While authorities in Trinidad are battling to stabilize the petroleum-based economy from low world prices and security officials grapple with runaway gun violence, a new controversy is attracting the attention of the administration of Prime Minister Keith Rowley.
Surprisingly, it has much to do with a raging debate in the country as to what age a child or young girl should be allowed to marry legally.
Current colonial era laws allow a young, school aged child to wed an adult male as early as 12 but the Hindu community which has been in the forefront of the defense of the old laws, is making its presence felt on the issue by lashing out against advocates for change.
Sat Maharaj, the widely acknowledged leader of Trinidad Hindus, went on the attack this week after the Catholic Church joined a growing list of people and groups demanding that parliament moves with haste to repeal the older laws, which allow girls to marry even before becoming teenagers.
Independent Senator Helen Drayton, for example, argues that the current legislation does not make any political, cultural or moral sense as no one in Trinidad & Tobago is allowed to adopt a child under age 25. Why therefore should a girl now leaving primary school be allowed to marry have kids and attempt to run a household?
“There are too many laws concerning children that are contradictory. We need to be consistent with who is and who is not a child. Every single bill I have seen there is a contradiction. There should be more acute attention paid to harmony across children’s legislation.
Aware that the blazing row could become a major political issue and an unnecessary distraction at a time of economic troubles and high crime, Attorney General Faris Al Rawi says the time to intervene has come.
So he is calling in stake holders, including child rights advocate, the bar association, senators to a meeting this week to solve the issue as authorities prepare to take a draft new law to court.
As it stands now, only sections of the Hindu community appear to be lobbying for the status quo to remain intact as most other sections are lined up against it and are preparing for change.
On the side of change are some very influential people including Camille McMillan-Rambharat, the wife of Agriculture Minister Clarance Rambharat.
She argues that the law needs updating and under aged children are unable to properly process decisions in such a key area of life.
“My own view is that marriage is regarded as a contract. Both parties must therefore be of an age that allows them to give informed consent. Also the laws relating to minors must be consistent in its description of minors,” she said.
Meanwhile, attempts to keep the issue on the front burner while officials deal with other pressing problems received a welcome boosts this week when Maharaj attacked the Catholic community in a most vicious way.
He is willing to argue that the law should remain intact because it is “Hindu business” and is prepared to fight off any other view.
He said he doubts there is any record of a child under 18 actually being married in recent years but Hindus want it to remain on the books until they decide the time has come for change.
“Mind your damn business, archbishop, mind your own damn business. This is the business of the Hindu community and the state.”
The attorney general has promised to make the views of cabinet known on this issue as early as this week but in the meantime, proverbial weapons are being pointed at one group to another as debate rages.