Clint Chan Tack
HOUSING Minister Camille Robinson-Regis says it is her personal belief that child marriage is child abuse. But she said neither the Government nor the People’s National Movement (PNM) has ever condemned the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha (SDMS) for its position on child marriage.
She said the party never suggested at any time that the SDMS’ position was supportive of child abuse.
She made these statements in response to a statement by Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha president general Pundit Krishna Rambally at Indian Arrival Day celebrations at the Penal Rock Hindu Primary School on Monday.
Rambally said some government members were equating the SDMS’ position on child marriage with child abuse at some state-run children’s homes.
Robinson-Regis, who is also PNM lady vice-chairman, said, “It is unfortunate that the Maha Sabha has extrapolated from what I said on the political platform that I was referring to the Maha Sabha.”
Robinson-Regis said her comments at a recent PNM public meeting were very specific.
“I said that the opposition UNC (United National Congress), instead of condemning child marriage, which according to the UN (United Nations) is a form of child abuse, brought two pundits to the Senate to advocate for child marriages. I never mentioned the Maha Sabha.”
Robinson-Regis reiterated her exact quote.
“Mother Kamla you swore in two pundits in the Senate to protest the abolition of child marriages! We women eh forget that! And you want us to believe that you care about children?”
She reiterated, “At no juncture did I seek to make a link between the UNC and the Maha Sabha.”
Robinson-Regis said she views the UNC and SDMS as two separate entities.
“Only the foolish would intertwine religion with politics.”
But she added, “However I firmly believe that child marriage is child abuse, and for that I make no apologies.”
She said the SDMS would be aware that at the UN 4th General Assembly in 2020, the ministers of foreign affairs and international relations of Canada described child, early and forced marriage as “an abuse of human rights and a major obstacle to the fulfilment of women’s and girls’ potential.”
Those ministers, Robinson-Regis continued, also said these kinds of marriages puts an end to women and girls’ education. They also cause health complications and puts them at higher risk of encountering discrimination and violence throughout their lives.
In 2006, India passed the Child Marriage Act which prohibits marriage of boys under 21 and girls under 18.
Robinson-Regis said, “It was with a PNM government legislation that Trinidad and Tobago proudly joined them.”
In June 2017, the Miscellaneous Provisions Marriage Bill was passed in Parliament. This legislation amended other laws such as the Hindu Marriage Act, Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, Orisha Marriage Act and the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act, to raise the legal age of marriage to 18, effectively outlawing child marriage
Robinson-Regis thanked the SDMS for pledging to assist in ending the scourge of child abuse.
“So, places like the Shri Jayalakshmi Home mentioned in the (1997 Robert) Sabga Report would no longer hide under the guise of religion.”
She praised the Prime Minister for immediately asking the acting Commissioner of Police (CoP) to get the Sabga report and take action.”
Robinson-Regis also praised Dr Rowley for the action he has taken with the report of the Judith Jones committee on children’s homes which was laid in Parliament on April 29.
On May 5, Rowley announced that a task force had been established to implement the recommendations in the Jones report. The task force had to submit its work plan to Cabinet within six weeks.
Rowley has criticised Persad-Bissessar and the UNC for not implementing recommendations contained in a 1997 Sabga task force report about abuse in children’s homes. He also called on Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar and Sabga to apologise for politicising the Sabga report’s contents.
Sabga said he had nothing to apologise for, and all governments since 1997 had failed to address the issue of child abuse.