‘Let Girls Be Girls!’ campaign launched to stop growing trend of child marriages in Tonga
Ministry of Justice supports campaign to promote public awareness of the dangers of child marriages and to actively seek support from the Tongan population to repeal applicable Tongan law.
A “Let Girls be Girls!” campaign aimed to stop child marriage in Tonga was launched on Friday, May 19. The campaign seeks to repeal Tonga’s law on marriage and lift the legal age to 18-years and over. Currently the law allows children from the ages of 15-17 to marry with parental consent.
The campaign initiated by Talitha Project supported by the Ministry of Justice was launched at the Tanoa International Dateline Hotel at lunchtime today.
There is concern that child marriages in Tonga are a growing trend.
Vanessa Heleta, founder of the Talitha Project, said that a team of mothers and daughters are committed towards ensuring young girls reach their full potential.
“They are unified in the understanding that in order for the young girls of Tonga to realize their supreme potential they should be equipped, educated and prepared for the inevitable challenges ahead. “Let Girls be Girls!” is campaigning to repeal sections in the Births, Deaths and Marriage Registration Act 1926 which state that children from the ages of 15-17 are allowed to marry with parental consent.”
She said there are too many cases of child marriages out of parental pressure rather than consent. “That is a serious undoing to any child.”
“The pressure from parents on their children to marry is not in the best interest of the child but rather to save face and avoid public humiliation or for some other ulterior motive like personal gain. Teen pregnancy is one such reason for parental insistence for marriage and other reasons. We must not let pride and fear take over common sense. We must do what is the best for the child at all times. Laws should reflect the values of society, and our laws should protect women, men, boys and girls, everyone.”
Tonga has signed the Convention of the Rights of the Child in 1995, a legal obligation to protect our children, Vanessa said.
Susana Faletau CEO of the Ministry of Justice said the Ministry actively supports this campaign and is pleased to partner with Talitha Project. The Registrar General, Tonga’s national civil registry for births, deaths and marriages comes under the Ministry of Justice.
She said this particular project is a campaign to promote public awareness of the dangers of child marriages and to actively seek support from the Tongan population to repeal those Tongans laws currently allowing child marriages.
“The Ministry administers the relevant laws on child marriage, which permits a young person of 15 years up to 18 years to get married with the consent of a parent or guardian. Unfortunately, our current statistics on child marriages in Tonga indicate a growing trend. In 2015, there were 56 child marriages out of a total of 803 in that year. In 2016, there were 52 out of 792 marriages and in this year so far we have already registered 15 child marriages out of 213 wedding nuptials,” she said.
The party of a marriage that is at the age of 15 years or under 18, is usually female.
Susana said court statistics indicate a high rate of divorce for various reasons including separation, adultery, and unreasonable behaviour for those who started their marital life in a child marriage.
In 2015, there were 21 out of 204 divorce cases recorded for couples that had entered marriage under 18-years-old. Last year there were 15 divorces out of 221.
Apart from the high divorce rates for child marriages, there are other detrimental effects that flow from child marriage with evidence showing girls who marry early often abandon formal education and become pregnant. Maternal deaths related to pregnancy and child birth are an important component of mortality for girls aged 15-19 years.
“The Ministry of Justice has been consulting on some of the changes that we intend to introduce into our laws on marriage. One of those amendments includes raising the age of parties to marriage to 18 years and above.”
However, she was surprised to hear that was some staunch opposition to this proposal.
Susana said this is a cause for alarm because no matter which way you look at child marriage there are absolutely no benefits to the party or parties who are below 18 years of age nor to a child born to such wedlock.
“I can understand there are cultural or customary traditions that may have been ingrained into our upbringing and which form the motives driving parents to give consent to such marriages.” She said “But this is the mindset, we as mature and responsible adults must break, there can be no moral or religious justification for allowing our children, our young girls into a life, that I can only describe as servitude and physical abuse.Let’s examine some of the ironies this old-fashioned law raises in our society. We do not allow our young people to vote at an election or have a say in how our Government is elected until the age of 21, nor do we entrust our young generation to drive a motor vehicle until 18. A young person is also not allowed to consume alcohol until the age of 18,” she said. Marriage is an honourable estate but it holds more responsibilities, accountabilities, commitments and serious consequences than voting, driving and drinking so let’s put it in the same higher age bracket of 18. Let us take this launch to the next step of our goal by moving forward with it into the communities of Tonga,” she said.