With additional reporting by Miranda La Rose
The Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha has a team of lawyers currently looking at the Miscellaneous Provision (Marriage) Act, No.8 of 2017 to see where it breaches the Hindu religion’s right to practice and will so advise on what action to take against the State, says Secretary-General Sat Maharaj.
“We believe that under the constitution the practice of religion is protected under the Constitution and that marriage is one of the sacred ‘sanskaras’ (rites of passage in a human being’s life) of the Hindu religion, and that right has been tampered with,” he said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Maharaj told Newsday, “Therefore, we believe that you do not interfere with the marriage that has been protected by the Constitution.” There was no time limit to filing a constitutional motion, he said, but if there are other aspects that may need to be addressed, they will be other approaches taken to address those.
On Saturday, head of the Islamic Front Umar Abdullah said while there would be no adjustment to Islamic beliefs due to the proclamation of the Marriage Act, Muslims have adapted and would continue to adapt to certain changes in society without compromising Islamic laws.
On Friday, hours after receiving a copy of the Miscellaneous Provision (Marriage) Act, No.8 of 2017 from Cabinet, President Anthony Carmona affixed his seal and signature to the document, proclaiming it law. This means that in Trinidad and Tobago, the legal age to marry, regardless of religion, is now 18 years for both male and female.
The Act No.8 of 2017 — An Act to amend the Marriage Act was first forwarded to the Office of the President on June 20, 2017. On June 22, 2017, it was assented to by the President and returned to the Clerk of the House the same day.
Once assented to the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs drafted and submitted a Note to Cabinet requesting that the Proclamation for the Act be prepared for Carmona to affix his seal and signature to the document.
Speaking about under-age marriage Abdullah said, “These are laws that were handed down by Allah and was practised by the Prophet Muhammad... and we have no right to interfere with those laws. However, with the changing times and the different dynamics that we see, there is room for flexibility in understanding the state of affairs in which we live.”
For example, he said arranged marriages were now rare but it did not mean that Muslims compromised their laws. He stressed that while it may happen in other countries, no Muslim woman was forced to get married.
In the case of consensual sexual relationships between unmarried persons, he said the government did not have a proper structure in place to deal with the women becoming pregnant, far less for if the woman was under the age of 18.
Therefore, he believed the government would pay a heavy price for the decision to raise the legal age of marriage. “Mark my words, in years to come we are going to see a serious fallout regarding this legislation.”
In the meantime, he said Muslims did not need permission from the laws of TT to be married as they were married under The Nikkah. Therefore, he said while teenaged pregnancy was not the norm in the Muslim community, they would take “necessary steps” to see that the baby would be well taken care of, which could include the parents of the underaged children agreeing that the children should get married.
Abdullah said the marriage would not be registered at the registry office, just as second and third marriages of Muslim men with multiple wives were not registered. “That marriage is considered THE marriage in Islam.
That registration process is just by the way. We do that to facilitate the fact that we live in a democratic country and it is necessary for legality purposes.”
He said it would be recognised as a common-law marriage which was not a negative thing as common-law wives now have many rights and privileges as a legal wife. “The Muslim community in TT is not about fighting every single aspect of democracy in this country. We are willing to work with the government and establish certain norms and practices that are relevant to this day and time.”