“Our position is very clear that it must not be allowed to stay in law for these early ages for marriages.
“It must not be seen as right or permissible by our society, whether it be by tradition or circumstance and certainly should not be allowed to continue.
“That cannot be a realistic age that anyone would want to support.
Even though the traditions in the past may have pointed to such ages being reasonable, we are saying today that we are in a much more egalitarian society and therefore those arguments are indeed irrelevant,” Persad-Bissessar declared.
She was speaking during a press conference at the Parliament Building, Wrightson Road, Port-of-Spain, during the tea break of yesterday’s sitting of the Lower House.
The Opposition Leader was asked to respond to the controversial stance taken on the issue by President of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) of TT, Brother Harrypersad Maharaj. The IRO head has defended the right of a Muslim girl to marry at age 12, and a Hindu girl to marry at age 14.
Persad-Bissessar said the Opposition has “a totally different view” to that of Maharaj. She added, “It has nothing to do with religion.
“I think it has more to do with culture and traditions, and in this day and age, such cultural traditions are no longer relevant. We will be very, very negligent were we to rely on the cultures and traditions that obtained from 1945 and so on.” The Opposition Leader also called for strict enforcement of laws concerning statutory rape, arguing that “changing the age for marriage will not help, on its own, in terms of protecting our children.” Regarding the work done by her People’s Partnership administration to increase the legal age of marriage to 18, Persad-Bissessar cited consultations, amendments to “several pieces of legislation” but not to the Marriage Act, and her leadership of “robust attempts to end child marriage” during the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Australia.
She also noted that as then PM, she signed a resolution during the 2011 CHOGM to “improve gender equality and the empowerment of women in the Commonwealth”.
The Opposition Leader also said “Government must make it a priority to ensure” both the Children’s Authority and the Child Protection Unit (CPU) of the Police Service are provided with the resources they need “to protect our children.