The final report of the Senate inquiry into dowry abuse has recommended new laws nationally to recognise dowry abuse as a form of economic family violence, along with a suite of changes to Australia’s migration program to protect vulnerable women.
Dowry extortion has been recognised as a direct cause of family violence including horrific murders and suicides.
The Senate Committee found that the approach recommended by the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence should be adopted nationally.
While acknowledging that dowry is generally undesirable in modern Australia – as it perpetuates a culture of ownership or control of women – the report did not recommend dowry be criminalised stating that:
“Criminalisation may have the unintended result of driving this pernicious cultural practice underground, further isolating CALD women and causing greater harm…criminalisation of dowry in other jurisdictions such as India [has not worked] in preventing dowry abuse…there is no benefit for society in creating a system that fosters false and vexatious complaints – often against men – when marriages break down as appears to be the case under the current Indian law.”
Instead, the report recommends that the Australian Government amend the Commonwealth Family Law Act to recognise economic abuse including dowry abuse, and work with the states and territories to adopt this approach nationally in laws regarding intervention / violence orders.
The inquiry heard shocking evidence that the promise of Australian permanent residency and citizenship has turned marriage into a lucrative money making business. Marriage is being sold for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, driving dowry related extortion.
The Committee heard evidence from numerous submitters that Australia’s migration program was facilitating dowry abuse and failing to protect vulnerable women.
Many women are tricked into marriage on false pretences by Australian citizens, and are then unable to access family violence protections because of their visa status.
The Committee did not accept the view of the Department of Home Affairs that the status quo is sufficient, recommending changes including consideration of:
broadening the definition of family violence in the Migration Regulations to include dowry abuse, as recommended by the Victorian Royal Commission;
extending the family violence provisions in the Migration Regulations to apply to other family visa sub-classes they currently do not apply to;
the creation of a new temporary visa available to non-family temporary visa holders who have suffered serious and proven family violence;
changes to how decision makers consider the nature of alleged family violence when assessing whether a relationship is genuine;
innovative use of the sponsorship mechanism to prevent perpetrators from sponsoring multiple spouses; and
requiring sponsors to provide disclosures and give undertakings, for example in relation to their income, employment, marital and criminal history, and to dowry and gifts exchanged during the relationship.
Other recommendations related to the links between dowry abuse and slavery, human trafficking and forced marriage, as well as training and education for police, judges, doctors, frontline service providers and the broader community.
The inquiry received over 80 submissions from across Australia, demonstrating the extent of community concern, and held public hearings in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. Senator Louise Pratt chaired the inquiry which was initiated following advocacy by Julian Hill MP.
Labor welcomes the report, acknowledges the need for a comprehensive national response to dowry abuse and will carefully consider the recommendations.