28 May 2016

Thought of the Day

“Beware of the little expenses,

a small leak will sink a great ship.”

~Benjamin Franklin

20 May 2016

Shades of Grey

I’m returning to the issue of child marriages in Trinidad and Tobago - particularly the marriage of girls - as contained in Muslim, Hindu and Orisha Marriage Acts. Taking them in the order I have written, the ages approved for females in the respective Acts are: 12 (Muslim), 14 (Hindu) and 16 (Orisha). The law is a confused tangle of grey areas and child marriages are actually a form of modern slavery.

Now here is a good example of the shades of grey I mentioned: – The Married Persons Act 1977, which states in Section 3:

3. Subject to this Act, a married woman shall—

        (a) be capable of acquiring, holding, and disposing of any property;

        (b) be capable of rendering herself, and being rendered, liable in respect of any tort, contract, debt or obligation;
        (c) be capable of suing and being sued, either in tort or in contract or otherwise; and
        (d) be subject to the law relating to bankruptcy and to the enforcement of judgments and orders,
in all respects as if she were a feme sole

So, here we have the possibility of a minor, who legally cannot enter into legal relationships such as contracts, obligations and those mentioned above by virtue that she is under the age of majority (there is an Age of Majority Act), but is able under the Married Persons Act to do the self-same things she would normally be prohibited from doing! Further, nothing in the Married Persons Act makes exception to Section 3.

Here is another example. Under the Children Act 1925 a person under the age of 14 is defined as a ‘child’. A person between the ages of 14 to 16 is defined as a ‘young person’. And there are penalties for anyone who:

wilfully assaults, ill-treats, neglects, abandons, or exposes the child or young person, or causes or procures the child or young person to be assaulted, ill-treated, neglected, abandoned, or exposed, in a manner likely to cause the child or young person unnecessary suffering or injury to his health (including injury to or loss of sight, or hearing, or limb, or organ of the body, and any mental derangement)

But what if that person is the ‘husband’ under the Muslim or Hindu Marriage Act? There are several sections in the Children Act just as confusing.

In reality however, as I mentioned yesterday, there are several Conventions and Treaties under International Law to which Trinidad and Tobago is signatory, some 200+ international treaties. One of these is the Convention on the Rights of the Child ‘which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children’ and which states that a ‘child’ is anyone under the age of 18.

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights guarantees several rights to women, one of which is “women's right to equality in marriage and family life along with the right to equality before the law”. Further more, Article 2 is very powerful: it mandates that states parties ratifying the Convention declare intent to enshrine gender equality into their domestic legislation, repeal all discriminatory provisions in their laws, and enact new provisions to guard against discrimination against women. Well, we can see that didn’t happen.

But along comes another conflict: The Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage and Registration of Marriages merely asks that States prescribe a minimum age in domestic law but does not say what that age is to be. And indeed within this Convention is another grey area: ‘Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family’. Full age means 18 as stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

And here is another thing… the husband of a child bride where he is an adult is likely to exercise ‘control of her movement, control of physical environment, psychological control, measures taken to prevent or deter escape, force, threat of force or coercion, duration, assertion of exclusivity, subjection to cruel treatment and abuse, control of sexuality and forced labour’. These are the characteristics of slavery [Prosecutor v Kunarac et al (Judgment) IT-96-23 & IT -96923/1-T (22 February 2001)].

Child marriage can be referred to as slavery, if the following three elements are present:

  • If the child has not genuinely given their free and informed consent to enter the marriage;
  • If the child is subjected to control and a sense of “ownership” in the marriage itself, particularly through abuse and threats, and is exploited by being forced to undertake domestic chores within the marital home or labour outside it, and/or engage in non-consensual sexual relations; 
  • If the child cannot realistically leave or end the marriage, leading potentially to a lifetime of slavery.

[Anti-Slavery International]

I guess religion though, trumps law and common sense.

18 May 2016

When jackasses sing…

all I hear is ‘hee haw’.

This is the case with ‘Brother’ Harrypersad Maharaj, head of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO). In saying that he (and the IRO) condones marriages of girls from ages 12 (Muslim faith) and 14 (Hindu faith), he comes across as a paedophile... which is itself both surprising and not surprising, because like a good Catholic priest takes a vow of celibacy, so has ‘Brother’ Harry, being a member of the Raja Yoga faith.

