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

Excessive burden? USA not contributing to NZ’s $5.8m Dotcom case costs

Kim Dotcom outside New Zealand's Parliament

Crown Law has provided figures under the Official Information Act on the money and time spent in relation to legal work completed in respect of Kim Dotcom and his associates which amounts to more than $5.8 million.

Crown Law writes that the United States Department of Justice is not reimbursing New Zealand for any of these expenses, even though the cases largely relate to charges that they wish to bring against Mr Dotcom and his associates.

Crown Law hours spent

The figures:

  • are as at 8 February 2017;
  • include work on both domestic and mutual assistance (United States initiated extradition) legal proceedings;
  • exclude work completed to provide advice to other Government Departments, for example the Police or the GCSB who respectively picked up the bill for Crown Law’s advice to them; and
  • include most Crown Law legal staff time and some support staff time.

2011: 432.10
2012: 7,356.67
2013: 4,087.50
2014: 5,742.27
2015: 4,911.80
2016: 3,207.26
2017: 4.77
Total: 25,742.37

25,000 hours.

Using a conservative estimate of the value of the time spent ($140 per hour,1 which is the rate a Crown Law junior prosecutor would be billed out as – senior solicitors’ time is likely worth more, support staffs’ likely less), this comes to around NZD $3.6 million.

Disbursements

New Zealand has also covered the bill for work completed by external counsel on Crown Law’s behalf and expenses paid by Crown Law in relation to the Dotcom/Megaupload matters – another NZD $2.2 million.

This includes: $1.98 million on external barrister/solicitor fees, $171,800 on travel and accommodation, $23,151 on Court filing fees, $20,125 on photocopying, and $17,356 on professional fees including research material.

An excessive burden?

At least NZD $5.8 million has been spent on Kim Dotcom et al. by New Zealand so far, and it begs the question: was it worth it?

Should we have refused the United States’ mutual assistance request when it was made? Section 27(g)(i) of the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1992 allows New Zealand to refuse a request made by a foreign country if “in the opinion of the Attorney-General, the provision of assistance would impose an excessive burden on the resources of New Zealand”.

Kim Dotcom had hundreds of millions of dollars worth of assets before the raid on his home and it’s not a shock that he has aggressively defended the cases brought against him.

If spending $5.8 million+ has not been an excessive burden on New Zealand, what amount would be?

1 This is a lower rate to that used by David Fisher in his September 2015 article of $198/hour.

Image credit: Sarah-Rose


The full response from Crown Law, including the breakdown of expenses incurred is embedded below.

Peter Thiel’s New Zealand Citizenship File

Peter Thiel

At around 5:15pm today the Department of Internal Affairs released some of the information they hold on Peter Thiel’s application for New Zealand citizenship, emailed on mass to those who had made requests under the Official Information Act.

Peter Thiel has never lived in New Zealand and doesn’t plan to live in New Zealand. He’s a controversial figure. We looked past that because of a few New Zealand business investments, public speaking engagements, and a donation to the Canterbury earthquake relief fund.

Neil Strauss wrote a book in 2009 called Emergency about disaster preparedness. In one part he investigates the trend of the super rich applying for secondary citizenship in another country. They wanted to be prepared when “the shit hits the fan” by having a Plan B country to retreat to if there was some sort of disaster. Strauss said New Zealand would be a great country to have citizenship in but that our requirements are so strict. He settled for Saint Kitts and Nevis.

When you’re Peter Thiel and are worth US$2.7 billion, I guess you don’t need to settle.

Thiel has his Plan B, New Zealand, but don’t expect to see him around unless the world is falling apart.

Highlights and the full documents are embedded below:


DIA’s PDF document released 1 February 2017

Image credit: Heisenberg Media CC-BY-2.0

MBIE’s Chief Engineer on a reduced standard of earthquake repairs in Canterbury

Earthquake damaged buildingThe Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment has released a 2013 briefing to the Minister of Housing Hon Dr Nick Smith written by their Chief Engineer.

The Minister asked about a reduced standard of repair for older properties “particularly in the context of Housing New Zealand [properties]”, however the Ministry’s response is still illuminating:

  • There is no reference to the Earthquake Commission Act 1993 and the standard of repair required by the Act.
  • Although a building may have been damaged, the Ministry provided a list of scenarios where “no repair is required”.
  • Minimising cost and avoiding obtaining engineering advice for individual properties were primary considerations of the Ministry.
  • The Minister was concerned with avoiding “excessive” money and time spent on earthquake recovery.

The full document is embedded below.

Submissions on petition to reverse convictions for consensual homosexual acts close tomorrow

Bert and Ernie

Submissions on a petition in front of the Justice and Electoral Select Committee to reverse past convictions for consensual homosexual acts and issue an official apology to those convicted close tomorrow (Thursday 6 October 2016).

You can submit online here.

My submission:

I support this petition to reverse the convictions of people who were convicted of consensual homosexual acts and for the Government to officially apologise to them.

I strongly disagree with Justice Minister Amy Adams who has said that the process would be a hugely complicated task. It would not be onerous for the Government to set up a process to proactively review conviction files to void convictions for consensual acts which would be legal today.

Implementing the above would work towards restoring the human rights of those whose mana and dignity has been tarnished.

Image credit: See-ming Lee

Submission on the Bill extending benefit sanctions to people serving community sentences

Stacks of coins

My submission on the Social Security (Stopping Benefit Payments for Offenders who Repeatedly Fail to Comply with Community Sentences) Amendment Bill:

This Bill would extend the sanction regime to people on benefits who have a community sentence and who fail to comply with that sentence.

I note that section 186 does not give those people already on community sentences a grace period before this sanction can be applied to them.

This Bill highlights failures in the New Zealand justice system and does not address the underlying causes of non-compliance with community sentences.

A very concerning part of this Bill is that it would negatively affect children. If the Ministry of Social Development knows a child is dependent on the person whose benefit they propose to cut, the benefit can still be cut, but “only” by half. On the levels that benefits currently are, cutting a benefit in half will still be devastating for a family, and for the welfare of a child.

A person’s benefit can be restarted if they start to comply with the community sentence, but it’s unclear how they will be able to comply with their sentence if they have no money for transport. They might also not have money for food, rent, power or health costs – things that we recognise as minimal entitlements of prisoners. This Bill might push vulnerable people to committing petty crime in order to survive.

Our social security legislation should be a safety net. This Bill will further erode that. It will not make a positive difference to people or to society. It will not “rescue” people from their situation. It will not rehabilitate them. It will not increase public safety.

The Department of Corrections should be given more resources to take practical steps to address non-compliance. This Bill is not one of them.

Image credit: Nathaniel_U