early marriageBRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Dec. 1  – It would perhaps not be at the top of your list – if at all – if you were asked to write down all the factors contributing to teen pregnancy; but early marriage is one of them.

While countries in the Middle East and Asia come to mind when people think of minors being wedded, in the Caribbean the minimum age for marriage is actually as low as 12 years – in Trinidad and Tobago – although it is much higher in most other countries.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says marriage at an early age not only affects pursuit of level of education attainment and the ability for adolescents to fully develop their personalities, but can lead to early pregnancies which could have harmful effects for both the mother and the child. In particular, mothers younger than 17 years old face an increased risk of maternal morbidity and mortality.

The UNFPA has identified a low minimum age for marriage in the Caribbean as one of the drivers of early pregnancies, and therefore a challenge, as it pushes ahead with its mission of reducing teen pregnancies.

The fact that the age at which a person can get married without parental consent varies from country to country is also a concern for the UN body.

“For a person to get married without parental consent the ages range from 16 in St. Kitts and Nevis and 21 in Grenada but most have a consensual age of 18. Likewise, the minimum age for marriage with parental consent in most OECS [Organization of Eastern Caribbean States] countries is 16 years, but 15 years in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. For Trinidad & Tobago, the minimum age of marriage is as low as 12 years old for girls and 14 for boys,” it points out.

“There should be a uniform statutory marriage law or common law union laws applicable to all marriages or unions irrespective of gender or religious concerns.”

The UNFPA has recommended the minimum age be set at 18, in keeping with international standards.

It has also suggested that legislation be put in place to ensure that marriage only take place with the consent of both parties.