PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi has revealed that there have been over three thousand child marriages in the last 20 years in the twin island republic.
Al-Wari, made the disclosure in Senate as he piloted the Miscellaneous Provisions Marriage Bill 2016 – that seeks raise the age of marriage to 18, as recommended by the United Nations.
The bill also seeks to amend the Hindu Marriage Act of 1945, the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act of 1961 and the Orisha Marriage Act of 1999.
The Attorney General said that between 1996 and 2016, the Registrar General recorded 3,478 child marriages, with marriage certificates showing that some of them were girls as young as 11 and 12 who were married to men as old as 36, 42 and 56.
“We have a phenomenon where the law, as it exists in Trinidad and Tobago, permits somebody who is more than two or three times the age of the child, of the girl, to be married to a man two and three times her age,” he said, adding these facts were taken from marriage certificates.
He dismissed the argument that child marriages take place in rural areas – stating that greatest number of these marriages come from urban areas.
Al-Wari also referred to the Hindu, Muslim and Orisha marriage acts which allow marriages from the ages of 14, 12 and 16 respectively in the case of girls. The Bill proposes to criminalize the marriage of people under 18 by a marriage officer, who would be fined TT$50,000 and jailed for seven years for the offence.Trinidad and Tobago is one of only eight countries in the world where someone can be married as early as age 12.
Seeking to dispel the argument by religious bodies that early marriages protect young girls from sexual immorality and unwanted pregnancy, the Attorney General said statistics also showed there were more child pregnancies than abortions.Between 1999 and 2015, hospital records showed 15,231 children gave birth.
The statistics also showed there were 743 teenage abortions between 2011 to 2015.Last year, 168 children between 11 and 16 became pregnant while 12 had abortions.
The bill comes after 26 years of public discussion and seven months of Government consultations on the matter and he had received numerous submissions from civil society on the controversial matter, some for and some against child marriages.
According to the Attorney General, the Bill seeks to protect the voice of the child.
Meanwhile, temporary opposition Senator, Dr. Maulana Wafie Mohammed, has urged the government not to change the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Ordinance Chapter 45.02 as Muslims believe the marriageable age of a female begins with the onset of puberty.
Mohammed, the first Opposition Senator to contribute to the debate in the Senate on the bill to amend the Civil, Muslim, Hindu and Orisa marriage acts, said – “The Holy Koran informs us about it. ‘Marry women of your choice. Make the trials of the orphans easy until they reach the age of marriage.’ The age of marriage is defined in Islamic religion as the age when puberty starts.” The age of puberty varies according to climatic conditions, he said.
No change has been made to the Holy Koran and since Prophet Mohammed came to this Earth, Mohammed said, “from then to now the lifestyle of the Muslim has not changed.” While the study of sociology shows changes in the lifestyles of people, Mohammed said, “not in the case of Islam, because God tells us in the Holy Koran ‘the habit of God does not change’,” he added.