Office of the PM responds: Gov’t sees “critical need” to end child marriages

The following release was issued by the Office of the Prime Minister in response to the issue of child marriages for Trinidad and Tobago’s religious sects:

The Minister of State in the Office of the Prime Minister (Gender and Child Affairs) has noted with concern the statements that are being attributed to the President of the Inter-Religious Organisation and the Secretary General of the Santa Dharma Maha Sabha, on child marriage as recently reported by the media.

Photo: Majed, 25, (left) and his eight year old child bride, Ghana, in Yemen. (Copyright ABC News)
Photo: Majed, 25, (left) and his eight year old child bride, Ghana, in Yemen.
(Copyright ABC News)

Both parties have reportedly stated that the State should not interfere with the law as it relates to the minimum age for marriage.

As a nation, we recognise that our children and women are two of the most vulnerable groups in society, who are in need of our care, protection and support. The Government is committed to legislative measures and other initiatives aimed at ensuring that our children are protected and their rights upheld.

In this context, the issue of child marriage in Trinidad and Tobago is a topic of national concern.

The age at which males and females can enter into marriage in Trinidad and Tobago are glutted by our four marriage statutes. All four statutes permit marriages at ages which are in conflict with the age of consent to sexual activity as reflected in the Children Act, 2012.

The permitted ages under the various statutes are as follows:

  1. Under the Hindu Marriage Act, Chapter 45.03, a girl may marry at age 14 and a boy at 18;
  2. Under the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, Chapter 45.02, a girl may marry at age 12 and a boy at 16;
  3. Under the Orisha Marriage Act, Chapter 45.04, a girl may marry at age 16 and a boy at age 18;
  4. The Marriage Act, Chapter 45.01, sets out a process and procedure of consent for marriages of minors, which governs Christians and Civil Marriages.
Photo: IRO head Harrypersad Maharaj.
Photo: IRO head Harrypersad Maharaj.

The child protection goals embodied in the Children Act, 2012, and more particularly the provisions that children under 18 cannot consent to penetrative sexual conduct, is a reflection of our society’s collective will to safeguard and protect children our children.

The gap between the age for marriage (currently 12, 14 and 16) and the age of consent to penetrative sexual conduct (18 years) has increased since the proclamation of the Children Act, 2012 in May 2015 and must be harmonised.

Early marriage can expose a child, inter alia, to:

  1. Decreased opportunity for education;
  2. Serious health risk such as premature pregnancy and sexual transmitted infections since the child cannot abstain from sex or insist on condoms;
  3. High risk due to early pregnancy such as death during delivery, endangering the health of young mother and their babies; and
  4. Increased likelihood of being subjected to gender-based violence.
Photo: Archbishop Barbara Burke (right) and former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Burke has defended the right of religious sects to have child marriages. (Copyright News.Gov.TT)
Photo: Archbishop Barbara Burke (right) and former Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar.
Burke has defended the right of religious sects to have child marriages.
(Copyright News.Gov.TT)

Moreover, early childhood marriage terminates many of the elements associated with a healthy and enjoyable childhood and creates a cycle of poverty by curtailing the educational opportunities of the children involved.

It is the Government’s view that children are entitled to the fullest benefits of childhood and to the enjoyment of their rights as children. And the Government is committed to the protection and fulfilment of these rights.

In this regard, there is a critical need for the age of marriage to be aligned to the age of consent for sexual conduct.

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  1. The husband of a child bride where he is an adult is likely to exercise ‘control of her movement, control of physical environment, psychological control, measures taken to prevent or deter escape, force, threat of force or coercion, duration, assertion of exclusivity, subjection to cruel treatment and abuse, control of sexuality and forced labour’. These are the characteristics of slavery [Prosecutor v Kunarac et al (Judgment) IT-96-23 & IT -96923/1-T (22 February 2001)].

