26 Aug 2016

'Archaic' Tongan law allows forced marriage to rapists

5:38 pm on 26 August 2016

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.

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Photo: AFP

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.

"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 said.

"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."

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The legal age of marriage in Tonga is 18 but children as young as 14 can marry with parental consent. Photo: RNZ/ Megan Whelan

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."

 'Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki (left) and the Australian minister of foreign affairs Julie Bishop (right).

'Ofa Guttenbeil-Likiliki (left) and the Australian minister of foreign affairs Julie Bishop (right). Photo: Women and Children Crisis Centre

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-years-old 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 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."

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.

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

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 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.

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