In 2012, a 21 year old Chinese woman was beaten to death by her mother-in-law who wanted her son to divorce the woman and marry another woman for a $500,000 dowry. In 2014, an Indian man murdered his wife in front of their young son and later took his own life, apparently motivated by insufficient dowry payments. Both of these crimes occurred in Victoria.
Dowry abuse is reportedly linked to family violence, arranged/forced marriage, slavery, financial abuse, domestic servitude and crimes including murder.
A recent population growth amongst Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, South Asian, Chinese, African, Middle-Eastern and Islamic communities within Australia has brought attention to the issue of dowry payments. A dowry payment is made by a wife’s family to her husband upon marriage and is a common cultural practice amongst these growing communities. A dowry has both symbolic and legal significance and is designed to provide for a wife when she is no longer financially maintained by her husband.
In June 2018, the Senate initiated an inquiry into the practice of dowry and the rise of dowry abuse in Australia with a report due by December 2018. The inquiry aims to explore the adequacy of the political and legal response to dowries and dowry abuse.
It goes without saying that dowry abuse is also linked to declining mental health amongst affected women. Psychiatrists have reported that many female patients experiencing family violence have claimed dowry abuse to be a contributing factor to their poor mental health. Academics agree that dowry abuse is a risk factor for mental illness, self-harm and suicide.
Despite calls to outlaw dowry payments in Australia, the legislative response has been slow. There is no specific law in Australia dealing with dowry payments, and the Courts have been inconsistent in their interpretation of such when considering post-separation property settlements.
There is also a Bill currently before the Victorian Parliament which seeks to include dowry-related abuse as an example of family violence.
If you or someone you know may be subject to dowry abuse, or if you require advice about family violence or separation, please contact Rowan Skinner and Associate Lawyers.