PORT OF SPAIN –– Paid a $25 dowry in exchange for her hand in marriage, child bride Rosey Ali remained trapped in a loveless, abusive, adulterous marriage for 36 years. Ali, who is now 78, wants the government to change the Marriage Act to restrict parents from marrying their 12-year-old daughters.
Giving snippets of her life during an exclusive with the T&T Guardian, Ali of Lands Settlement Road, Ecclesville, Rio Claro, recalled the trauma she faced after she was forced to drop out of school at age seven and marry at age 13 under Muslim rites.
Ali suffered years of abuse at the hands of her husband, Hydar Gugoon Ali, who first saw her while she played in a muddy puddle at her brother’s house. He was five years older than her. It was a marriage marred by adultery. Ali admitted that she was not compatible with her husband and she stayed with him only because of their five children.
Even though her face bore no signs of the distress she faced, a smiling Ali said she was the only daughter for her parents Madan Durgadeen and Sumintra Bissoon, who were both Hindus. When their marriage failed, Ali went to live with her mother while her brothers –– Ramsundar and Boysie –– went to live with their father.
“My mother worked hard on the estate to mind me. We were very close and she took good care of me. Ramsundar was much older than me. I had to stop school when my father died. I remember running from Ecclesville school barefeet to Torrib Tabaquite Road and wetting my foot at every stand pipe. Monday I am paying for that because I have arthritis,” she recalled.
After Ramsundar got married and his wife got pregnant, Ali said her mother sent her to stay with them.
“I think they were worried that I was staying home alone when she went to work so when I went to stay by my brother. Gugoon passed and saw me one day on the way to the garden. He went to my brother and asked to marry me. I had no say,” Ali added.
She recalled that a $25 dowry was passed for her hand in marriage. The wedding was no fanfare.
“The Imam came and married us quietly. I could not say anything. In those days when they talk you have to listen. I knew everybody was marrying so I did not say anything. I was not so smart so I stayed quiet,” she added. She explained that she never talked much to her new husband. When five years passed and she had no children, many people began whispering that maybe she was barren.
“It was only when I was 18 years that I had my first child,” Ali added. She said one day while Gugoon worked in the garden, a branch fell and hit him in the eye.
“He spent one week at the hospital and after that he decided not to work the land. He started to run taxi and he get wild. He went with one woman after the other. I could not handle it,” Ali recalled. She said every time she spoke to him about the women he would beat her.
“At that age I depended on him. I was not educated so I had no choice but to stay. I could not say anything. If I ask where he was he would beat me. Eventually I stopped asking him anything,” Ali added. She said her husband never allowed her to go anywhere on her own.
“If I wanted to go anywhere he would carry me but only if he wanted to. I could not even go to visit my parents,” Ali said. She added that even now she had a fear about going anywhere alone.
Ali said her husband’s infidelity became unbearable. One day when her mother came to visit, she told Ali that if she was unhappy, she should leave.
Following her mother’s advice, Ali left her husband. He kept all of their children as he did not want to pay maintenance, Ali added. She said years later, Gugoon came to her and said he wanted to reconcile.
“My brother and my mother said I should not go back but I was studying the children. I really did not experience life in a happy way. After we got back together, he stopped being unfaithful and we started to live here in Ecclesville,” Ali added.
She said she was 30 years old at that time and, without an education, felt she did not have any options. Asked whether she believed being married as a child had hampered her opportunities, Ali said she never really thought about it.
However, she said it was important that girls are given an education before marriage so nobody could take advantage of them.
“I have an 18-year-old granddaughter Angela Ali and she don’t even think about marriage now. She wants to go to UWI and get her education. That is the right way,” Ali explained.
She said while her husband was “nice and friendly” and was good with children, she believed they were married too young.
“You have to leave children to get some sense before they marry because children don’t know how to live a married life,” Ali said. She explained that even though life was better now with proper amenities such as pipe-borne water, people had more money worries.
“Look how expensive baby milk is. When you get married too young, with no education, people will take advantage of you.” Ali said her mother died at the age of 80 and she took care of her until she died.
“My husband got a heart attack but I cannot remember when he died. It was a long time ago when he was 54 years and I was 49,” Ali said. She added that her life could have been better or worse. Either way, she is happy to have her five children: Cecil, Selwyn (deceased), Reena, Sherry and Judy as well as her grand children.
Ali said maybe her story will not have any effect on the change in legislation but she hoped that more child brides could come forward and speak out about their lives so the rest of the population could be informed.
The Marriage Act which governs Civil (Christian) marriages sets the age of consent at 18 for males and females. The Marriage and Divorce Act which governs Muslim marriages and divorces, sets the age of consent at 16 for males and 12 for females. The Hindu Marriage Act sets the age of consent at 18 for males and 14 for females. However, provisions are made for persons under these set ages to be contracted in marriage with consent. The Orisha Marriage Act sets the age of consent at 18 for males and 16 for females.