New push for dowry demands to be declared 'economic abuse'

New push for dowry demands to be 'economic abuse'
New push for dowry demands to be 'economic abuse'

SBS World News Radio: There has been a renewed push for dowry demands to be legally defined as a form of economic abuse in Australia.

This Indian-born woman does not want her real name used.

But soon after marrying her Australian-Indian husband, she says, he began demanding increasing amounts of money for what he considered her "dowry."

"He asked me to ask my parents to fund him, to buy a house in Australia. When I expressed my shock, he got angry and verbally abusive towards me. My parents were left with no other option but giving him, with his parents, $30,000."

Dowry is an ancient system where the bride's family gives her gifts to support her through the marriage

It is common in much of the Indian subcontinent, as well as some Middle Eastern and African countries.

But the Australasian Centre for Human Rights and Health's Dr Manjula O'Connor says the system is being misused in Australia.

"If the dowry amount is not sufficient, according to the bridegroom's expectations and his mother's expectations, then that can result in emotional abuse and physical violence. The physical violence can be extreme, to the point of murder and homicide."

Dr O'Connor says, for migrant women, it can also mean threats of other kinds.

"Threats of deportation and threats to withdraw the support for the spousal visa, leading up to actual withdrawal of their support for spousal visa so that women actually don't have a legal status in the country. (They feel) they've been abandoned. They often have no Medicare or no Centrelink support system to get them through these difficult days until they can find their feet again."

Victorian assistant police commissioner Dean McWhirter says the scale of the problem is hard to ascertain.

"What we know is family violence is under-reported. What we don't know within these family violence reports is the extent where dowry might be a contributing factor, or a specific factor."

Dr O'Connor says the Victorian government has been presented with a petition calling for legislative changes to define demands for dowry as a form of economic abuse.

"It does not ask that dowry be completely banned or made illegal. It simply says that no demands can be made. And we are completely supportive of that. We wish the dowry system to be a token system where there is a mutual exchange of gifts between the groom's and the bride's families."

Former human rights commissioner Tim Wilson, now federal MP for Goldstein, says the federal government will work with the states, and others, to see what changes need to be made.

"That's why we have to work with ethnic community organisations to find out how the practices are occurring, where they're occurring, so, if there is any legislative targeting, that is done in an appropriate way to make sure that they're addressed."