Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association

tt.humanist :: forum :: commentary :: secularism

Marriage Act is Child Abuse

Published in Guardian and Newsday
04 November 2008 • 449 words

It is reprehensible that on an issue as serious as child abuse, our politicians still cannot find the moral courage to defy the traditional groups in Trinidad and Tobago.

The Children Bill 2008 lists a long set of abuses which are illegal and for which the punishments have been increased, including fines up to $25,000 and life imprisonment. Such abuses include sexual penetration of a child, sexual touching, causing a child to watch a sexual act for sexual gratification, inciting a child to engage in sexual activity with another person, and sexually grooming a child (as in arranging a meeting over the Internet). But then Clause 36 of the Bill exempts any of these acts from being offences in the following circumstance: "Conduct by a person which would otherwise constitute an offence against a child under sections 18 to 21, 22 to 24, 28 to 30 or 31 to 33 is not an offence if, at the time of the conduct, the person and the child were lawfully married."

This is because the definition of "child" in this Bill includes persons who are allowed to be married under the Christian, Hindu, and Muslim Marriage Acts. The first two allow girls to be married at 14 years, boys at 16, and the last allows girls to be married at 12 and boys at 14 years. So, rather than alter the Marriage Acts, the framers of the Children's Bill are saying that all these sexual acts, which are deemed harmful to children 14 years and under, are magically healthy and acceptable once committed within the bounds of marriage.

Clearly, this is an intrusion of misplaced morality into a Bill which is otherwise a well-drafted and useful piece of legislation. Another issue of concern is Clause 70, which states that when the court makes an order for a child to be placed in the custody of a guardian, that person must be of the same religious persuasion as the child or bring the child up in the religious persuasion of the parents. But why does the clause not include the phrase "or no religious persuasion", if the child’s parents are atheist or agnostic or simply not aligned to any particular belief system? After all, there are 26,000 persons in T&T who do not state their religion in the 2000 census, and 91,000 in a 2006 survey.

By this omission, the Bill’s framers are implying one of two things: that non-believers do not have the same rights as believers in how their children are raised; or that parents of religious persuasion are more likely than non-religious parents to have their children removed from their custody for reasons of physical and sexual abuse.

T&T Humanist Association

See Statement on TT Humanist Day 2008

See A church service is inappropriate for the Opening of the Law Term

See Should a leader impose belief over reason?

See TT Humanist : News : Launch : The Virtues of Secularism (PDF)

See No Equal Opportunities Act with Government Funding?



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