'We will not be bullied'
Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer
Jamaica's delegation to the just-concluded meeting of the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child in Geneva, Switzerland, boldly declared that the country would not be bullied into enacting legislation to prevent the marriages of persons under 18 years.
Minister of Youth and Culture Lisa Hanna said Jamaica faced intense questioning from the Norway-chaired committee, which included Bahrain, Egypt, Malaysia, Brazil, Monaco, Russia and Hungry.
According to Hanna, Jamaica was taken aback by the suggestion, which quickly became a position, by
members of the committee on child marriages.
"The question of child marriage is the one that was most surprising. They wanted us to put in our Constitution legislation which says that no child should get married before they turned 18 years. I believe it was their interpretation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child," Hanna told The Sunday Gleaner.
She said the issue was one of more than a 100 questions faced by the Jamaican delegation during the two-day session.
"We made it very clear that we do not have a child bride issue in our country. It was not part of our culture and even in cases involving older girls, women, permission is usually granted by a parent for the marriage to take place," explained Hanna.
She said the question shortly became a requirement, but Jamaica made it clear that there were many more issues which needed urgent consideration rather than child marriage laws.
The youth minister said the committee was told that while the issue would be of concern to some countries, it was not an immediate concern of Jamaica and would be addressed if it became necessary.
Jamaica was also forced to defend the current policy of not allowing pregnant teenage girls to attend school during the pregnancy.
"They wanted to know why pregnant teens were not allowed to remain in school while pregnant, and are only allowed to after the child is born. They asked if it was because of moral issues. We told them that ... was a discussion that would require national dialogue," said Minister Hanna.
According to Hanna, implicit in the question was the suggestion that Jamaica was discriminating against pregnant school-age mothers by not allowing them to go to school while pregnant.
Hanna noted that members of the committee did not cite any country which allows teenage mothers to attend school while pregnant.
She said Jamaica was also asked to consider moving up the age of consent from 16 to 18 years.
"I advised them that this was a discussion currently being held between my ministry and that of the justice ministry," said Hanna.
In the meantime, special adviser to the youth minister, Sadie Keating, who was part of Jamaica's delegation, argued that members of the UN committee seemed surprised by the level of preparedness by the Jamaican delegation.
"I believe that they took a different line of questioning when they realised they could not get us on any of the issues they raised. We were very strident and it was clear that we came prepared with data.