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What about those underaged ‘brides’?

Section 6 (1) of the Sexual Offences Act states “anyone who is found guilty of having sex with a female under 14, WHO IS NOT THEIR WIFE, is liable to be imprisoned to life in prison.” So according to that Act, one could actually be under 14 and be a wife?! Who even comes up with these notions? Then, I was reminded that in certain faith-based persuasions right here in Trinidad and Tobago, it is perfectly legitimate to take and have a young girl under age 14 as a wife!
Therein lies my dilemma.
All the arguments and deliberations that have preceded the enactment of the sexual offences legislation have, we would hope, taken into consideration the numerous psychological and physiological reasons why sexual intercourse with a girl under 14 should be deemed a crime.
How is it possible therefore that, in stark opposition to those arguments, someone’s faith-based orientation could trump the law? Those looking into the doorway of the reasoning that, in one breath holds this as an offence and in the same breath as being permissible, cannot help but see incongruent standards that only serve paedophilia and those who want to engage in it while totally disregarding and cannibalising the rights of hapless, under-aged “brides”. Should we also be viewing this as constitutionally sanctioned gender discrimination? ...because I do not see or know of similar laws that explicitly state, “...anyone who is found guilty of having sex with a male under 14, who is not their husband, is liable to life imprisonment.”
A child is a child and her right to enjoy her childhood should never be placed on the altar of self-serving, adult-enacted creeds. Sexual violations against children rob them of their innocence, throw them into a conundrum of psychological and physiological turmoil and without the right interventions, eventually abandon them to a life way below their own dreams and aspirations.
This equates to a form of psychological enslavement from which the girls, eventually maturing into adulthood, never become entirely free but remain burdened by varying combinations of the reality of a cheated humanity, rife with products of unfinished or deferred schooling, teen and single-parenthood, possibly some delinquency and a host of other social demons.
The male perpetrators on the other hand get to go on with their lives. Even young school-aged boys who impregnate school-aged or under-aged girls get to continue and finish their education uninterrupted, while the girls (and her support systems, if any) remain the only ones held to account.
Outside, for the time being, of the entire system that permits under-14 brides, I ask this… as parents or potential parents, are we content with bringing our innocent girls into the world to become the assets of selfish, ravenous, over-sexed, psychological slave-masters? Are we doing enough to carefully nurture the minds of our children, particularly our girls, in the face of the powerful entertainment and other industries that take and hold dominance over what our children model after?
The countless pressures with which our children are bombarded today continue to increase and mutate exponentially yet, our parenting strategies have either remained stagnant or have given way to accommodate an almost self-piloted child because many parents and guardians simply do not know how to parent a more knowledgeable, tech-savvy youngster.
Why are we not amplifying the values that would enable and empower our young men and women to make better choices regarding their sexuality? Why are we not investing significantly and consistently in those areas, more so than what is being done in support (thus, endorsement) of the alcohol-and-sex elements we are so quick to brand as “our culture” and, which are effectively fuelling the adolescent dream?
I’ve heard it said that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing repeatedly yet expecting different results”. Should we perhaps be officially declared an insane society?
The Prime Minister has said, “No excuse and no exception, I am not going to tolerate that (sexual relations with minors) at all.” Let us see how serious she is about this. Until then, I implore us all, please let us continue this conversation unrelentingly until we change this current status quo. Our children simply have no other voice to say this on their behalf and are not yet empowered or equipped enough to change it themselves.

Debra J Johnson
via e-mail
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