Friday, January 19, 2018

AG brings bill to end child marriage

port of spain
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi will today pilot legislation in the Parliament to bring an end to child marriages in this country.
The bill proposes that the legal age to marry be 18 years. The legislation will require a three-fifths majority of the Parliament and, therefore, it will fall to the Opposition United National Congress (UNC) to lend its votes to bring about these changes.
A bill entitled “An Act to amend the Marriage Act, Chap. 45:01, the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, Chap. 45:02, the Hindu Marriage Act, Chap. 45:03, the Orisa Marriage Act, Chap. 45:04 and the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act, Chap. 45:51” is listed on the Order Paper for today’s Senate sitting, and Al-Rawi will kick off the debate.
“It’s obviously a very sensitive bill, which has been long in gesta­tion; there have been several attempts to look at this law over the period of the last 20 years,” said the AG.
He said his office took the diffe­rent information from all levels to deal with the statistics behind child marriages.
“There have been some very heartfelt statements; the vast majo­rity of the people are for the amendment of the law, which is a harmonisation of 18 years, full stop, with no exceptions as the age to contract marriage across all,” he said.
Al-Rawi noted the civil law or the Christian law permitted marriage of minors 14 and 12 years old, which is puberty.
He said Hindu marriages were at 18 and 14, and the Muslims 16 and 12, with the Orisha’s marriage age at 18 and 16.
“There were some very heartfelt views against the law offered by the Maha Sabha, some from within the members of the Muslim community...those are very sincere positions which have to be factored, and I am looking forward to hearing the views of senators as to whether this law should move ahead,” he said.
“It is really quite simple in that your views are either for, against or for with exceptions. The vast majo­rity of the people are for the new law for the age of consent to contract a marriage and some people are against, saying leave the law as it is,” said Al-Rawi.
He said some proposed the view that to change it to 18, but have an exception for people who are 16 years and over, provided there is parental or judicial consent.

Widespread consultation

“Ultimately, it has to draw down to an issue of policy because you will never be able to satisfy all of the interest groups...the Cabinet policy in producing the bill has chosen to elect the 18 years with no exceptions, and that’s very much the trend around the world, driven by the United Nations,” he said.
The AG noted he did widespread consultation on this issue and gathered the feedback of thousands of people.
He said he is looking forward to the debate today and will be paying close attention to all the submissions.
He stated after it passes through the Senate, the bill will then go to the Lower House for debate.
“You have to remember it is a three-fifths-majority bill and whereas the Senate is a different construct to the House, and obviously the UNC position is going to be very important because they are the ones to provide the parliamentary support in the House, so this is going to be something the UNC will feature quite prominently,” he said.
Al-Rawi said we have to decide where we are as a country and where do we draw the line.
He pointed out the age for marriage in the eastern part of the world is different from the West.
“In the India, nobody can get married under 18; in much of the Middle East, in Sub-Saharan Africa, 18, in some instances, 20 and 21...the West is a very different experience so this is not a simple debate, regrettably, but it’s one where Trinidad and Tobago has to stand on what it considers to be the policy to drive our country,” he said.
During one of the consultations last year on this issue, Al-Rawi produced statistics which showed for the period 2006 to 2016, there were 84,330 marriages in this country, with 548 cases being minors.
He had stated that of this figure, Hindus had 328 marriages of minors, followed by civil with 117 and Muslims 103. Orisha had none.
The AG had said the 548 children who got married ranged between the ages of 11 and 16.