Child marriage declared illegal in Trinidad and Tobago

child marriage

As a follow-up to our previous post, Trinidad parliament passes legislation outlawing child marriages/, here is Janine Mendes-Franco’s (Global Voices) report on new legislation regarding child marriage in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T). Previously (according to The News Minute), some citizens, such as a controversial Hindu leader in the dual-island country—Sat Maharaj, secretary general of the Maha Sabha—had justified child marriage while claiming that Hindu child marriages do not exist in T&T anymore. Mendes-Franco writes:

Child marriage is now illegal in Trinidad and Tobago. On June 9, 2017, the country’s parliament unanimously passed legislation to outlaw the practice, changing the legal marriage age to 18.

Prior to this amendment of the Marriage Act, some members of the Hindu and Muslim religious communities adhered to the practice, and there was great public outcry in May 2016 when Brother Harrypersad Maharaj, the leader of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO), a group that brings together representatives from the country’s diverse religious groups, said that the state should not interfere because “age did not determine maturity”.

This, despite the fact that Trinidad and Tobago is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which defines minors as “every human being below the age of 18”. UN statistics for the period 2002-2012 in Trinidad and Tobago show that the percentage of children who were married by age 15 was 1.8 percent and by 18, 8.1 percent. In 2011, the country’s Central Statistical Officeconfirmed that more than 8,400 girls and 1,300 boys under 19 were married between 1997 [and] 2007.

Online petitions and social media agitation seeking to get child marriage laws off the books were swift and well supported, and no doubt aided this end result. However, there were hiccups. One Hindu leader, for instance, had no qualms about telling child marriage critics to “mind [their] own damn business”. Such religious opposition made what would ordinarily have been a straightforward issue a little more fraught and at one point, there was doubt as to whether the opposition would even support the bill.

But in early 2017, the Miscellaneous Provisions Marriage Bill was passed — even with four opposition senators (including a woman) and one independent choosing to abstain — paving the way for the bill to be debated in the the House of Representatives, where a simple majority would make it into law.

Now, all that remains is for the country’s president to assent to it, then have the law proclaimed. [. . .]

For full article, see https://globalvoices.org/2017/06/12/child-marriage-is-no-more-in-trinidad-tobago/

Also see related article at http://www.thenewsminute.com/article/hindu-leader-trinidad-and-tobago-justifies-child-marriage-44411

Photo from http://www.cnc3.co.tt/press-release/unc-against-child-marriages

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