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Coercion may be at play

Published: 
Saturday, June 4, 2016
10 child marriage cases worry Children’s Authority
Powerful Ladies of Trinidad and Tobago Co-Founder/Chief PLOTTer Gillian Wall, left, and The Shelter’s public affairs officer Liz Talma Sankar listen to The Shelter’s director Reshma Advani during yesterday’s network luncheon, titled “Protecting our Women and Girls: Time to Step it Up T&T,” at the Queen’s Park Oval, Port-of-Spain. PHOTO: NICOLE DRAYTON

The Children’s Authority is currently investigating ten cases of child marriages which are deemed to have occurred in curious circumstances, the authority’s director Sharifa Ali-Abdullah said yesterday.

The cases raised eyebrows amongst members of the authority who initially looked into them as they were being recorded by the authority, she said, prompting them to take a closer look.

Ali-Abdullah raised the cases during a networking luncheon and roundtable discussion hosted by the Powerful Ladies of T&T at the Queen’s Park Oval, Port-of-Spain, which was titled “Protecting our Women and Girls: Time To Step It Up T&T.”

First giving the gathering figures they had on sexual abuse, she said approximately 150 children were living with adult men and of that figure 50 are pregnant and ten are married

She said of those ten children who were married, “nine of them are between the ages of 16 and 17, one is 14 to 15 and we’re investigating those cases.”

She noted that while some minors willingly enter into some marriages, it was important for the authority to probe these ten cases to make sure nothing untoward occurred.

“What we are investigating is to understand whether there is exploitation, whether children are being sold into marriages, whether there is collusion,” she said in an interview with CNC3 afterwards, adding, “I think it is important to look at every single one of those cases.”

She said the authority would not hesitate to intervene in a case if anything untoward was found to have occurred.

Ali-Abdullah said because there had been much debate on the issue of child marriages currently in the public domain, it was important that the authority conduct a professional exercise so as to be able to contribute valid information to the dialogue.

“It’s important that we put things on the table and that we’re are able to address these issues in a very logical and rational way and we need to get all sides of the story,” she told the gathering during her presentation.

Meanwhile, the Children’s Ark also weighed in on the issue of child marriages yesterday, calling for greater education on the topic as well as legislative changes.

In a release, the Children’s Ark said it hoped that with widespread dialogue on the matter, the various religious sects would refrain from demonising one another and their cultural traditions.

The NGO, which said it is committed to promoting the rights and welfare of the child, said while the Hindu Marriage Act, Muslim Marriage Act and the Orisha Marriage Act contained provisions enabling minors to enter into legally valid marriages, T&T had also signed and ratified the UN Convention on Rights of the Child, which carries with it a sense of duty and responsibility to protect children’s rights.

President of the Children’s Ark, Simone de la Bastide, said, “The laws which allow the marriage of minors are in direct contravention of our international obligations. These laws put in peril the welfare and best interests of the child.”