I am passionate about ending the disturbing practice of child marriage. Every week I get stories from countries around the world about their child marriage practices and how they are trying to end it. Nothing has ever come across my screen about my home country’s involvement in child marriage, so I went on the hunt to see where Trinidad and Tobago stack up against countries like Asia, India and Africa, where child marriage is rampant.
My findings surprised and disappointed me. I moved to the United States in my early 20’s so most of my life I lived in Trinidad and Tobago. Child marriage was not even something I thought about. I don’t know any body who got knocked up in high school. I’d heard talk about some of my Indian friends parents threatening to marry them off but nobody ever took it seriously, that usually happened after they completed high school. Arranged marriage was a whole other deal, no one to my knowledge was ever pulled out of school to get married.
Okay, so here’s what I’ve found:
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. 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. – Rawwida Baksh
According to common law in the Marriage Act of 1923, the legal age for marriage stands at 12 for girls and 14 for boys.
Source: Central Statistical Office (CSO) presented by Rawwida Baksh, consultant at the Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development.
My thoughts: The common law in Marriage Act was passed in 1923! We are in 2014! How many laws have changed since then? Why is this one still in place? Trinidad and Tobago is not a country afraid of change, here’s proof:
- We established our independence from Britain 51 years ago (this year will be 52).
- We became a Republic 38 years (this year).
- We moved from being a third world country to a fully developed country and one of the richest countries in the Caribbean.
- We embraced our first female Prime Minister.
The list goes on and on. The fact that child marriage is still being practiced is unacceptable!
Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, Sat Maharaj actually defended the practice. “That decision first of all is definitely for a community to decide. Very few people under 14 years get married in T&T.”
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.
- 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.
Child marriage in Trinidad and Tobago statistics and quotes via Guardian.co.tt
My thoughts: Trinidad and Tobago is one of the few countries where education is FREE up to a University level. There are countless government programs available FREE for kids who are not academically inclined. Poorer countries blame lack of education or opportunities for girls as a reason for child marriage. What excuse is there for child marriage in a country like Trinidad and Tobago?
Conclusion: No country is safe from child marriage. I set out to find where we stood against countries where child marriage is rampant, 8 per cent of our children have become child brides. At least that was from what data is available. The good news is that unlike other countries it is more difficult to conceal child brides in Trinidad and Tobago because marriages have to be registered and there is a better system for keeping records than in other countries. Still we can do better than that, there are too many opportunities available to our youths to limit them to a life of servitude.
- Child marriage in other Caribbean countries.
- Profile on Girls Empowerment Network Malawi (GENET)