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18 T&T civil society groups unite on eradication of child marriage

The Association of Female Executives of Trinidad and Tobago (AFETT), Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA), Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO), Domestic Violence Survivors Reaching Out, Down Syndrome Family Network, UWI Faculty of Law (St Augustine Campus), Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT), Maloney Senior Activity Centre, Maloney Women’s Group, Mamatoto Resource and Birth Centre, Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women, PSI Caribbean, Say Something, Silver Lining Foundation, WOMANTRA, Women’s Caucus, Women Working for Social Progress (Workingwomen), Young Women’s Christian Association of Trinidad and Tobago (YWCATT) and the Women’s Institute for Alternative Development (WINAD) have joined forces to press the Trinidad and Tobago Government into aligning the country’s marriage laws with the legal age of sexual consent, which is 18.

The following is a release submitted by Working Women:

Photo: The IRO has defended child marriages in Trinidad and Tobago.
Photo: The IRO has defended child marriages in Trinidad and Tobago.

 

A grouping of organizations and individuals has been working around the issue of the age of consent. Given here is an abridged version of the document submitted to Government, agreed upon by the signatories listed below. The full document may be accessed at: www.winad.org/resources and www.networkngott.com.

The legal age of sexual consent to penetrative sex in Trinidad and Tobago was raised from 16 to 18 when the Children Act, 2012 came into force on 18 May, 2015. Yet the country’s marriage laws allow parents to enter their children into marriage from the age of 12 for girls and 14 for boys. Today there is a public outcry for these laws to be amended.

Government has pledged to:

 †Rationalize the age of consent, as a matter of legislative priority;

 †Bring Government’s laws and policies in line with international human rights norms, as well as the Global Goals for Sustainable Development.

We salute all those individuals, organizations and State bodies advocating for children, defending their human rights, working for their healthy development, and keeping watch on policies affecting their quality of life.

Photo: Former Chelsea midfielder Gareth Hall (background) offers shooting tips for children during a Tobago Legends training camp in Speyside, Tobago. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Former Chelsea midfielder Gareth Hall (background) offers shooting tips for children during a Tobago Legends training camp in Speyside, Tobago.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

(Outline of our recommendations for legislative reform)

The following amendments will help to harmonize our national laws with international human rights norms, namely the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women:

Consent to marry:

 †Make 18 the age of consent for civil and religious marriages;

 †Take on board the request of the Hindu Women’s Organization for permission to be granted, in
special cases and with strict checks and balances, for marriage from the age of 16.

Discretion in prosecuting sex between young people, notwithstanding age of consent:

 †Repeal Sections 20, 26, 27 and 28 of the Children Act, 2012;

 †Put into law guidelines to determine, case by case, whether minors engaging in sexual activity should be prosecuted. Among the seven factors to be taken into consideration are: evidence of coercion; the age gap between the two parties; and their emotional maturity.

Photo: Child brides and their husbands in Yemen.
Photo: Child brides and their husbands in Yemen.

Minors’ consent and access to medical services: 

Since the age of sexual consent was raised, underage youth who are sexually active have been shying away from seeking the sexual and reproductive health services they need. This is because they face prosecution if they fall just outside of the age exceptions provided at Section 20 of the Children Act, 2012.

They are also liable to be reported to the police by those who are mandated to report sexual offences against minors under the Sexual Offences Act including doctors, nurses, teachers and employers.

 †Put into law 16 years as the age of consent to medical services;

 †Provide, in the law, that guidelines are to be worked out for determining the Gillick competence of a child, that is, finding out whether the child is sufficiently mature and intelligent to give valid consent for medical attention;

 †Revise Section 31 of the Sexual Offences Act to allow medical personnel to provide sexual and reproductive health services to any Gillick-competent child, with no requirement to report the child, and no fear of prosecution.

This is in situations where:

(1) the provider has been unable to persuade the child to inform his/her parents or guardians;

(2) in the professional judgement of the provider, the child is likely to begin or to continue sexual activity; and

(3) without such services the child’s physical and/or mental health is likely to suffer.

