From one under-16 marriage recorded in 1997, the number peaked to 192 in 2011. The number for 2016, now stands at 37, Al Rawi noted.
“From 1997, we are not seeing a fall in underage marriages. We are seeing an increase,” he said.
Hindus accounted for 328 marriages of children between 12 and 16, from 2006 to 2016. Civil underage marriages in this period numbered 117, and Muslim marriages accounted for 103, Al Rawi yesterday told religious leaders at a meeting at the Office of the Attorney General at Cabildo Chambers, Port-of-Spain. This as he sought to make a case for presenting draft legislation that seeks to increase the legal marriage to 18 years.
The draft of legislation and statistics on underage marriage, which will form the basis of public consultations, will be on the Office of the Attorney General’s website, he said. Following the consultations, recommendations will be made to Cabinet for approval.
Statistics from the Office of the Registrar General, Al Rawi said, shows that between 2006 to 2016, although there is provision for persons to be married under the age of 18, in the Orisha Marriage Act, no marriage was recorded.
Between one to nine underage marriages (under 18 years) took place between 1997 and 2006.
The numbers rose from 11 in 2007 to 84 in 2010. In 2011, child marriages peaked at 192. In 2012, the number recorded was 186, and in 2013 it stood at 190.
For 2016, 37 underage marriages have been recorded.
The explanations given for the increase in underage marriages Al Rawi said were that underage marriages were not recorded by the Office of the Registrar General, that the system of registration of underage marriages has improved, or that the numbers “just rose.” It would appear, he said, that “some entities” were engaged in performing marriages, “that look a little suspicious...marriages of convenience.” Noting that “They tend to be aggregated in one religious sector only”, Al Rawi said, “It may be that someone is facilitating that.
I want to warn that we will be dealing with that on a different footing.” There was a perception that underage marriages were conducted only in rural areas, he said, but that was not true as underage marriages were recorded across all registration districts.
During the nearly three-hour long meeting representatives of the Anglican and Presbyterian churches, Orisha Council of Elders, SWAHA International, TT Council of Evangelical Churches and Faith-based network of TT and the National Muslim Women’s Organisation of TT, all said their respective bodies agreed the marriage age should be increased to 18 years.
While he is in favour of the age increase, Mufti Waseem Khan of the Darul Uloom of TT, said that concessions should be made however, for boys and girls below 18 to marry under specific extenuating circumstances, with parental and judicial permission.
Noticeably absent from yesterday’s meeting were President of the Inter Religious Organisation (IRO) Bro Harripersad Maharaj, Roman Catholic Archbishop Joseph Harris; Yacoob Ali of the Anjuman Sunnat ul Jamaat Association (ASJA) and General Secretary of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Satnarayan Maharaj.
Maharaj told Newsday that he told the Attorney General’s Office that he was not going to attend because the SDMS was still in consultations with various communities and have not reached a decision on the issue. He said once a consensus is reached these will be communicated to the AG’s Office.
The IRO’s Maharaj and ASJA’s Ali could not be reached for comment yesterday on their absence from the meeting.
(See Page 10A)