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Sunday 17 December 2017

End option to marry at 16 in the North, urges Pavee Point

Members of the wedding party leave the church after the shooting in Co Fermanagh during the week. Photo by Ronan McGrade/Pacemaker Press
Members of the wedding party leave the church after the shooting in Co Fermanagh during the week. Photo by Ronan McGrade/Pacemaker Press
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

THE head of Pavee Point has called on the Catholic church to ‘harmonise’ the age of marriage on the island of Ireland.

Martin Collins said it was a ‘ridiculous situation’ that young people of 16 and 17 can marry across the border, when the age of marriage in the Republic is 18.

Mr Collins, from the Travellers’ representative group Pavee Point, estimated that around 20 young Traveller couples under the age of 18 cross the border each year to marry. “That’s far too many – in fact, one couple is too many,” he said.

“These young people are only developing physically and emotionally and then they find themselves married – I think it is wrong and I believe most Travellers think it is wrong,” he said.

His calls come following a fatal shooting outside a Co Fermanagh border town church where a 17-year-old bride and 16-year-old groom were getting married.

TRAVELLERS have a high rate of early marriage - but they also have a separation rate which is around twice that of the settled population.

Census figures show that under the age of 29, 33.4pc of Irish Travellers were married, compared with just 8.2pc of the general population.

A higher proportion of Irish Travellers were separated, at 11.4pc of people compared with 5.5 pc of settled people - though divorce was more common amongst the settled population.

A Pavee Point survey in 2011 on Travellers' attitudes to sexual relations and sex education describes a culture sharply drawn along lines of gender.

Traveller culture is characterised by proud patriarchal dominance. The wife and children must be loyal to the father and women should obey men in the family.

The study highlighted the need for young unmarried women to be "beyond moral reproach".

Traveller parents who took part in the study generally agreed that young Traveller girls from the age of puberty until marriage are very much confined to the home or are chaperoned.

Marriage was generally seen in a positive light and often as inevitable.

The Travellers all agreed that the age of marriage was young in their culture, with one Traveller woman revealing how she was told she was "left on the shelf" at the age of 20 because she was not yet married.

And although traditionally, many Traveller marriages were arranged or "matched", the Travellers who took part in the survey felt that this was now much less common.

After marriage, the woman's role was seen as "staying at home", "cleaning, cooking, shopping and looking after children".

While the man's role was seen as being the provider and "taking his wife to the shops".

But the study also pointed to a darker side of Traveller culture.

Traveller parents expressed concern that young Traveller women tolerate rape and violence within marriage and do not feel they have a choice.

They were also worried that young unmarried girls might have this view and see it as inevitable.

Most participants in one group felt that there was violence "in every marriage" and that there was no solution to this.

One young women's group, showed "a high level of familiarity with violence," discussing what they would do in self-defence if their husband or someone else was violent towards them.

While a group of young men felt violence was acceptable as a way of dealing with problems in relationships.

Irish Independent

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