Child marriage in Tonga “shocking,” Lord Tuʻiʻāfitu says, questions power of Tongan law

Deputy Speaker of the House Lord Tuʻiʻāfitu has told Parliament he is shocked by child marriage in Tonga.

He said that in the past three years 183 child marriage had been recorded in Tonga.

From 2013 to 2015, 17 children aged 15 had married.

He would not give the exact years of their marriages because he wanted to protect the “dignity” of these young ages.

Lord Tuʻiʻāfitu questioned the effectiveness of the law of the nation, which he said was meant to protect the children.

He said the Parent Consent Act 1926, which gave parents power to allow their children to marry, was “embarrassing.”

The law stipulates that parents had to give their consent to the marriage of their children if they were underage.

He said society needed peace and good relationship.

Lord Tuʻiʻāfitu made the statements while reporting to Parliament about representing Tonga at a conference on child marriage in Nepal on March.

The conference was held in Kathmandu and was attended by 13 countries from the Asia Pacific Region.

The conference discussed the importance of designing and implementing laws and policies to promote accountability and accelerate collective efforts both nationally and sub-regionally for ending early, forced and child marriage.

Lord Tuʻiʻāfitu said he raised his concerns about the situation in Tonga in a paper he read to the conference.

The paper was titled “Engaging men and boys in ending child marriage and promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment”.

Lord Tuʻiʻāfitu told the conference Tonga’s legal framework required marriage to be at age 18 and over.

“The level of drop-outs at the high school level is acute, and creates vulnerabilities to child marriage,” the Deputy speaker said.

“Girls giving birth are still at risk of health complications during childbirth.”

Lord Tuʻiʻāfitu said although child marriage was not a serious issue in Tonga, women faced “discrimination in accessing land and property rights through biased inheritance laws.”

Article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) explicitly prohibits early and forced marriage.

However, the Tongan government has shied away from the Convention in the face of opposition from conservative groups.

According to the Royal Commonwealth Society, health and education are directly and adversely affected by early and forced marriage, with infant mortality rates double for mothers under 20 years old, and 58% lower for mothers with more than seven years of education.

There was also a direct correlation between early and forced marriage and poverty, with girls from poor families more than twice as likely to marry before they reach 18 years old.

UNICEF defines marriage before the age of 18 as a fundamental violation of human rights.

“Many factors interact to place a girl at risk of marriage, including poverty, the perception that marriage will provide ‘protection’, family honour, social norms, customary or religious laws that condone the practice, an inadequate legislative framework and the state of a country’s civil registration system,” a UNICEF statement said..

“Child marriage often compromises a girl’s development by resulting in early pregnancy and social isolation, interrupting her schooling, limiting her opportunities for career and vocational advancement and placing her at increased risk of domestic violence.”

The main points

  • Deputy Speaker of the House Lord Tuʻiʻāfitu has told Parliament he is shocked by child marriage in Tonga.
  • He said that in the past three years 183 child marriage had been recorded in Tonga.
  • He said the Parent Consent Act 1926, which gave parents power to allow their children to marry, was “embarrassing.”
  • UNICEF defines marriage before the age of 18 as a fundamental violation of human rights.

For more information 

Child marriage is a violation of human rights, but is all too common

Global Coalition to End Child Marriage Launched

Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women

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