(Trinidad Guardian) More than 8,400 girls and 1,300 boys under 19 years of age were married in T&T between 1997-2007. These figures include girls under the age of 15. These were the Central Statistical Office (CSO) figures presented by Rawwida Baksh, consultant at the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development at the National Consultation on the Standardisation of the Legal Age of Marriage yesterday at Crowne Plaza, Port-of-Spain. “Research needs to be done in order to find out the dynamics taking place in these circumstances. We need to know how these young girls feel with their lives being mortgaged,” said Baksh. She revealed that T&T is one of 50 countries in the world where child marriages still take place. “In 2011, on the eve of our 50th Independence anniversary, it is anomalous that we would still have legislation that perpetuates the unequal treatment of girls,” said Baksh. Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development Verna St Rose-Greaves, who said legislation treating with the issue of child protection would go to Parliament very soon, admitted that T&T lags behind in the standardisation of an age for marriage.
According to common law in the Marriage Act of 1923, the legal age for marriage stands at 12 for girls and 14 for boys. “There is a saying on the street that ‘after 12 is lunch’ meaning once a girl is over the age of 12 she can be eaten raw sexually,” said St Rose-Greaves, who revealed that child marriages were often used as a method to avoid prosecution for sexual violations against minors, or to take the shame away from teenage pregnancies. She said for some families young girls are married off for economic reasons. St Rose-Greaves said the country’s four marriage acts are in conflict with conventions to which T&T is a signatory, including the Convention for the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. Although the Acts stipulate ages of consent, they do not give an age for marriage. The minister said consultation is needed among all interest groups to ensure protection of all the country’s children.
St Rose-Greaves had announced her intention in Parliament last week to hold consultations on the reviewing of laws relating to child marriages. Following this Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Sat Maharaj defended the practice. In a newspaper report Maharaj criticised St Rose-Greaves for her announcement. He said: “That decision first of all is definitely for a community to decide. Very few people under 14 years get married in T&T.” Sat said however that the minority ages were there as a safety net. The four Acts dealing with marriage in T&T are: The Marriage Act which governs civil and Christian marriages and sets the age of consent at 18 for males and females. n The Marriage and Divorce Act which governs Muslim marriages and divorces and sets the age of consent at 16 for males and 12 for females The Hindu Marriage Act which sets the age of consent at 18 for males and 14 for females. However, provisions are made for persons under these set ages to be contracted in marriage with consent. The Orisha Marriage Act which sets the age of consent at 18 for males and 16 for females.