Musty marriage laws

We fail to see what harm can come from a review of musty laws, which in 2011, are viewed by most civilised countries as contrary to a young girl’s basic human rights. The Hindu Marriage Act was first passed in 1945; at the end of the Second World War. Since then woman has taken her place in modern society to become an independent, self-determining creature. The 14-year-old of 1945 is not the 14-year-old of 2011, nor are the societies in which they live equivalent. By Sat Maharaj’s own admission, 14-year-old Hindu girls in Trinidad and Tobago do not usually marry in the new millennium, so keeping an obsolescent law which is inconsistent with the age of consent serves no practical purpose.

In defence of the Hindu Marriage Act, Maharaj argues it is a safety net for young girls who become pregnant. But what of the young girl who becomes pregnant at the hand of an older man, as is usually the case? Though nowadays boys also are becoming fathers sooner, young girls are normally attracted by a man more mature than they. By engaging in sexual relations with a 14-year-old and then being permitted to marry her, the older man has committed statutory rape which the religious community legitimises with a wedding ceremony, converting the young girl into a double victim. In 2011, a 14-year-old girl has more palatable options available to her than the 14-year-old of 1945 and a wedding is no longer considered the ideal solution to pregnancy, these shotgun marriages tending to fail more often than not.

In most modern countries, regardless of their religious makeup, the age of marriage is on a par with or above the age of consent. We are not suggesting the amendment of other rules governing Hindu or Muslim marriages-this measure does not impact on the religious rites of the Hindu or Muslim contract nor does it reduce the obligations assumed on their signing. However, we must remember that marriage is a legal contract and when parents sign this contract for their daughters, they are as much as treating their children as property which can be transferred, the child incapable of entering into the contract of her own volition.

While we understand religious sensitivities, Trinidad and Tobago should recall the days when rape of a spouse was not considered rape in this country, marriage and the rights of a husband to be sexually gratified deemed sacrosanct by religious groups. But as history has shown again and again religion does not own the patent on morality. In its name, people have killed and committed untold atrocities and religion can get it wrong. By having this national consultation this is TT’s opportunity to review an outdated law and decide what it wants now, in 2011, for its young girls. This is not 1945.


"Musty marriage laws"

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