Dowry abuse survivors call for action as Labor pledges to change the law


Labor has announced it will change the law to ensure economic abuse is a recognised form of family violence, if elected.

Saru Rana still struggles to talk about her wedding day.

"Straight away, after the first hour of my marriage, my in-laws demanded more and more goods," she told SBS News on Friday.

Ms Rana came to Melbourne from her native India in 2009 and went back two years later to marry.

On returning to Australia, she said the initial financial abuse from her husband and his family became constant.

"I was pushed to the stage where I was sending most of my salary back to India [to the in-laws]. For days, I would even say months, I was living on bread and cheese," she said.

I was pushed to the stage where I was sending most of my salary back to India.

- Saru Rana, Dowry abuse survivor

"I would just keep the rent and the petrol money and enough to eat. I was sending everything else home ... I was made to think that was my duty as a daughter-in-law."

Saru Rana
Saru Rana has since become a voice for survivors of dowry abuse.
SBS News

Ms Rana now lives in Adelaide and has since become a voice for other survivors of dowry abuse - an issue in parts of the Australian migrant community where grooms and their families extort new brides.

She was one of the dozens of people who gathered for "The Second National Dowry Abuse Summit" in Sydney on Friday.

Political action

The summit came weeks after the release of a Senate inquiry report into dowry abuse.

The report made 12 recommendations, including that the federal government amend the Family Law Act to include dowry abuse as an example of economic abuse, as well as work with the states and territories to clearly recognise dowry abuse as a form of family violence.

The Victorian government is currently the only state that has legislated to refer to dowry abuse as an example of family violence.

At Friday's summit, Shadow Minister for Preventing Family Violence Linda Burney announced Labor would pursue major changes to the law if it won the election. 

"The [Senate] report recommends that the term 'economic abuse' be included as a form of family violence with a non-exhaustive list of examples of economic abuse, including dowry abuse," Ms Burney told the summit.

"Labor is supportive of this – the primary recommendation of the Senate report. We will change the law to ensure that economic abuse is a recognised form of family violence and that dowry abuse is one of many kinds of financial abuse."

Labor MP Julian Hill, who called for a Senate inquiry into dowry abuse, urged the government to "show courage and decency" and act on the issue.

"Evidence is overwhelming that there is a problem. It is serious. It is widespread. And it is clear that Australia now needs a uniform, national approach to combat dowry abuse."

'Subjected to extortion'

Payment of dowry is a cultural practice which occurs in countries across South Asia, the Middle East and Africa, with the bride's family typically paying the groom and his family in cash, gold, gifts and property at marriage.

But in some cases, grooms and their families have been known to escalate demands for larger gifts or increased cash payments.

There have been recorded cases of abuse, abandonment, rape, murder and suicide in migrant communities in Australia when the bride's family has been unable to comply.

Dr Manjula O'Connor of the Australasian Centre for Human Rights and Health told SBS News that dowry abuse affected women from migrant backgrounds across the country.

"The bride can be subjected to extortion, to demands, to criticism for not bringing enough dowry. [Partners] extort more and more dowry and if it is not given, there is physical violence and there is the final insult of homicide."

Manjula O'Connor
Dr Manjula O'Connor said some women subject to dowry abuse were also at risk of violence and death.
SBS News

She said change to the law was needed "so that when women complain to the courts, the courts understand what they have to do, the police understand that this is a type of domestic violence".

"The government says it believes there are enough provisions within the law at the moment ... if there were, why are there not more convictions? Why are there women still suffering? The number of women complaining about this to the various services is huge."

Ms Rana agrees.

"We know dowry is causing damage [in Australia]. We need to control it at the initial stage ... If we don't fight it, trust me, we will soon be losing the battle and there will be more murders and suicides in Australia," she said.

"We need to stop it."

Additional reporting: AAP

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