Photo: Young Matura football fans enjoy some 2015/16 CNG National Super League Premiership Division action at the Matura Recreation Ground. Matura ReUnited edged Petrotrin Palo Seco 3-2. (Courtesy Nicholas Bhajan/Wired868)
Photo: Young Matura football fans enjoy some 2015/16 CNG National Super League Premiership Division action at the Matura Recreation Ground.
Matura ReUnited edged Petrotrin Palo Seco 3-2.
(Courtesy Nicholas Bhajan/Wired868)

Public consultation:

 †Circulate the draft legislation for public comment before the Parliament goes on its 2016 mid- year recess;

 †Work with us and other advocates to ensure the participation of a wide range of stakeholders, not only religious leaders, in examining and responding to the draft legislation; religious leaders ought not to have any more say in national decision-making than other sectors of the society;

 †Make a special effort to involve young people in this consultation;

 †Revise the draft legislation, as necessary, and ensure that it is passed and comes into force
before 2017.

Other measures to be pursued:

With regard to child marriage, we encourage the State to:

 Identify all currently married minors; provide them with professional counselling and psycho- social support; and have a competent committee or Master of the Family & Children Court review all such cases;

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)

 †Introduce appropriate legislative measures to terminate the marriage if desired.

 †Expand the social safety net to support married children who wish to leave the marriage;

 †Provide spaces in which children who leave their marriage can access essential health, educational and financial services, as well as the necessary counselling to assist them in managing their lives in their changed situation.

 †Provide health, social and other programmes to support those who remain in their marriage.

With regard to the protection of young people from sexual violence, and preventing unplanned and premature pregnancy, we encourage the State to adopt a clear and strong policy commitment to accurate and age-appropriate sexuality education.

We stand ready to partner with Government to achieve implementation of these measures.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. (Copyright News.Gov.TT)
Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(Copyright News.Gov.TT)

(Civil society against child marriage)

Association of Female Executives of Trinidad and Tobago (AFETT)

Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA)

Trinidad and Tobago Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO)

Domestic Violence Survivors Reaching Out

Down Syndrome Family Network

Faculty of Law, University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus

Family Planning Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FPATT)

Maloney Senior Activity Centre

Maloney Women’s Group

Mamatoto Resource and Birth Centre

Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women

PSI Caribbean

Say Something

Silver Lining Foundation

WOMANTRA

Women’s Caucus

Women Working for Social Progress (Workingwomen)

Young Women’s Christian Association of Trinidad and Tobago (YWCATT)

Women’s Institute for Alternative Development (WINAD)

AboutWorking Women

Working Women
Women Working for Social Progress is a 30-year old organisation based in Tunapuna, which was co-founded by activist Merle Hodge. The “Working Women” group does advocacy work on behalf women and children and led the way in discussions like anti-corporal punishment or “parenting for peace.”

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17 comments

  1. Funny…I wonder how The UWI Faculty of Law only, (and not the whole of the UWI or the other faculties at least) supports this move.
    So…do the Faculties of Science and Technology, Food and Agriculture, Humanities and Education, Engineering and Social Sciences NOT support the eradication of child marriage or do they just not care enough to lend their support? Or were they not invited to the party? smh

  2. Would personally like to see if, the laws are changed, if and how far the aggrieved in this matter willing to go with legal challenges, if any

  3. child marriage goes back to dawn of time, no?

  4. Marriage has been abused in our patriarchal societies for millennia! Early & forced marriage has existed for as long as our republican democracy has. If we truly wish to reform marriage, then surely consensual same sex loving bonds should be accepted, as child marriages are rejected!

  5. I don’t think the problem is child marriage. I think the problem is child sexual exploitation hidden behind the facade of marriage.

  6. I wonder how the IRO head feels about THIS “unanimous” decision?

  7. I’ve never heard of some of these groups, but thankful for their voice. Going to read up on them now.

  8. Good job! The only issue I have with this document is that there should be zero provisions for marriage at any age under 18. None! Non-negotiable.

  9. That we still have to take a stand against this…

  10. This is all a good idea, but I suspect that the PNM, like many other administrations before it, lack the political will and cojones, to make these changes. Any changes of this nature will be alienating nearly 50% of the population or more when it comes to elections. Muslims, Hindus and Orisha probably make up the majority of the population in Trinidad and Tobago, and while right-thinking people (“right-thinking” has a specific meaning) of all race, creed, religions and culture will support the idea, it is my honest opinion that the present administration will definitely not be willing to make the changes. It would certainly mean that they would never get a successive election win after this one – unless of course, the changes are made rapidly and the population forgets by the time the next general election is called. We can only hold our breaths and wait in hope.