(Trinidad Guardian) Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar is expressing full support for ending child marriages in T&T, saying it was not a religious issue but an inappropriate cultural practice which must be stopped.
Persad-Bissessar spoke about the issue during yesterday’s news conference of the Opposition in the Parliament.
The Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act which allows for girls to marry at age 12 and the Hindu Marriage Act which allows girls to marry at 14 have evoked controversy in recent days with the Government indicating that the age limit must be harmonised with the age for sexual consent, which is 18.
President of the IRO, Harrypersad Maharaj, and general secretary of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha, Satnarayan Maharaj, have insisted that the law should not be amended but the Roman Catholic Church and Presbyterians were among those in favour of harmonising the marriage age with that of sexual consent.
Persad-Bissessar said the current law discriminates against girls as “they can be married off at an earlier age than the boys and therefore we are in favour of the standardisation of the legal age.” She said that the legal age should be increased.
She said the existing ages under the Hindu and Muslim Marriage Acts “cannot be a realistic age that anyone would want to support.”
She added that while in the past such ages may be seen to have been reasonable “we are saying that today we are in a much more egalitarian society and those arguments are irrelevant. We must be brave enough to do what is right and in this case what is right is to revise the marriage age upwards.”
“We are all in support of the revision upwards of the age of marriage,” she added.
She is also saying that the State must ensure that “there is no accommodation for statutory rape and we must strictly enforce the law in relation to older men having sexual relations with children.”
According to Persad-Bissessar, increasing the legal age for marriage alone will not be sufficient to protect children.
Persad-Bissessar said the Opposition UNC did not share the views of the IRO president on the matter. She insisted: “It is not a religious argument at all, it has nothing to do with religion. I think it has more to do with culture and tradition,” she added.
Persad-Bissessar said T&T was a secular State and she “cannot find in any religion where God has mandated that you can get married at 12.”
Persad-Bissessar also claimed there was “inequality of treatment and favouritism” in the almost immediate issuing of a cheque valued at over $400,000 to attorney Kerwin Garcia for legal work done for Udecott, which is chaired by Noel Garcia, his uncle.