The practice of dowry has a long history around the world. The system of dowry in itself is not inherently exploitative or abusive; however, it can become exploitative when practised in a way that involves force, fraud, coercion, threats and violence.
The practice of dowry usually involves the giving of gifts by one family to another before, during or any time after marriage. It is a practice that has different customary characteristics across different communities, and has a long history in Europe, South Asia, Africa and other parts of the world.
Dowry abuse refers to violence (sexual, physical and psychological) that arises in the context of a dowry negotiation. This can be in the form of ongoing demands for 'gifts' starting before marriage to long after the marriage has taken place. It can also refer to ongoing violence as a result of what is perceived to be an unsatisfactory dowry amount or arrangement.
International research has well documented the various forms that dowry abuse can take, including battering, mutilation, rape, acid throwing, wife burning, murder and suicide.
It is our experience in the Australian context that abuse arising from not fulfilling dowry expectations follows this pattern, but can also include:
- Threats of cancellation of visa sponsorship and deportation
- Threats to annul the marriage with the consequence of bringing shame on the family
- Demands to terminate a pregnancy
Our position on dowry and dowry-related abuse forms the foundation of our advocacy:
- We understand dowry abuse through the lens of domestic and family violence—especially economic abuse
- We do not believe that the system of dowry in and of itself is exploitative—but it can become exploitative when practised in a way that involves force, fraud, coercion, threats and violence
- We consider the practice of dowry and dowry abuse to be inherently gendered having a disproportionate impact on women and girls
In 2018 we made a submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs’ Inquiry into the practice of dowry and the incidence of dowry abuse in Australia, which included 24 recommendations.
Three key recommendations in the submission:
- Include dowry abuse in the definition of domestic and family violence nationally with a clear acknowledgement that domestic and family violence can include multiple perpetrators (such as family members) not just intimate partners
- Adopt a nationally consistent and holistic definition of economic abuse
- Invest in an information development framework for data relating to forced marriage in order to identify gaps and determine priority information needs
The Senate Inquiry's report, tabled on 14 February 2019, strongly supported our recommendations, including that:
- The term 'economic abuse' is included as a form of family violence in subsection 4AB(2) of the Family Law Act 1975, and the subsection provide a non-exhaustive list of examples of economic abuse, including dowry abuse
- The Australian Government works with the states and territories to harmonise existing legislation providing for intervention/violence orders to explicitly recognise dowry abuse as an example of family violence or economic abuse
- The Australian Government gives further consideration to the recommendation of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence to broaden the definition of family violence in the Migration Regulations 1994, and ensures that those who are forced to marry their partner or experience family violence from their partner and/or their partner’s family members are protected through the family violence provisions in the Migration Regulations 1994
- The Australian Government works with the states and territories to improve and strengthen the governance of data collection practices and standards by implementing a system to capture and measure the extent and incidence of all forms of family violence in Australia, including dowry abuse as a form of economic abuse
15 February 2019: ABC News: Senate inquiry calls for new laws identifying dowry-related abuse as domestic violence - Stella Avramopoulos, CEO Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand
14 February 2019: The Drum: Dowry abuse - Stella Avramopoulos, CEO Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand (at 32.15 and 34.30)