Kamla’s Equivocation

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 29, 2017

Dr. Selwyn R. CudjoeOn Wednesday 18th January the Senate passed the Miscellaneous Provisions (Marriage) or the Child Marriage Bill (2016) that prohibits twelve-year-old girls from getting married. It did so with the notable abstention of the UNC-led Opposition. Put simply, as Jennifer Baptiste Primus suggests, this bill prevents “hard-back men” from clambering over young girls to satisfy their lust.

Enter Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Q.C. She is one of the country’s more distinguished lawyers. I don’t know how she conducts herself in court but one presumes it is befitting of her status. Language and the manipulation of language are at the heart of her profession which allows her to say things without regard of their consequences or truth content. It is almost as though she (or any lawyer) can use words to serve any purpose they deem necessary.

On the same day UNC abstained from supporting this progressive piece of legislation Kamla rolled out a statement about our rights guaranteed under the constitution, her duties as a legislator, and her fear that the passage of the bill, with the amendments proposed by the attorney general, “paves the way for anarchy, tyranny, and dictatorship.”

To play a bit more on our nationalistic sensibilities and filial taste buds, she threw in some more red meat. She assures us that the preamble to the constitution acknowledges “the position of the family in a society of free men and free institutions” and the right “to respect family life.”

But language can be a slippery, deceptive thing. It conceals as much as it reveals; erases as much as it inscribes. It should never be taken at face value. In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare warns: “The devil can cite scriptures for his purpose.”

The Child Marriage Bill is not only about child brides. It is also about judgment and values. In the famous case against Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the state defined depravity and corruption as follows: “To make morally bad; to pervert; to deteriorate; to make rotten; to infect, taint; to render unsound, to debase, to defile” (Sybille Bedford, The Trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover).

Adults have a sacred obligation to protect the rights of children until they reach an age of reason. It is sinful to impose adults’ lustful desires upon our children in the name of religion. Bedford points out: “Obscenity, unlike murder and theft, is not [a] self-evident fact; it involves, in US Judge Bryan’s words, ‘questions of constitutional judgement of the most sensitive and delicate kind’ [and]…definitions depending on-relative and changeable-community standards, on private feelings, on opinions.” (57)

There resides at the bottom of those standards and feelings the power of “our deepest and most irrational taboos,” such as sex, lust, and perversion. Here we have to be most careful. Psychologically and physically, it’s harmful (some may say depraved) for a forty-year-old man to engage in sex with a twelve-year-old child.

On January 21, I marched with over 100,000 people in London’s Women’s March. The organizers asked us to take an “intersectional view of feminism-which opposes all forms of inequality that oppresses women.” The March’s Mission Statement says: “We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.”

Julie Matthaei, a very perceptive scholar, wrote that many feminists supported Bernie Sanders rather than Hillary Clinton because “his platform arguably would do more to help women than having more women in positions of power in a heartlessly unequal, exploitative and violent political- economic system” (“The Women’s March on Washington and the Coming of Age of Feminism,” Common Dreams, January 19, 2017).

Being a woman or holding political office does not necessarily make one more empathetic with women’s woes. What one stands for and how one advocates for the rights of women and young children are more important indicators of one’s commitment to women’s rights.
It is deceptive for Kamla to say she believes 18years is the appropriate age for marriage yet abstains when she takes a position that is legally binding.

Kamla’s abstention on the Child Marriage Bill was not one of her most humanistic moments. It served her political purposes, but it was deceptive anti-feminist especially when the marginalized and underage cannot speak for themselves.

A politician cannot hide her true feelings by manipulating language. Nor can she sacrifice our children’s innocence under rhetorical flourishes of family or patriotism. Sooner or later her actions find her out. Samuel Johnson affirmed: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”

I understand Michael Harris’s view about Faris Al-Rawi’s legislative maneuvers with regard to this bill (Express, January 22). I do not necessarily agree with Al-Rawi’s maneuvers. Lloyd Best’s clichés are of little use here. He never ran a government. It is simply a case of Harris (and Kamla) missing the forest for the trees and/or confusing the accident with the essence as philosophers say.

