Seanad debates

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

2:40 pm

Photo of Susan O'KeeffeSusan O'Keeffe (Labour) | Oireachtas source

I am sorry. I was treating the Cathaoirleach in the neutral aspect that chairs ought to be in. Of course, the Cathaoirleach knows what I mean. However, I acknowledge the Chair.

If, as Senator van Turnhout has said, we are here to set example, to take a lead in the world and to be able to make any statement at all about our own care for our young people, then we have to do that by example. Fine words never cut it, and certainly not in this case. It seems the Senator has raised an important matter that can probably be dealt with relatively straightforwardly. I hope that is the case.

Most of the reasons that might have existed prior to this or the past century for young girls being forced into marriage for social reasons, for political reasons, to avoid poverty or for religious reasons have collapsed in the modern world and we accept that the risks posed to young women by being married too young, and, potentially, being mothers far too young, certainly endanger their life in a straightforward fashion. In addition, they almost certainly endanger their psychological and mental health with regard to their loss of childhood and all that goes with that. The research is not to be questioned as there is so much of it.

We will have listened over many years to all those who visited countries where there is less advanced thinking in this matter and brought back the stories of those young girls, many of them children aged five, six and seven, being forced to marry, and we can still be shocked by that. We should be shocked by ourselves here, that, in 2012, the last year for which figures are available, 28 young persons, or slightly more than one every fortnight, were married having got consent from the courts. That is quite a lot. Let us not be pointing figures at others. The evidence is clear that such loss of childhood and forced arrangement is anti-woman. Let us face it now. That is what it boils down to. I, for one, certainly would like to see that changed.

I believe in the equality of men and women, and where we can change laws and improve them to improve how we treat women, particularly young women in how they will grow up, it falls to us to do so. Therefore, this motion is important in its own right, but it is more important in a wider picture in regard to our own views of women to which I alluded earlier in my observation about the state of the Chamber today.

I thank the Minister of State. I hope and trust that we can make speedy progress. I am not one generally for rushing matters merely for the sake of rushing them, but this is something for which there should be clear consent. We now can set about fixing it so that we become one of those countries that states the minimum age must be 18 years and there will be no exceptions to that.


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