Religious defence of child marriage sparks debate in Trinidad and Tobago
Child marriage has recently been the subject of heated debate in Trinidad and Tobago. The Inter-Religious Organization (IRO) has made a controversial declaration stating that the country’s Marriage Act should not be amended, despite it allowing children as young as 12 to marry.
According to UNICEF, 8% of girls in Trinidad and Tobago are married before the age of 18.
The IRO’s comments have drawn attention to legal inconsistencies surrounding the age of marriage in the small Caribbean island where four acts regulate marriage:
- The Marriage Act of 1923, which governs Christian and civil marriages, sets the minimum age of marriage at 18 years but allows exceptions on religious grounds.
- The Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act sets the minimum age of marriage at 12 for girls and 16 for boys.
- The Hindu Marriage Act sets the age at 14 for girls and 18 for boys, while the Orisa Marriage Act sets the age at 16 for girls and 18 for boys.
The Office of the Prime Minister has since spoken out in favour of revising age of marriage laws so that they are consistent with the age of sexual consent, which was increased to 18 years a few years ago.
A number of faith leaders have also condemned the IRO and spoken in favour of legislative reforms. In a live Facebook Q&A session, Archbishop Joseph Harris made a powerful statement: “Culture is not something that is perfect, cultures are never perfect, you have good customs and bad customs and there are those customs you have to repudiate and those you have to exalt and make better.”
Child marriage in Latin America and the Caribbean
- 29% of girls are married before their 18th birthday (UNICEF, 2015)
- 7% are married before their 15th birthday (UNICEF, 2015)
- Latin America and the Caribbean is the only region where child marriage is not on the decline. No significant change has been observed in child marriage rates over the last 30 years (UNICEF, 2014).
- More information and resources.
- Bloggers boggled over why child marriage is still on the books in Trinidad and Tobago, Caribbean News Now, 26 May 2016.
- United Nations condemns child marriage in Trinidad, The Virgin Islands Daily News, 23 May.
- Trinidad and Tobago reconsiders Marriage Act after push to recognise child marriage as abuse, Global Voices, 20 May 2016.