One may have reservations about Al-Rawi’s legislative maneuvers, but one shouldn’t lose sight of the dishonest and equivocal behavior of Kamla and her colleagues. All they tried to do was cover their backwardness with a barrage of patriotic and family-friendly language.

Professor Cudjoe’s email address is scudjoe@wellesley.edu. He can be reached at @ProfessorCudjoe.

4 Responses to “Kamla’s Equivocation”

  • “A politician cannot hide her true feelings by manipulating language. Nor can she sacrifice our children’s innocence under rhetorical flourishes of family or patriotism. Sooner or later her actions find her out. Samuel Johnson affirmed: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”………Selwyn Cudjoe

    Selwyn, those truthful words is an apt description of the Kamla doctrine. Most leaders, on ascension to their role as leader, possess in their background actions of valor, faith, oratory, heroism, strength, warmth, vision and passion for the their chosen cause of action. But Kamla possess none of those qualities, yet, by reason of public rationalization and appeal she was allowed to carry the mantle of leadership for a large portion of the population. One of the distinctive factors that that part of the population brings to the fore is religion. Religion, as practiced by that segment has the relics of chauvinism, myths and traditions where ‘elders’ (meaning old men) are the eventual tutors and counselors or morality and pride that usually keep men in position of power of women and children.

    As much as most of our citizenry profess to being ‘educated’, progressive and learned in the ways of western civilization, they hold fast to those parts of culture that allows them to hold unquestionable superiority when it comes to how they are percieved by their communities. While she holds the position as Leader of the UNC, it can be said and equally assumed that she carries the mantle of ‘associate leader’ of a belief system that dates back to centuries of domination of men over women and children. In this role as woman, it entitles her to carry on the tradition that entrusts and keep the power of men’s authority over women and children. This is the context in which Kamla operated when she abstained from the child marriage act bill. In so doing, it reflects two things: first – it allows her to hold true to her religious beliefs (men marry whomever they chosose to take as brides) and second; by way of not actually opposing the bill reveals her ‘solidariity’ with western values.
    Both in my opinion are hypocritical but it allows her to traverse through the realms of western political manoeuvres to act in a way that is pleasing and respectful to her elders and those that follow her aspirations. It is that simple!

    Kamla as leader, is yet to publicly produce, direct or articulate
    any meaningful dissertation of her beliefs and values to incite her following. She is yet to give any meaningful speeches to excite the expectations of those seeking direction. She is yet to make any meaningful contribution that the population, regardless of political affiliation, religious beliefs or national persuasion can make objective judgement as one of enlightenment.

    It is for this very reason that she cannot in good conscience, be considered as a national leader. There is no doubt that she wants such accolade but factually she is void of all the qualities that is reasonably expected of her. She is not the conscience of the poor (although her parliamentary language wants to suggest that); she is not the leader of her religion (although she uses her political platform to insinuate that too); she is not a leader in the women’s movement (although she conveniently uses her position to infer that); she NEVER seeks national concensious on any given issue either. so the question remains

    When given an opportunity to be magnanimous she always fails to inspire. Being the first woman prime minister was not just an honour but a meaningful opportunity to advance the causes of women in this who continues to be our main victims of crime and criminal behaviour. The same can be said of children, yet she fails. One has to question her hold on power in leadership when she has shown ineptitude and lack of vision while holding the mantle for visionary behaviour.

    It is of no surprise to many that the children’s marriage act bill CANNOT account for her as a supporter nor someone who actually dissented. In her case abstention is neither support nor opposition to the bill. When an opportunity arises in the future she can always say she was not opposed to the bill or in reverse she did not support it. IS THAT LEADERSHIP?

