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Wednesday 19th October 2016

Nuku’alofa Times - Page 20


‘Archaic’ Tongan law allows forced marriage to rapists

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (RNZI): Young victims of rape have been made to marry their rapists under a law that gives parents the power to approve underage marriages says the Women and Children Crisis Centre (WCCC) in Tonga. The legal age of marriage in Tonga is 18 but under the Parent Consent Act 1926, children as young as 14 can marry with parental consent. WCCC director ‘Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki says the law is a violation of children’s rights and also breaches the United Nations treaty on children’s rights, which has been ratified by the government. “It’s a violation of the child’s goes against how much we value families in Tonga,” Ms Guttenbeil-Likiliki said. “We do have cases that we have documented at the centre where the young girl has been forced to marry the perpetrator who raped her. “She’s been forced to marry the perpetrator to prevent shame, embarrassment, talk in the village. So the perpetrator will come with the family, make the traditional apology and then it’s accepted by the young girl’s family and then the decision, which is made largely by the family, is to get them married.” In a recent address to

Parliament, Deputy Speaker Lord Tu’i’afitu reported that 183 child marriages had been recorded in the country in the past three years. He said the law was embarrassing and called for it to be reviewed. Ms Guttenbeil-Likiliki agreed. “It’s such an archaic law. To think that parents have been given a legal warrant to sign off their children to get married at 15 years old I think is absolutely ludicrous,” she said. “It’s a violation of the child’s rights. It’s a violation of so many human rights [and] international law. You know, it goes against how much we value families in Tonga.” The WCCC has also been calling on the government to review inconsistencies within Tongan law to do with the status of children. The minimum age to enlist into armed forces is 16-years-old, while parental consent for marriage is still required for that age. Ms Guttenbeil Likiliki said it did not make sense that you had to be 21-yearsold to vote and serve on a jury, and yet under the Criminal Offences Act, a child as young as seven years of age could be charged. “We saw that happen following the riots. A few

‘Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki children who were actually charged and put behind bars,” she said “So it’s something that Tonga really needs to pay closer attention to because we’re so inconsistent throughout all our laws and legislations.” Last September the government stepped away from its commitment to ratify the United Nations Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which explicitly prohibits

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early and forced marriage. Prime Minister ‘Akilisi Pohiva said it was an important issue but expressed concern over the division the issue of CEDAW had caused and said the government was stepping back to diffuse tensions in the community. Cabinet had announced its intention to ratify CEDAW in February of 2015. But several petitions and protests followed the announcement with opponents in the staunchly religious kingdom expressing concern that it will allow same sex marriage and abortion. Tonga was one of only seven countries, including the United States, which have not ratified the convention.

Forced marriage

Meanwhile, one of the victims of a forced marriage, who sought the assistance of the WCCC here in Nuku’alofa has asked women and girls who suffer violence at the hands of their families, relatives, partners and husbands to report the matter. The woman, whose identity has been safeguarded because of her safety said she was continuously beaten up by her husband. “My parents arranged my marriage to a man 12 years older than me. He had a good job and was respected by everyone. On our wedding day my parents sat me down and lectured me on the importance of being a responsible and dedicated wife, not only to my husband but to his family as well. I then moved to live with him, his mother and his oldest sister,” she said on the WCCC website where she has shared her story. “In the first week after the wedding, one of my best friends dropped in unexpectedly for a visit and asked if I would go with her to the market. I accepted and left a note for my husband, telling him where I was and why I was there. “We were just strolling around the market doing my friend’s shopping when suddenly I was grabbed from behind and I looked up to see my husband there, obviously very angry with me. He had a grip on my left arm as he started punching my shoulder and furiously whispering that I should never have left the house without telling him.

“My best friend was very afraid and felt she couldn’t say anything as there were people all around. I shook off his hand and started running. Luckily I got away. I went straight to my parents’ home but they told me to go back to my husband. They said I should remain loyal and obedient to my husband because that was the right thing to do and eventually I would reap my blessings if I did so. “I returned but, from then on, my husband told me that I should ask his permission if I ever wanted to go out even if it was on an errand. If I didn’t abide by this he would choke, punch or kick me. I told my problems to a friend who was a former client of WCCC. I then called the Centre without my husband’s knowledge and was told I could come for counselling the following day. When my husband left for work the next day I went to the Centre. In counseling I realized that I was in a dangerous, dominating relationship where my husband was the master and I was his slave. “The very next day I left my husband and went to live with my best friend who had a lot of brothers who would protect me from my husband’s threats and violence. The Center helped opened my eyes to the fact that I could be free from the ties and shackles that my parents made for me. Now I live with my best friend and have found a job that will support me in my decision to live my life in a safe and happy environment. Now my future looks bright.”

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Tongan women protest against the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, arguing it includes counter-culture clauses such as same sex marriage and abortion.Photo: Broadcomfm Broadcasting / Facebook

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