Forced Marriage Overseas: Trinidad & Tobago
Individuals from the United States may face some challenges if trying to avoid and/or escape forced marriages in Trinidad and Tobago. While the law offers some protections for women and girls, gender based violence – including rape and domestic violence – still occurs throughout the country and the NGO community in Trinidad and Tobago continues to press for improved legislation, increased funding and universal enforcement of laws.
For further information and guidance for individuals from the U.S. that are facing or fleeing a forced marriage in Trinidad & Tobago, please contact the Forced Marriage Initiative.
Marriage in Trinidad & Tobago
The statutory law governing marriage and divorce in Trinidad and Tobago is fairly complex as it is comprised of four marriage acts, the provisions of which range in accordance with the various religions practiced in the country.1 The four acts are: the Marriage Act which governs Christian and civil marriages, (the most common forms of marriage),2,3 the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act,4 the Hindu Marriage Act5 and the Orisa Marriage Act.6
Matrimonial affairs are heard by the Family Court, however, Muslim marriages are heard by a Muslim council. Regardless of the type of marriage, the legal requirements for valid marriages are largely the same. One key distinction, however, is that the minimum legal age for marriage varies between the four marriage acts. This difference in age requirements presents a challenge for finding consensus among religious leaders and standardizing the age of marriage and consent.7
The minimum age to contract a marriage is:
- Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act: 16 for males and 12 for females;
- Hindu Marriage Act: 18 for males and 14 for females;
- Orisa Marriage Act: 18 for males and 16 for females; and
- Civil Marriage Act: 18 for both males and females.8
Each religion’s marriage act allows exceptions for individuals under the legal minimum marriage age to be married.9 For Muslim or Hindu marriage, consent of the father (or other male guardian if the father is deceased) is required. If no such guardian is available, the minor’s mother may provide consent for the minor to be married. For an Orisa marriage, the minor’s mother or father may consent for the minor to be married.10
The Civil Marriage Act also allows minors to get married if both parents consent if they are alive and living together. Both parents must also consent in instances where the parents are living apart and the minor does not live with either parent, unless the High Court dispenses with the consent of one of the parents.11
If the parents are living apart, the parent with whom the minor lives must consent.
The civil marriage act does not specify a minimum age under which a minor cannot be married with parental consent and instead merely requires consent if the party is under 18 years of age which makes it unclear just how young of a child could still get married with the proper parental consent.
Annulment and divorce are both options for the dissolution of a marriage under the law in Trinidad and Tobago.12 The statute pertaining to divorce and annulment expressly lists lack of consent as rendering a marriage voidable13 tough fraud, force and lack of consent are not expressly set out by law as grounds for a divorce.14
The Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act is the only religious marriage act with specific provisions on divorces and annulments. Otherwise, the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act outlines the law regarding dissolution of a marriage. The Marriage Proceedings and Property Act allows either spouse, regardless of gender, to petition for an annulment or divorce. The Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act also allows either party to the marriage to apply for the dissolution or annulment of the marriage.15
Potential Risks and Protections in Country
Early and forced marriage are recognized as serious human-rights concerns in the country and are prevalent issues in Latin America and the Caribbean generally. No significant change has been observed in child marriage rates over the last 30 years16 and these issues have recently gained significance as there remains firm resistance by some religious leaders to raising the minimum age for marriage. In response, the Prime Minister’s office released a statement of its official position, noting that child marriage is a topic of national concern and calling for the gap in age requirements between marriage and consent to be addressed.17
No laws explicitly address forced or child marriages, but each religion’s marriage act requires that both parties freely consent to marry one another in order for the marriage to be valid. When children below the minimum age requirements marry it is unclear whether the child must also consent or whether the parent’s consent alone is sufficient for the marriage to be valid. That said, according to reports, only 8 percent of girls were married before the age of 18 in Trinidad and Tobago,18 and it seems that the average age for marriage is still above 18-years-old.
As a result of the alarming frequency of domestic violence in Trinidad and Tobago the government enacted The Domestic Violence Act in 1999 in order to provide greater protection to victims of domestic violence.19 The law provides for protection orders separating perpetrators of domestic violence, including abusive spouses and common-law partners, from their victims. Courts may also fine or imprison abusive spouses, but this is rarely done.
