Thursday 5 December, 2019

Youth leader: Sat must cease and desist on child marriage

Temporary independent senator, Nikoli Edwards, slammed Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha Secretary General, Satnarayan Maharaj, after he vowed to challenge legislation ending child marriage. 

Edwards, who is the Commonwealth Youth Council's Vice Chairperson on Policy, Advocacy and Projects, said Maharaj should cease and desist after he said he would challenge the Miscellaneous Provisions (Marriage) Bill 2016 which was recently passed in Parliament

In a release, Edwards said Maharaj "continues to taint the image of Trinidad and Tobago and all right-thinking citizens".

"His persistence at retaining outdated, gender biased and pedophilic legislation, which flies in the face of Children’s Rights, must be of serious concern to the population at large, inclusive of those who accept his regressive persuasion and rhetoric."

"The youth of today respect tradition in as far as there is a proper rationale for its continuance. History shows that child marriage was once somewhat accepted globally as it tended to have several benefits for a minor whose family wished them a better life when opportunities for progress was scarce."

"However this must no longer be an option. Respected societies periodically take the time to assess its traditions and practices that have the potential to either facilitate or stymie growth."

"On behalf of the youth of Trinidad and Tobago and the movement for a more progressive society, I urge Secretary General Maharaj to cease and desist as it relates to any move to reverse the position of the duly elected Parliament to prohibit the marriage of children," Edwards said.

Edwards said that legislation permitting child marriage may facilitate slavery or child labour. 

"Having debated and voted in the Senate on this issue, I stressed the dangers of retaining legislation which promotes slavery or child labour; a forgoing of opportunities; unhealthy physical, mental and emotional development and forced marriage. Today my position remains the same."

Edwards added that Maharaj's "reckless statements" may "poison" the country's efforts to move forward, and said citizens must reject divisive hate speech.

"While over the years many have left the Secretary General of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha to publicly make reckless statements, with only a slap on the wrist at most, it must be acknowledged that he has a following and therefore has the potential to poison efforts to move the twin island republic forward."

"While Trinidad and Tobago makes provisions for free speech through its constitution, citizens must stand up against statements and actions that are divisive, hateful, destructive and counterproductive," he said.

Edwards also commended Parliamentarians for passing the Bill and protecting the nation's children.

(Photo: Satnarayan Maharaj, Secretary of the Sanatan Dharma Maha Sabha)

Maharaj told media that he intends to challenge the legislation and insisted that the previous Hindu Marriage Act, which allowed female children to be married from the age of 14, was adequate for the Hindu community.

He said the Bill is an interference in family life and challenges the right to practice one's religion. 

He said the Maha Sabha is assembling a legal team and will await further developments.


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