    Child marriage can be referred to as slavery, if the following three elements are present:

    If the child has not genuinely given their free and informed consent to enter the marriage;
    If the child is subjected to control and a sense of “ownership” in the marriage itself, particularly through abuse and threats, and is exploited by being forced to undertake domestic chores within the marital home or labour outside it, and/or engage in non-consensual sexual relations;
    If the child cannot realistically leave or end the marriage, leading potentially to a lifetime of slavery.

    [Anti-Slavery International]

  2. If there are no statistics then why the uproar?
    Change the archaic law, Raise the age!
    We live in modern time when young girls are educated and even outnumber the boys

  3. Lasana I wonder what type of dialog Moonilal would want to haveif some hard back man wanted to marry his granddaughter?

  4. When they webre in government, they did not change the Marriage Act because Sat did not support the change. This was one of Verna St. Rose’s first issues with that government.

  5. The Opposition’s position is to get in power. That’s it. So they are not bad talking Sat at all.
    Moonilal wants dialogue on statutory rape? Any other crimes deserve dialogue?

  6. I suspect the Opposition is incapable of gauging what their supporters position is.

  7. The “hush yuh stink mouth” MP said there needs to be dialogue on the issue I haven’t heard of any others commenting, people batting in dey crease because they fear public backlash according to what they say

  8. Have any of the child marriage proponents pulled the race card yet?
    It’s getting late!

  9. What is the Opposition’s position on child marriages, do they even have one?

  10. This amendment to the Marriage Acts should have been done this week! good job by the Office of the PM.

    BTW, what is the correct age for a sixty something year old man to wine up on the ‘bumsy’ of a 17 year old, and feel proud of it while the law says that she is a child?

    At what age is it legal to make a pass at Malcolm Marshall’s 17 year old daughter?

    At what age is it correct for a teacher to sleep with his student, impregnate her, flee the island and leave her and her child to fend for themselves, and don’t even acknowledge the child until he is 40 years old? Which only came after public pressure.

  11. I never heard of twelve to fourteen years old getting married in Trinidad. I know one of a case in a fifteen year old getting married.

  12. Look at that Lil child na! Big old nasty man!

  13. No right thinking person can support child marriages! Perverts yes, obviously!

  14. Wired868
    I see very little statics and examples of child marriages in T&T. The comments suggest it is present but little info is given and foreign examples. Does anyone have more details. TIA

  15. So there is a critical need, well you’re the State, do something about it NOW…. at this point TT is on par with such wonderful advanced nations as Mali, Yemen, Burkina Faso ….

  16. Thanks but enforce the statutory rape act as well.

  17. Totally agree with the government”s position on this matter. Move NOW to protect our children. Too many bad things take place under the guise of religion. History has proven this over and over again.

  18. Why why why does it take an uproar for any government of this country to do the right or sensible thing? Any government with the right agenda should have these ideas in their manifestos prior to their election.

  19. Do it now while the iron is hot

  20. says the govt who mashed up child and gender ministry

  21. ‘Critical’ means now. Let’s see how long it takes.

  22. positive sign moving forward modernisation

  23. Sounds to me like someone got an instruction to respond asap and did so. Without being undergenerous, I have to say that I do not believe that this is anything but more PNM TALK designed to keep the masses from revolting and the leader’s image from being tarnished.

  24. If perhaps the government had a spine but it is secular in name only.

  25. AS of May 18 this year, the age of consent for sexual intercourse in Trinidad and Tobago is now 18.

    The Children’s Act of 2012 was proclaimed on May 18 and, in this legislation, the definition of “child” is now “a person under the age of 18 years”.

    Prior to May 18, a child was defined as persons under the age of 16 years and the Sexual Offences Act listed various offences for engaging in activities with persons under 16.

    However, with the passing of the new legislation, certain sections of the Sexual Offences Act have been repealed, broadening the parameters under which persons can be charged.

  26. Totally agree with the government in this instance. 12 and 14 years Olds should not be allowed to marry. This is not primitive times

  27. Ok. So why wait. Make it so. Now. They want public outcry to help speed up the process? Because that can be arranged.

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