While reliable national statistics are not available, women’s groups estimated that as many as 50% of all women have suffered abuse. The government and NGOs have reported that many incidents of rape and other sexual crimes go unreported, partly due to perceived insensitivity of police, exacerbated by a wide cultural acceptance of gender-based violence.20
The NGO community has charged that police often hesitate to enforce domestic violence laws and that rape and sexual abuse against women and children remained serious and pervasive problems. Two NGOs receive funding from the government to operate a 24-hour hotline for victims of domestic violence, however, funding and capacity can be very limited particularly for shelter and transitional housing services.21
Special Challenges in Returning to the United States
There are no prohibitions on women leaving the country, married or unmarried. However, women may encounter difficulty exiting the country with children if they do not have permission from the father for the minor to travel outside the country. Minors wishing to leave the country on their own may require permission from one or both parents. Individuals should always check the exit requirements for Trinidad and Tobago for the most up to date information.
Assistance for Individuals from the United States
- The Tahirih Justice Center Forced Marriage Initiative
We are available to help individuals from the United States who are facing or fleeing forced marriage in Trinidad and Tobago, including providing phone, text, and email support, connecting with the U.S. government and local resources, and coordinating shelter and services back in the United States.
- The U.S. State Department
The State Department is available to assist U.S. citizens that are victims of forced marriage with replacement of travel documents and return travel to the United States. For updated information and travel alerts, please visit the department’s webpage on international travel in Trinidad and Tobago.
- U.S. Embassy in Port of Spain
Contact the Embassy in the case of an emergency.
1 Commonwealth Roundtable on Early and Forced Marriage (2014), available at http://thecommonwealth.org/sites/default/files/organisation/documents/EFM%20ReportFinal.pdf (page 15)
2 U.S. Embassy, Getting Married in Trinidad & Tobago, available at https://tt.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/local-resources-of-u-s-citizens/getting-married-trinidad-tobago/
3 Christian and Civil Marriage Act, available at http://rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/laws2/alphabetical_list/lawspdfs/45.01.pdf
4 Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, available at http://rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/laws2/alphabetical_list/lawspdfs/45.02.pdf
5 Hindu Marriage Act, available at http://rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/laws2/alphabetical_list/lawspdfs/45.03.pdf
6 Orisa Marriage Act, available at http://rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/laws2/alphabetical_list/lawspdfs/45.04.pdf
7 Commonwealth Roundtable on Early and Forced Marriage (2014), available at http://thecommonwealth.org/sites/default/files/organisation/documents/EFM%20ReportFinal.pdf (page 15)
8 Office of the Prime Minister, Position of the Office of the Prime Minister (Gender and Child Affairs Division) on child marriage, available at http://www.news.gov.tt/content/position-office-prime-minister-gender-and-child-affairs-division-child-marriage#.V5-DimdTGUk
9 Muslim Marriage Act, Chapter 45:02:8; Hindu Marriage Act, Chapter 45:05:11(2); Orisa Marriage Act, Chapter 45:04:9(2)
11 Christian and Civil Marriage Act, available at http://rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/laws2/alphabetical_list/lawspdfs/45.01.pdf
12 For a full list of the various ways to end a marriage in Trinidad and Tobago, see http://martingeorge.net/archives/3127
13 Matrimonial Proceedings and Property, Chapter 45:51:13(2)(c)
14 Karen Nunez-Tesheira, Commonwealth Caribbean Family Law: Husband, Wife and Cohabitant (Routledge 2016), partially available at: https://books.google.com/booksid=Us1TDAAAQBAJ&pg=PA27&lpg=PA27&dq=lack+of+consent+marriage+trinidad+
15 Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, Chapter 45:02, Part II:5:1
16 Girls Not Brides, Religious Defence of Child Marriage Sparks Debater in Trinidad and Tobago, (May 31, 2016), available at http://www.girlsnotbrides.org/religious-defence-of-child-marriage-sparks-debate-in-trinidad-and-tobago/
17 Office of the Prime Minister, Position of the Office of the Prime Minister (Gender and Child Affairs Division) on child marriage, available at http://www.news.gov.tt/content/position-office-prime-minister-gender-and-child-affairs-division-child-marriage#.V5-DimdTGUk
19 Ministry of Legal Affairs; Laws Of Trinidad and Tobago, available at http://rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/Laws2/Alphabetical_List/lawspdfs/45.56.pdf
20 U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices, Trinidad and Tobago, (2016) available at https://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm?year=2016&dlid=265618#wrapper