MORE than 1,000 of the 3,800 child marriages in Trinidad and Tobago since 1996 were “Christian or civil marriages”, says Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi.
Al-Rawi also said the bill meant to bring an end to child marriages in Trinidad and Tobago “doesn't necessarily need a three-fifths majority”.
“We believe that it's high time that this be dealt with. It can-not be a safe position that we are telling our children that they should be at school they should observe certain limits but at the same time where we permit a 55 year old man to marry a 12 year old girl,” Al Rawi said.
He made the comments in an interview with TV6 News on Tuesday.
Al-Rawi had attended the Senate's debate of the Miscellaneous Provisions (Marriage) Bill, 2016, meant to set the legal age for all marriages at 18 years old.
Al-Rawi said Trinidad and Tobago acceded to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1991.
“This is not a secular issue. Christian and civil marriages near-ly equal to Hindu marriages with Muslims coming third in the pack. None for the Orishas. And, therefore, this is something that crosses all religious of Trinidad and Tobago's religious backgrounds,” Al-Rawi said.
He said: “There's been an unfortunate polarisation in some religious sectors and I wish to dispel that openly. This is something which is permitted at Civil Law, Christian marriages are bound by the Canon Law in other words then a 14-year-old male can marry a 12-year-old female and, in fact, there are over plus 1,000 Christian or civil marriages to evidence that.”
He said this is “something which much of the population has missed.”
Al-Rawi said the Government overall position against child marriage does not mean that it has not listened “to the ar-guments from those in society.”
“I am very anxious to pass this (bill). You will note that I have said this bill doesn't necessarily need a three-fifths majority that's because the right to equality of treatment runs right alongside the right to religious belief in Section 4 of the Constitution,” Al-Rawi said.
He said 98 per cent of the 3,800 of the child marriages that have occurred since 1996 have been for girls.
“There is a gender inequality and, therefore, the right to the equality of treatment, our girls versus our boys is squarely up for debate…A Hindu boy cannot marry under 18. It is only a Hindu girl that can marry under 18. When the disparity is 12 and 16 for Muslims – it is a girl at 12 and a boy at 16, when the Civil law, Christian law permits 12 for a girl and 14 for a boy. It is the girl at disadvantage,” Al-Rawi said.
He said as a matter of policy, “the Government does not find itself attracted to” exceptions that exist in other jurisdictions “for persons under 18 to marry for instance 16 year olds with judicial or parental consent.”