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Religious defence of child marriage sparks debate in Trinidad and Tobago

Adolescent girls in Haiti. 29% of girls in Latin America and the Caribbean are married before their 18th birthday. | Photo credit: International Planned Parenthood Federation / Western Hemisphere Region

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:

Civil society organisations in Trinidad and Tobago, such as WOMANTRA, YWCA and the Hindu Women’s Organization, have seized this opportunity to make child marriage an issue of national attention.

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.

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