  • According to the previous law Hindus could marry their children at age 14 and up. The new law propose by the Opposition would have raise the marriage age to 16 years and up with judicial consent. This was indeed a reasonable approach.
    As an example in Texas “Texas law permits individuals who have reached the age of majority (18) to get married without parental consent. However, those 14 and older may get married with the consent of their parents or legal guardians. In those instances, consent must be given within 30 days prior to applying for a marriage license.” The propose changes of age 16 in TNT would have been better than the Texas law.

    On the other hand the marriage laws of Oklahoma states “In Oklahoma, you must be 18 before applying for a marriage license without parental approval, and as young as 16 with written parental consent. If a minor under 16 is pregnant or has a child, he or she may get married through a court order and parental consent (or consent by legal guardian).”

    In New York the law states “If both parents are deceased, the legal guardian must appear instead. If either prospective spouse is under the age of sixteen years, in addition to parental consent, the written approval of a Judge of the Supreme Court or Family Court is needed.”

    The criminalization of marriage by the PNM will leave a “black stain” in the minds of the nation’s religious community. To say that Kamla supports child marriage is wrong, the law she proposed fits well with American standards. Here is the penalty for such criminalization of marriage “Once passed, the bill will criminalize the marriage of people under 18 by a marriage officer, who would be punished with a $50,000 fine along with a seven-year prison sentence.”

    The reality is that Kamla was responsible for the set up of the children’s authority that has over a few thousands cases that it is working on to protect children. So no one can say she supports the assault on young children.

    The third rate Attorney General pull out of his hat a set of statistics that would actually support marriage of 16 year old girls due to the high rate of teen pregnancies and sexual activities. ” Al Rawi revealed that between 1999 and 2015, hospital records showed that 15,231 girls gave birth.
    Last year alone, Al Rawi highlighted, 168 children between the ages of 11 and 16 became pregnant.
    The statistics also showed there were 743 teenage abortions between 2011 to 2015.”
    If 15,231 girls gave birth during a six year period (can’t trust his stats) then all of these births came out of the moral sin of fornication and lends itself without marriage to bastardization. A thing we all too familiar with in the Afro community in the Caribbean. According to Research done in L.A. It shows that once a girl becomes sexually active, she does not stop. Boys can stop but the girls eventually go on to have multiple partners.

    The nature of the law proposed by the third rate AG is simplistic and heavy on political “whimsicality”. You cannot criminalize human sexuality based on the modus operandi of protecting children when you make laws that are not dealing with current realities. Here is the reality 15,231 girls gave birth in six years, that is the reality. Deal with it. Modify the laws to accommodate the fact that some parents may prefer if their daughter gets pregnant that the father of the baby assume his responsibility instead of them having to take care of his seed whilst he go looking to plant more seed in other fertile grounds.

  • “It is deceptive for Kamla to say she believes 18years is the appropriate age for marriage yet abstains when she takes a position that is legally binding.”

    The law has to take into consideration all the factors associated with human relations especially in the context of the present dispensation of teenage behaviour. Age 18 is the accepted age of the freedom to marry but the law has to acknowledge extenuating circumstances, such as pregnancies and the “run away” teenager who prefers another home that is more hospitable and loving. Parents prefer to have legal unions for their children rather than co-habitation. It is a cause for much shame in some families. If the law does not take all of the mitigating factors into consideration, then it is a foolish law. What about common law relationships for girls who are under the age of 18? In many parts of the world common law relationship is afforded the same legal level of respect as marriage. In other words the law see both as not being diffrent. This came about after over many year of legal ramifications involving children and property. There is no legal document but there is a common accommodation and general acceptance. Common law relationships is now the norm in Western culture as people choose to live together before getting married.
    This marriage law does not go far enough. Example a religious ceremony could be done and the marriage remain unregistered because it is no business of the government except for legal family issues.

    Kamla position on the issue is reflected in many parts of free world. Age 18 years without parental consent, 16 years with legal and family consent. I tend to agree with that position.

  • Please forgive me, but this article points to the fact that 12 yr old girls are now not permitted to be married. Does that mean 13 yr old girls are permitted to be married in TnT, or is it further mentioned in the bill that marriage will start at 16 or 18yrs? The article was not clear on this.

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