Child marriage in the Caribbean: My Nani’s story

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Sunny skies and beautiful beaches come to mind when you think about the Caribbean. But beyond the turquoise water lies a history of underage marriage, a practice that still lingers throughout the region.
 
My Nani (the Hindi word for maternal grandmother), came from a low-income family from the island of Trinidad. Growing up, she worked on a sugar plantation with her siblings. But poverty and manual labor didn’t compare with what she experienced after her mother died.

Ramratee Ramroop (Nani) at home in Rousillac
Ramratee Ramroop (Nani) at home in Rousillac

My great-grandmother’s early death left her husband with six children to care for. Driven by economic pressure, he married them off one by one. My Great-Aunt was married at 12. And my Nani was 16 when she found herself wed in a traditional Hindu ceremony. She lost her chance to get an education and entered a hard new life.
 
During the first five years of marriage, she had five miscarriages, suffering physically and psychologically. She finally had my mom, and then gave birth to another four children in a short span of time.

Child brides are more susceptible to abuse, and my Nani was no exception. My grandfather’s treatment of her created an unstable environment in their family. She persevered and decided not to continue the tradition of child marriage with her children
 
But child marriage still persists throughout the Caribbean. The Dominican Republic has the highest rate in the region, with close to 37% of all marriages there occurring by age 18. In Trinidad and Tobago, where I come from, at least 747 girls became child brides between 2005 and 2009. This may sound small, but on an island of only 1.3 million people, it is quite significant.
 
How can countries like Trinidad and Tobago tackle child marriage?
 
While Trinidad and Tobago sets the legal age of marriage for girls and boys at 18, legislation allows girls to marry at any age with their parent’s consent. And child marriage is neither legally prohibited nor penalized.
 
The World Bank Group’s Women, Business and the Law project tracks laws on child marriage. In its 2016 report, it found that only 19 of the 173 economies examined have set the legal age of marriage at 18 or older without exceptions. Closing the Gap—Improving Laws Protecting Women from Violence, a brief note just released, found that female enrollment in secondary education is higher where the legal age of marriage for girls is 18 years or older.



Countries can do more to stop child marriage by establishing better legal protections and removing exceptions to the legal age of marriage—which every country in the Caribbean still allows. Some countries in the region have made progress, however, for example: the Bahamas, Belize, Haiti, and Jamaica have both legally prohibited child marriage and established penalties.
 
And several countries outside the region have also recently made head-way. Women, Business and the Law found that between 2013 and 2015, five countries—Egypt, India, Kenya, Sweden and Vietnam—set the legal age of marriage at 18 for girls, removed all exceptions, prohibited child marriage and established penalties.
 
Ending the cycle of child marriage allowed my mother and her siblings to break out of poverty. Empowered and educated, my mother and her sister provided better futures for their own children. With better legal protections from child marriage, women like my Nani can also break the cycle of poverty.
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Join the Conversation

Sherna Alexander Benjamin
August 22, 2016

Well written as a member of our organizations legal team this author is an intelligent and dedicated professional. Continue working for the protection of women and girls. We need it and yes the Caribbean is not a bed of roses it also has severe thorns and perpetrates a high level of violence against women and girls. As advocates we are beaten at all levels may strength be granted us to continue. To the World Bank continue the work, continue for your work is needed.

Kecil E
August 22, 2016

Kavell,amazing job on this article!I hope this issue would be taken seriously and that laws would be enforced against it in Trinidad.

Shazard Mohammed
August 22, 2016

Like my colleague and friend from law school, my grandmother/ Nani was also a child bride. Kavell has succinctly captured the myriad of reasons why child brides existed in Trinidad. A good read...Great job Kavell.

cosmas ndugga kaweesa
August 22, 2016

Thanks for the great job to stop child marriages around the globe.

Shiv
August 22, 2016

Thanks for sharing Kavell. Interesting read.

Jennifer Anyaeji
August 22, 2016

Good read Kavell.

Danielle Edwards
August 23, 2016

Very nice read! Good Job, Kavell

Sunganani Kalemba
August 23, 2016

Thanks for sharing your personal story. It always help to put a face to the numbers.

Efream Gebreaneina
August 31, 2016

Thank you for sharing us good lesson. To avoid child marriage more should be done in community awareness. strong and continuous awareness training is very essential to fight harmful traditional way of thinking on child marriage.