Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Commentary: Child Marriage morphing into a religious/race war

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The PNM is really good at some things. Give them an award for their ability to create political distractions and draw people into a useless discussion. Their best so far this year is the Child Marriage “crisis” they created as a red herring.

And it has worked very well for them so far.

The intention might have been distraction from the real national issues but there must have been another motive. Having observed the PNM’s modus operandi since the days of Eric Williams the plan appears to be unfolding exactly as it was intended.

Child Marriage or underage marriage with parental consent has been on the books since the Marriage Act was created in 1923. And it applies to all religions.

The PNM was in office from from 1956 to 1986 then again from 1991-1995, 2001 to 2010 and now they are “back in charge”. There was a NAR government from 1986 to 1991, UNC from 1995 to 2001 and the PP from 2010-2015 with the UNC partner dominating.

None of them amended that so-called child marriage clause although every one had the opportunity.

The Act gave parents an opportunity to determine whether their children could marry at an early age. And most parents used it sparingly and with the best intentions. Hindus, Muslims and Christians all had the same rights under the act and over the past five years there was an average of only five such marriages per month, with 24 per cent being among Christians.

So how did this become a Hindu problem?

Muslims can marry their daughters at age 12 but the Muslim leaders have been wise not to jump into this political frying pan. The Archbishop of Port of Spain provoked the religious conflict by calling the marriage of girls under the age of 18 “legalised statutory rape” when he knew it was happening in all religions. The PNM women’s league latched on to the same phrase, and as expected Sat Maharaj intervened with a direct attack on the Catholic Church and told the Archbishop “mind your own damn business.”

If you put the emotion aside for a moment and listen you would hear two things that Sat said that are important. First, that the matter is between the government and the religious bodies and the second that Hindu child marriages are a thing of the past and that no such marriage took place in the past two years.

The real problem we should be addressing is the prevalence of teenage sex among our children and the abuse – sexual and otherwise – of our children. He called it an "evil" that doesn't exist in his community. 

Why is it OK for society to accept that 12 year old could engage in consensual sex (thereby amounting to statutory rape) but marrying before the age of 18 is not?

Why aren’t we deeply concerned, as we should be, that dozens of “children” have given birth in our public hospitals and no one is held accountable? Why did a 12-year-old deliver a baby in a hospital and police have suggested a family cover-up but no action is taken?

These are the real issues. Children are not getting married these days but they are sure as hell having sex and making babies. How are we going to stop that? Let’s get angry about that too.

I agree – and I am sure that the majority of citizens also agree – that it is time to amend the law to make the age of consent 18. The government can do it in a matter of days if it really wants to but I am convinced it wants this “crisis” to grow and boil over.

In the meantime all the national issues have been swept under the carpet and those with their private agenda will continue to keep the issue alive.

Now that the verbal war is raging between the two major religious groups in the country it is going to get worse. And if we don't stop it, it will morph into a race issue because of the ethic composition of the two groups. Perhaps that was one of the points in the whole exercise.

It’s really difficult to understand why this child marriage business is an issue at all. The government can cut it off and end the charade. The Prime Minister has said it wants to amend the Marriage Act. The Leader of the Opposition is full supportive, going as far as saying that this is a matter of human rights and human dignity. So why the sudden cold feet?

If those who ignited this flame were really interested in fixing this problem it would have been done already. Why? Because all it takes is for the government to write the amendment, bring it to the parliament where it would get unanimous support and end the whole debate.

Let’s stop the nonsense and amend the law. There is no excuse because all that is required is a simple majority, which the PNM has in both Houses of parliament. 

Jai Parasram | 31 May 2016

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai