Forced Marriage Overseas: New Zealand

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Individuals from the United States can likely access some protections when trying to avoid and/or escape forced marriage in New Zealand. With a strong government stance against forced marriage and an NGO community advocating for survivors, individuals at risk should have resources and supports available. However, despite progress towards better protections against domestic violence and child abuse, New Zealand maintains one of the highest levels of intimate partner violence in the world and the government of New Zealand continues to fall behind in its response to violence against women and girls.

For further information and guidance for individuals from the U.S. that are facing or fleeing a forced marriage in New Zealand please contact the Forced Marriage Initiative.

Marriage in New Zealand

The minimum age of marriage in New Zealand is 16 in all regions and communities. There is no legal difference between the rights of males and females to enter into marriage.1 However, 16 and 17-year-olds may enter into marriage with parental or Court consent to do so and marriages solemnized in accordance with the marriage regulations of the religious Society of Friends (i.e., Quakers), the Church at Gloriavale or other “exempt religious bodies” do not require solemnization in front of a marriage celebrant which is an important safeguard against forced and child marriage.2

Annulments and dissolution are legal options for both men and women under New Zealand law. Lack of consent, including duress, mistake, insanity, or any other reason, constitutes grounds for annulment of a marriage or civil union.3 Nevertheless, legal practitioners have expressed concern that it is not easy to persuade a court that a marriage was entered into under duress or mistake, making annulments difficult for victims of forced marriage to obtain.4

Dissolution of a marriage is the legal term used under New Zealand law for divorce. The sole legal ground for a divorce in New Zealand is irreconcilable differences which is a no-blame divorce. In order for the divorce to be processed, the husband and wife must have been apart for a minimum of two years. Lack of consent is not accepted as a ground for divorce.5

Potential Risks and Protections in Country

The government’s lack of protections relating to children, particularly with respect to their approach to underage marriage, had garnered criticism.6 While there was a bill attempted in November of 2012 that would have required marriages involving 16 and 17 year olds to be reviewed in Family Court before being formalized, it languished and did not pass.7

The Domestic Violence Act of 1995 defines domestic abuse as physical, sexual or psychological abuse, including threats, financial and economic abuse. The act does not itself criminalize such actions, and instead seeks to reduce domestic violence by empowering the courts to issue protection orders, require perpetrators to attend counseling, and impose effective sanctions if the order is breached.

New Zealand continues to have, one of the highest levels of intimate partner violence in the world.<sup<8,9 New Zealand continues to have, one of the highest levels of intimate partner violence in the world. , Reports from 2014 indicate that domestic violence is experienced by 1 out of 3 people, and if psychological/emotional abuse is included over half the population has experienced domestic violence. One study suggested that less than half of investigations result in charges, and critics claim police are pressured to keep official numbers down.10

While there have been no laws passed that would criminalize forced marriage in New Zealand, the government has taken a decisive stance, asserting that forced marriage in not accepted or condoned in New Zealand. An official state task force to systematically address the issue through multiple state agencies was initiated in 201211 and the government has taken steps to improve the situation without passing legislation, including updating police manuals and requiring commitments from the police to respond appropriately to disclosures of forced and child marriage as well as collaboration with impacted communities to conduct outreach and education.12

Additionally, there are nongovernmental agencies and departments in New Zealand that provide support in cases of forced marriage or domestic violence.

Special Challenges in Returning to the United States

All adults (married or unmarried) are allowed to leave New Zealand as they desire. Individuals should always check the exit requirements for New Zealand for the most up to date information.

Assistance for Individuals from the United States

Get Help

  • The Tahirih Justice Center Forced Marriage Initiative
    We are available to help individuals from the United States who are facing or fleeing forced marriage in New Zealand, including providing phone, text, and email support, connecting with the U.S. government and local resources, and coordinating shelter and services back in the United States.
  • The U.S. State Department
    The State Department is available to assist U.S. citizens that are victims of forced marriage with replacement of travel documents and return travel to the United States. For updated information and travel alerts, please visit the department’s webpage on international travel in New Zealand.


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1 Marriage Act, New Zealand Statues s17 (1955)
2, List of Exempt Religious Bodies, available at
3 New Zealand Family Proceedings Act 1980, reprint as at 31 March 2014
5 New Zealand Family Proceedings Act 1980, reprint as at 31 March 2014
6 Human Rights Commission, EEO Commissioner Dr Jackie Blue’s address to Shakti on their 20th Anniversary, (August 11, 2015), available at
7 Ibid.
8 Center for Health and Gender Equality, Ending Violence Against Women, (1999), available at
9 New Zealand Ministry of Justice, New Zealand’s Legislative Response to Family Violence (2015), available at
10 New Zealand Government, Abuse, harassment and domestic violence, available at
11 Multi-agency Statement Collaborative Response to Potential and Actual Forced Marriage cosigned by Work and Income, Police, Family & Community Services, Ministry of Education, Child, Youth and Family and Immigration New Zealand, available at, Page 2
12 Government of New Zealand, available at