By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 29, 2017
On 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be reached at @ProfessorCudjoe.