Hindu Women's Organisation petition for amendment to Marriage Act

Thursday, May 19, 2016 - 20:00

The Hindu Women's Organisation has joined the call for a change in the Marriage Act to ensure that marriages are aligned to the age of consensual sex.

The Organisation issued this statement today:

"The Hindu Women’s Organization of T&T maintains its demands for the Marriage Acts of Trinidad and Tobago to be amended.

It reflects upon its advocacy in this regards which spanned the period November 2012- May 2013 when a petition which attracted close to 1000 signatures was presented to the former Minister of Legal Affairs Mr. Prakash Ramadhar.

We unflinchingly voice our concerns at the recent views of Mr Harripersad Maharaj, President of the Inter-Religious Organization and Mrs. Raziah Ahmed, President of the National Muslim Women of Trinidad and Tobago who claimed to reportedly speak for all Muslims.

As we seek to refute their validation of tradition for maintaining the current Marriage Acts, we cite the following extract from the 2011 publication by The Royal Commonwealth Society Briefing Paper: What the Commonwealth can do to end early and forced marriage).

“Outdated laws and practices that are oppressive should be abolished and replaced by new laws and policies. The British Slavery Abolition Act was passed in 1833 and the slaves were emancipated in 1834. For centuries the slaves endured various forms of cruelty and were treated as property.”

“Although Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism had spoken out against it in the early 15th century and Indian religious leader and social activist, Raja Ram Mohan Roy had advocated against it in 1812, the Hindu custom of sati which dictated that a widow burns herself on a funeral pyre was practiced unabatedly.

”It was only in 1929 that this cruel custom was abolished by the British Governor-General of India. Despite the repealing and/or criminalizing of these barbaric acts against women, there are laws and practices that still advocate and sanction violence against women”

At that time, Commonwealth member states were discussing the recognition of early and forced marriage as constituting “a violation of the most basic fundamental rights.”

We also draw attention to the following:

* That when the Orissa Marriage Act came into effect in 1999, it set the age of marriage at 15 for females and 18 for males.

* That the Civil Marriage Act, although at 18 years, the minimum age of marriage is not stated, may be implied. Legally therefore, the minimum age of marriage is according to the act, established in common law – 12 years for females and 14 years for males. This is an aberration which needs to be addressed bearing in mind that in England itself, the law was changed and the minimum age of marriage was increased in 1929.

Our resolution of 2012 was based on the age of consent of 16 which it was at that time. We have since revised our resolution in keeping with the revised age of consent which is 18 years.

Our revised petition will be placed on-line within 24 hours as we look forward to receiving substantial support from Hindu women in particular and the citizenry in general."

The Petition

Subject: The minimum age for marriage in T&T

Proposed by: The Hindu Women’s Organization of Trinidad & Tobago Inc


Recognizing: that T&T is a signatory to the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires participating nations to set a legal age for marriage; and

Recognizing: that The United Nations Convention on the Eliminations of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) recommends age eighteen (18) to be sufficient maturity for free consent to marriage and

Whereas, in the Caribbean male and female sexual initiation occurs at a very early age: and

Whereas, common – law unions are common in the Caribbean and

Whereas, common – law unions are not promoted by faith-based organizations;


Whereas, child abuse and statutory rape are recognized as significant problems in Trinidad and Tobago (In 2010. The police received 22 reports of incest and 278 reports of sex with minor females’ 14 – 16 years of age: these figures are the tip of the iceberg as many incidents of incest and sex with minor males and females are unreported) ; and

Whereas, the injurious consequences of early marriage should be taken into consideration, such as:

a) Decreased opportunities for education

b) Exposure to serious health risks such as premature pregnancy, sexual transmitted infections and risks of HIV/AIDS

c) Girls being physically and psychologically immature to carry and bear a child, and for marriage and the related responsibilities of being a wife and mother (IPPF 2007)

d) Higher risk due to early pregnancy such as death during delivery and endangering the health of young mothers and their babies (pregnancy related deaths are the leading cause of maternal mortality among 15 – 19 years old girls, and those aged under 15 years are five times more likely to die than those aged over 20 years and

Whereas, the more education a girl receives, the less likely are the chances of child marriage; and

Whereas, the age of consent is eighteen (18) in T&T;

Whereas, HWO held two public discussions, produced two publications and also conducted several smaller consultations with Mandir memebers and individual Hindu women across the country over the period November 2011 to April 2013.

Whereas the Hindu Marriage Act and the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act list consent from the female parent as subordinate to the father’s consent and consent of a guardian and

Whereas in May 2013 HWO presented a petition with close to 1,000 signatures to former legal affairs minister, Prakash Ramadhar, at the Ministry of Legal Affairs, Port-of Spain,


That while we promote marriage between people who are 18 years old and over, we recognize that in certain circumstances it may be desirable for a girl between 16 and 18 to be married, but that this should be done:

a) With her own consent and the consent of her parent(s) or guardian(s)

b) That female parents have equal rights of consent

c) After the parties wishing to be married have received pre-marital counseling by qualified, professional counselors

d) After an application is made to a judge in Chambers or a specially appointed committee by the President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago in order to determine the circumstances of each case

e) Only after it is determined that the person to whom the between 16-18 old girl is to be married is not undertaking the marriage for purposes of exploitation, and

f) In cases where the person to whom the 16-18 year old girl is to be married is no older than three (3) years her senior at the time of marriage.

Respectfully submitted,

Brenda Gopeesingh

Interim President,

The Hindu Women’s Organization of Trinidad and Tobago Inc.

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