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Activist: Child marriages still legal in T&T

Published: 
Thursday, September 7, 2017

Until the amended Marriage Act is proclaimed, people under the age of 18 can get married and such marriages will be considered legal, child rights activist Hazel Brown said yesterday.

She was commenting on the recent incident where police arrested a 28- year old Aranguez man, Mitchum Deosingh, folowing his marriage to his 17 year old girlfriend but were later forced to release him after his attorney Nikolas Ali told them the Miscellaneous Provisions Marriage Act 2017 is yet to be proclaimed.

The legislation was passed by both houses of Parliament in mid-June and assented to by President Anthony Carmona on June 22 but is yet to be proclaimed. Attorney General Faris Al Rawi explained that input from the finalisation of forms from the Parliamentary Counsel and the Registrar General has just been provided and the matter has to go to Cabinet for consideration.

Only after the Cabinet considers the matter and gives approval can the President proclaim the Act.

Brown told the T&T Guardian: “The fact that the law was passed will not change a lot in terms of the relationships children under 18 have. They will continue to do it. The only thing is they will not be married.”

She said for this reason a coalition of organisations including the Family Planning Association and other NGOs lobbied the Attorney General to include exceptions in the Act. The groups felt the law needed to be applied to “real situations and real people.”

“There will be circumstances which require exceptions and that has to be dealt with because that is the reality,” Brown said.

Among other things the groups proposed that the only exception to marriage by persons under 18 that should be considered is a person over 16 who intends to marry someone no more than three years older.”

A document prepared by the NGOs noted that the provision permitting such a marriage should outline the process for review by an appropriate authority such as the Family Court to ascertain informed consent on the part of the minor as well as for provision of counselling.

Opposition Senator Gerald Ramdeen took issue with the delay after the Government’s rush to amend the legislation. He said this was similar to the SSA Act which is yet to be proclaimed 18 months after being passed in the Parliament.

The debate on changes to the Marriage Act which affects Hindu, Muslim and Orisha marriages was contentious. Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Sat Maharaj voiced his objections and said religious practices are guaranteed under the Constitution.

Maharaj said the Maha Sabha is pursuing legal action.

“We are of the view that our constitutional rights have been tampered with by the Attorney General in his anxiety to get this Bill passed,” he said

He described the action by the police in the case of Deosingh as “high-handed”.

“I am not surprised that the people involved are considering legal action against the police,” he said.

The Office of the President meantime explained that once assented, the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs must prepare and submit a Note to Cabinet requesting that the Proclamation for the Act be prepared for the President to affix his seal and signature.

A statement from the President’s head of communications Theron Boodan said as of yesterday’s date no Proclamation has been forwarded from Cabinet for the President’s Proclamation.

The President according to Boodan awaits receipt of the Proclamation for his seal and signature.