PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Jan 18, CMC – The Senate late Tuesday night approved the amendment to the Marriage Bill, raising the legal age of marriage to 18, but without the support of opposition legislators and at least one Independent Senator.

Leader of the Opposition Business in the Senate, Wade Mark, had earlier during the debate supported the raising of the age of marriage to 18 years.
However, he said, the main opposition United National Congress (UNC) was also suggesting there be an exception for children between 16 and 18 years, in circumstances where there is parental and judicial consent, where legal aid is provided and where the child is involved in the decision.

Wade Markks

Wade Mark

Mark had also suggested that the Miscellaneous Provisions (Marriage) Bill 2016 be sent to a joint select committee of Parliament so as to allow civil society groups and religious bodies a further opportunity to express their views on amendments to the legislation.

Mark said the opposition party also had concerns with the TT$50,000 (One TT dollar =US$0.16 cents) fine and seven year imprisonment proposed in the bill to be “draconian, oppressive and excessive.”

Clause 27 (b) of the bill states that a person who wilfully and knowingly solemnise the marriage of a person who is under the age 18, commits an offence and is liable on conviction and indictment to a fine of TT$50,000 and imprisonment of seven years.

Mark, a former speaker of the parliament, called on the Keith Rowley government to provide the Children’s Authority with resources to protect children from statutory rape.

“So let me make it clear that the UNC, as it relates to contract marriage, is committed to what the Attorney General put in the legislation as 18 years and over…but we have an exception. With the consent of the parents, judge, the involvement of the child and with the provision of legal aid if they do not have the means.”

But in her contribution to th4e debate Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus said she would not wish for her grandchildren to be married at the age of 12.

“I want them to have a future and getting married at such a young age cuts their future, brings it to an abrupt end,” she said, questioning the calls made by religious leaders for the laws to remain the same.

“I have observed that most of the people who are requesting that the law not be amended and that legal rape remain in place, they have all been men. Where are the women from these organisations? Or is it that these organisations do not have women? It is only the men that are the talking point. That must be of concern to all of us,” she said.

“Hardback men in this society, Madam President, with 12-year-old girls. One shudders,” she said.

She criticised Mark for being influenced by “public pressure” and making it seem that the UNC had always supported the increased marriage age when they are using temporary senators to provide an opposing view.

She said child marriage is an imposition which affects more girls than boys and the records show that child marriages are organised in many instances as a result of wanting to emerge from poverty by selling the child for a price.

“Madam President, this is serious business, how long can we continue to tolerate our very young children being lost and never found?” she asked.

Prior to the vote, Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said that a simple majority was now needed to pass the legislation. Mark and other opposition legislators abstained, so too, Dr. Dhanayshar Mahabir, an Independent Senator and a lecturer at the University of the West Indies (UWI).

The bill was passed with 23 in favour and five abstentions.