The Talitha Project is collaborating with the Ministry of Justice in an effort which they hope will see a law repealed which allows children between the ages of 15 and 17 get married if they have parental consent.
The ‘Let Girls be Girls!” initiative will include district consultations and education programmes for young women.
Talitha Project director Vanessa Heleta says Tonga has averaged over 50 child marriages, as they are referred to in Tonga, each year and it needs to stop.
“ In 2015 there were 56 child marriages, last year a total of 52. This year alone they already have registered 15 child marriages. It really saddened my heart, I don’t think it is right.
“This day and age we should not encourage child marriages. This project is all about enhancing and giving opportunities to the young girls to be the best they can be. This law is not doing that.
Radio New Zealand’s Koro Vaka’uta asked Heleta why child marriage were happening in the 21st century?
“Absurd reasons. For example, one of it is teenage pregnancies.
“A lot of young girls get pregnant and they are pushed to get married to cover up the shame and embarrassment of the family and also a lot of young girls make wrong decisions.
“For example, some girls run away from home and the family look for her and automatically the mindset is that when a girl runs away, she is running away with a boy. So they don’t want to deal with it.
“They do not want to sit down with that young girl and talk about why did you run away? How can we solve this problem? But they always out the marriage – ‘oh, you have to get married. You have to get married because you went to that boy’s house’– and they don’t even find out the real facts because they live wanting to please everyone, wanting to fit in this society. You know, we have to move past that.
“A lot of these marriages are with boys older than them, even guys in their thirties. The CEO from the Ministry of Justice said that the party to a marriage that is 15 years or younger is usually a female and the males are usually older.
Heleta was asked what has the been the reaction been from government and also from the public.
“We have been getting good responses and negative responses as well but I know in my heart that this is the right thing to do.
“I think it is time to address this and I think it’s just ridiculous. My daughter, she is 15 next week, oh dear – I can’t see her getting married at the age of 15. She can barely look after herself.”