A women's advocate in Tonga, 'Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki, says the government needs to improve legislation around the protection of women and children. Ms Guttenbeil-Likiliki who is the director of the Women and Children Crisis Centre says the group is still working on getting Tonga to ratify CEDAW, a convention seeking to eliminate discrimination against women. She told Koro Vaka'uta the centre also backs a fellow NGO's initiative looking to change the law which allows children between the ages of 15 and 17 to get married with parental consent.
Better laws needed to protect women and children in Tonga
'OFA GUTTENBEIL-LIKILIKI: It's one of the core issues that we constantly speak out on. For one, the Tongan government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1995 and so we think that over more than 30 years now, the government should have made some movements to make improvements to our laws. Currently there is an inconsistency in what constitutes the age of a child. For example, you can't vote until you are 21 but compulsory education is until you are 18. You can register to be a soldier in the defence services at 16. You can marry at 15 with parental consent and you can be charged for a criminal offence at seven. So currently there are huge discrepancies throughout our laws in terms of what actually legally defines a child. I think to be consistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, we need to raise that to 18, be more specific and make it more consistent with all our laws. So that would mean increasing the age under the Marriage Act to 18.
KORO VAKA'UTA: It's a big issue in terms of getting all that legislation consistent, is there any movement at all on that?
'OGL: Well look this is how we say that all things are interconnected. When people ask me why are you so passionate or why does the crisis centre get behind this initiative of getting more women into parliament? This is one of the reasons why. Because we have a male member parliament and so these issues are not particularly a priority to them whereas to us women we see it is a priority because it concerns the lives of the key members of our family, who are our children. So we want to get these laws in line and we want to ensure that our children are protected under the law properly. That's why I said everything is so interconnected, whether it is women in leadership, women in violence, women in economic situations.
KV: In terms of perspectives and legislation, the other thing I wanted to ask is the CEDAW convention. There was big rigmarole when there was first discussion about that and then it kind of died down and there have been so many national issues since then and it's kind of been buried. Is that still an ongoing issue for you?
'OGL: Yeah. I will talk about one of the strategies we are using now but before I talk about the strategy we are using, CEDAW's currently shelved right now. No one wants to touch it because it is a potential electoral issue and so everyone is too scared to touch it or entertain the idea of raising it again and of course that's politics. So what we are doing in the meantime is we are holding male advocacy workshops. For example two weeks ago we had a group of 35 men from across the board, from churches, government, non-government, private businesses and youth. We brought them together and we took them through CEDAW, literally every single article and we unpacked it and we got them to see. At the end of the five days we had men crying in the room and admitting that they had no idea that CEDAW was actually beneficial for their daughters, for their sisters and this whole misconception around CEDAW being the legislation of same-sex marriage was thrown out the window. So I think in the meantime that is what we can do as a crisis centre. Continue to raise that awareness, re-educate society about all the fear mongering while CEDAW was the hot topic and hopefully after the new government comes in, whoever government is, we can re-entertain at a level where more people and public are well informed about what CEDAW really is.
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