Trinidad and Tobago legislates against child marriage
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Advancing gender equality and child protection
After many years of activism, legislation was enacted to standardise the age of marriage in Trinidad and Tobago regardless of sex or religious/cultural background.
Between 2006-2015, 528 children were married under civil, Hindu and Muslim marriage laws, the vast majority being girls, some as young as 12 and 13. The global human rights community has repeatedly characterized child marriage is a fundamental violation of the rights of children. In its 2014 joint recommendation on harmful practices, the Committee of the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women specifically identified child and/or forced marriages as harmful practices “grounded in discrimination based on sex, gender and age, among other things’”. In Trinidad and Tobago, advocates to end child marriage pointed out that marriage of minors interrupts education, constrains personal development and agency, limits livelihood options, undermines heathy sexuality development and exposes children to violence and predatory, exploitative sexual relations with adults.
On 9th June, 2017 the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago passed the Miscellaneous Provisions (Marriage) Bill, 2016 which amended the Marriage Act, the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, the Hindu Marriage Act and the Orisa Marriage Act all of which allowed the marriage of minors. The amendment is an absolute prohibition against marriage under 18 as the Parliament rejected an exception proposed by the Coalition against Child Marriage which would have allowed marriages of persons between 16 and 18 under limited circumstances and with judicial consent.
There are still other countries in the region which allow the marriage of persons under 18. In Barbados, Dominica, Jamaica and St. Lucia the minimum age at which a person may enter into marriage is 16 years though the relevant laws call for parental/guardian consent for the marriage of persons between 16 and 18. The court may dispense with this consent in Barbados and Dominica. In the Bahamas, the minimum age is 18 though persons between 15 and 18 may marry with consent of parents. In Belize, children between 14 and 18 can be married with parental consent. In St. Vincent and the Grenadines the minimum age for marriage for girls is 15 and 16 for boys. In St. Kitts and Nevis the minimum age for marriage is 16 years of age and no consent of a parent or guardian is required. In Guyana whilst 16 is the minimum age of marriage, the High Court may grant permission to a girl under 16 where she may be pregnant or have delivered a child.
Not enough is known about the incidence of child marriage across the Caribbean. However, it is clear that these laws across the region should be re-considered to bring them into line with human rights standards and to ensure children’s rights to protection, security non-discrimination, gender equality and security of the person are secured.
In the course of the discussion in Trinidad and Tobago, it was also pointed out that adolescent sexual and reproductive health policies are needed, policies which are informed by a sound understanding of adolescent sexuality development so that young people are best prepared to make informed decisions, with the support of families, schools, health services and communities, which prepare them for secure and meaningful lives.