He is not alone. Sat Maharaj of the Sanatan Dharam Maha Sabha (SDMS) has also given the green light, under the enlightened wisdom of the ages where ‘evidence’ of arranged child marriages ‘worked’ as there were no divorces, despite husbands beating their underage wives like lathi* beat rice. I suppose sometimes they even used said lathis. Incidents of paedophilia are not unknown, in fact are quite rampant in the Caribbean and Trinidad and Tobago in particular.

Others have adequately dealt with the braying jackasses, but I wish to offer another view.

As activist and women’s rights champion Verna St Rose-greaves quite rightly pointed out, Trinidad and Tobago is signatory to several International Treaties including the Convention for the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. These directly contradict the laws of TnT on child marriages.

There are those who will argue that local law (statute) trumps treaties. Nothing is further from the truth. The moment TnT became a signatory to these treaties, that meant that the country agreed to update its domestic laws to meet the requirements of the treaties. In other words, Trinidad and Tobago placed itself in the position of having to take positive steps to meet the requirements and honour the rights of women and children.

Failure to do so can be challenged in court, by any one of those child brides. And I shudder to think of the compensation avalanche to follow.

18 Mar 2016

Small axe cuts big tree

It's no small job to tackle the Marlene McDonald saga that unfolded in the media over the past several weeks. For those who do not know, things began to unfold when certain documents came to light, documents which showed that Marlene used her position as a government minister to influence the Housing Development Corporation into granting a house to her common-law husband Michael Carew… which he promptly rented out. Aside from that, FIXIN’ T&T has offered evidence that Michael and his brother Lennox were employed in the constituency office of said Minister. As FIXIN’ T&T has said:

 

Mr Michael Carew received a monthly payment of TT$13,400 while Mr Lennox Carew has and continues to receive a monthly salary of TT$14,000. Over the period 1 March 2011 and 7 September 2015, the combined salaries of both employees accounted for 60 percent of the constituency’s monthly budgetary allocation of TT$45,700.

 

The particular relevance of these facts is that:

 

1.              Mr Michael Carew meets the legal definition of spouse to the Member of Parliament for Port of Spain South, Marlene McDonald.

 

2.              Mr Michael Carew and Mr Lennox Carew are brothers.

 

3.              Mr Michael Carew and Mr Lennox Carew are both directors of the Calabar Foundation which, over a 15-day period in April to May 2010, applied for and received monies in the sum of TT$575,000 from the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and Gender Affairs then headed by Minister Marlene McDonald.  The name Calabar Foundation was applied for on July 14, 2010. It was registered on August 24, 2010.

 

4.              We have been unable to verify whether Mr. Lennox Carew resided in Trinidad the entire period for which he was paid.

 

Readers of this blog with longer memories will recall that Marlene was the minister responsible for government scholarships in 2009. At that time there was evidence of a PNM link in the granting of scholarships. And Marlene was as bad as she was big, adamantly refusing to answer any questions on who, how and how much the scholarships were for. I will return to this in a moment.

 

Continuing with the saga of Marlene and Michael, it arises this morning Friday, 18 March 2016 that Prime Minister Keith Rowley has terminated the services of his Chief Whip and Housing Minister Marlene McDonald. I suspect it was a reluctant decision, from the defence of his minister that the Prime Minister – and Attorney General as well – had previously put forward.

 

But let’s get back to the topic of scholarships. This current government administration has resorted to the courts to enforce the contracts that government scholarship recipients agree to. That is, after finishing their period of study they must return to the service of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. Considering that it is the government that pays both educational and living expenses during the period of study, a reasonable person will think that this is fair.

 

The first casualty of this enforcement of contracts was Dr. Ryan Wellington, who has been ordered by the court to pay back roughly $3 million TT dollars. Given that this appears to be the new precedent, I wonder if this government will go after those PNM personnel who were granted “scholarships” under Marlene McDonald’s watch. One would recall that Laurel Lezama, daughter-in-law to the Port of Spain mayor at the time, received $500,000 to study law in England. There is no evidence she completed the law degree, and certainly no evidence that any monies were paid back. Now if there was ever a case to take before the courts it would be this one!

 

I am certainly keeping an eye on the scholarship issue… Now that the Marlene McDonald saga appears to be over. Keep watching this space.

16 Mar 2016

Lessons that are never learnt

In light of the closure of steel plant in Trinidad and Tobago, ArcelorMittal, I am linking to a previous blog post in which I made a point about the resources of the country. Just a gentle reminder.

A lesson to think about.

I don't believe anyone will learn anything from it, but it does not make the lesson worthless.

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