It is the responsibility of a progressive society to do all in its power to protect children from all manner of harm that arises from physical, emotional and sexual abuse, incest, rape, violence and trauma in all its forms. The Trinidad and Tobago Association of Psychologists supports the Hindu Women’s Organization (HWO), the Archbishop of the Roman Catholic Church and other like-minded entities who are opposed to child marriage and are supportive of the request to “outlaw child marriages.”
Progressive T&T should agree that “laws that permit the marriage of young girls with parental consent in cases where the male is several years her senior is in reality permitting statutory rape or child abuse”. Such oppressive laws cannot be allowed to remain on the statute books in 2016.While some have argued that child marriages in Trinidad and Tobago are not a frequent occurrence, this is an insufficient argument to justify its continued presence in our law books. Any legal context that can be used and perceived to legitimize the abuse of children should be abolished.
UNICEF regards child marriages as a ‘fundamental threat to human rights’. The global research is also clear- child marriages negatively affect social and economic development and carry significant physical and mental health risks to the girls and their children. Girls who get married before age 18 are more at risk for pregnancy complications and multiple unwanted pregnancies. Pregnancies in child marriage are linked to increased infant mortality and babies are more at risk for malnutrition. Girls in child marriages are also at greater risk for mental health problems like depression, anxiety problems and bipolar disorder and are more likely to become dependent on alcohol, nicotine and other drugs. With such consequences, one researcher suggests child marriages should be considered a ‘major psychological trauma’.
There is also the fact that recent studies of brain development done by Deborah Yurgelun-Todd and colleagues at the Mclean Hospital Brain Imaging Center found that “while adults can use rational processes when facing emotional decisions, teenagers are simply not yet equipped to think through things in the same way.” The studies continue: “Teenagers have immature frontal lobes. This is the part of the brain thought to be the place where decisions about right and wrong, as well as cause-effect relationships are processed.” Dr. Yurgelun-Todd when speaking with U.S. News said “Good judgment is learned, but you can’t learn it if you don’t have the necessary hardware.” In other words a teenager’s /child’s brain is not yet “wired” to be able to make decisions about marriage, and even if it is with parent’s consent, children are not able to think through all the issues which come with marriage. Coupled with familial and social pressure and sexual coercion by husbands, they can become the silent partner, being “acted upon” with no ability to say how they really feel about the situation in which they find themselves and mental ill-health can be the result.
In supporting this call, we must remind citizens that Trinidad and Tobago signed on to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) on December 5th 1991, therefore Trinidad and Tobago recognizes a child as any human being under the age of eighteen. The Declaration on the Rights of the Child indicated that “the child by reason of his physical immaturity needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth.” With respect to social responsibility, the CRC includes the child’s right to access information aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health.
We must therefore consider whether our mass media helps with this, and if our curriculum in schools sufficiently addresses helping our children to obtain information regarding their sexual and reproductive health. This would be critical in order to begin the process of helping our children to learn how to make informed choices for their well-being and mental health. More importantly however, we must consider whether the laws that are on the Law Books in Trinidad and Tobago adhere to conventions and are really providing our children with a chance at receiving the education and protection that they need.
Article 12 states: (1)“State parties shall assure to the child, who is capable of forming his or her own views, the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child. (2) For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided with the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.
In its present form, it must be recognized that our laws in this respect are archaic and patriarchal. Therefore, it is imperative that these laws are revisited and attention be given to what needs to be done to ensure that our children are given opportunities to develop sound mental health. Sound mental health today will ensure that our country returns to some measure of stability in the future.
Trinidad and Tobago Association of Psychologists May 19, 2016