThe winner of the most recent controversial New Zealand radio promotion (renamed from “Win a Wife”) has been selected. Greg gets free flights and accommodation for about two weeks in Ukraine, where he will get his pick of Endless Love’s ladies (side note: count how many Yulia’s, Nataliya’s and Elena’s there are).

I am sure The Rock know that they have an obligation to make sure both parties involved in the competition are happy to actually go through with anything more than meeting each other, so my problem with the competition is more the fact that The Rock is promoting mail-order brides as a good way to find a woman to marry.

I am not sure how much thought The Rock and Mediaworks put into it, but promoting mail-order brides seems like a bad idea. Poor English, financial dependence on the husband and a lack of social networks in the other country seem like it is a recipe for disaster for the woman.

In 1999, Equality Now did research on international marriage brokerage screening processes. A researcher posing as someone with a violent history (pleading “guilty to disorderly conduct in response to criminal assault charges brought by two ex-wives”) was accepted by 59 out of the 66 agencies that responded. Four requested more information. Only three out of 66 agencies refused to accept the fictitious customer.

Some disturbing responses were received from some agencies, including:

“As far as bitches go, I think I understand. They assert that ‘No’ means ‘No’ except when they’re nagging, in which case, ‘No’ means, ‘Keep nagging and try to get beaten.’ I think the language barrier actually helps here; it’s hard to squawk through a language barrier.”

“…some of the email responses from IMBs advised the fictitious customer not to disclose his abusive background in communications with his potential mail-order bride, and others advised him to reveal his background voluntarily, but none stated that they would provide the women with this information, or that the man must disclose this information in order to use their services.”

This is not like NZDating. The consumer-husband is the one with the power. Depending on the agency, little information about the potential husband is passed on to the woman. Or only what he chooses to disclose. That is what a 1999 INS Report found. The agency The Rock is using has the following in their promo material (hosted on The Rock’s site here (.doc), Google Docs version here):

“When a lady is chosen by a client her profile is removed from the available ladies list and no other man is able to view her profile or write to her. With Endless Love Agency you will not be competing with other men, what other agency in the world offers this?”

This seems unfair to the women. I am guessing if the woman does not want to go any further with the potential husband they will be re-listed, but taking a profile down after being “chosen” seems like it is expected that the women will follow through.

The Edge, one of The Rock’s sister stations has done a similar promotion where two strangers get married (which, maybe surprisingly, works out well for the couples). This promotion just seems like it is trying to compete to have the craziest marriage based competition.

In related news, the cost of a slave has gone down to a historic low. This actually aired on CNN (via @zzap).

Quotes from: Kelly, Linda. “Marriage for sale: the mail-order bride industry and the changing value of marriage.” Journal of Gender, Race and Justice Fall 2001: 175-195. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web. 20 Mar. 2011.

Image credit: Seyed Mostafa Zamani