Minister of Public Administration and Communications, Maxie Cuffie, has likened the support of child marriages to the defence of slavery and suggested that the current Marriages Act, which permits minors to be married under Hindu, Muslim or Baptist rites, leads to a culture of rape and violence against women.
Cuffie, who is the MP for La Horquetta/Talparo, made his comments during debate on the Miscellaneous Provisions (Marriage) Bill in Parliament on Friday 3 March 2017. Excerpts from his presentation were forwarded to the media by his Ministry under the heading:
“Legislation that allows women to be objectified leads to a culture of rape; marriage bill creates culture of respect.”
The following is the full statement from the Ministry:
The Miscellaneous Provisions (Marriage) Bill, 2016 is important to Trinidad and Tobago because it sets the tone and influences how society treats women and young people.
“For me this bill is not about young boys and young girls, it’s about creating a culture that respects our young people and respects young women. When we have legislation that allows women to be objectified, it leads to a culture where rape is prevalent, where violence against women is prevalent…” said the Minister of Public Administration and Communications, the Honourable Maxie Cuffie.
He was at the time contributing to the debate on the Bill in Parliament on Friday 3 March 2017.
The Minister said while he respects the work that has been done by religious bodies, theirs is a misguided view and “…on this issue they are wrong, and they’re as wrong as the people who stood up to defend slavery, they’re as wrong as the people who were against giving women the right to vote, they’re as wrong as the people who were against universal adult suffrage and those who said the world is flat.”
He reminded the Parliament that some of the most far-reaching and landmark pieces of legislation were objected to by religious bodies.
“During the time of slavery, there were people who were arguing against the abolition of slavery on the grounds that God wanted things that way to protect African people. In the 1920’s there were religious people arguing women should not have the right to vote because things will fall apart.
“In fact, some people in Saudi Arabia still believe that things will fall apart if women are given the right to drive. And throughout history you’ve seen some of the greatest advances, in terms of society, being objected to, by religious persons.”
The bill proposes a minimum marriage age of 18 within Trinidad and Tobago but the Parliamentary Opposition has voiced concerns about some aspects of it. Minister Cuffie said it is untenable for the Opposition to pretend they are supporting the marriage age at 18, yet add caveats to their support.
“I support this legislation…to assist the young people of this country, to protect children and to do all that is possible so that we do not have a dichotomy in the legislation where you can be treated as a minor on one hand if you don’t take marriage vows and you’re treated as an adult if you have.”
He argued that the legislation is intended to treat with how the country sees itself, explaining that when a young girl is asked or is forced to get married at an early age, it’s not just the girl who suffers but her siblings and extended family.
Furthermore, he said “…the trauma people suffer having to truncate their ambitions …you really understand why we need this legislation, and you really understand why every Member of Parliament should have the courage of their conviction to stand up and support this bill.”
Mr Cuffie said having listened to the arguments, no one from the Opposition bench has advanced reasons why there is need for a three-fifths majority to get the bill passed.
He said no one outlined how having the three-fifths majority will enhance the bill or what has been taken out of the bill that will affect a young man or woman because it does not have the three-fifths majority clause.
The Public Administration and Communications Minister said times have changed and the Government is putting systems and legislation in place to ensure that Trinidad and Tobago adopts legislation to create the kind of society which reflects those changes.