Trinidad and Tobago

Last Updated 27 April 2021

Located in the Caribbean, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago – comprising the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, as well as several small islands – is a parliamentary democracy that declared its independence from Britain in 1962. It is one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean, due to its large reserves of oil and gas and unusually industrialized petrochemical industry.

The Republic’s inhabitants represent a range of belief groups, influenced by the successive periods of colonization to which the islands were subjected independently, as well as the use of forced labour on the plantations during the colonial period.1Forde, Maarit. (2020). Religions in Trinidad and Tobago. Online: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341056430_Religions_in_Trinidad_and_Tobago As such, the islands are majority Christian (58%) – the largest denomination of which are Roman Catholic (22%). Hindus account for a further 18% of the population. Other smaller religious groups include followers of syncretic African religions. The non-religious account for 2% of the population.2https://cso.gov.tt/subjects/population-and-vital-statistics/population/

 
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

The Constitution3https://www.oas.org/juridico/english/mesicic3_tto_constitution.pdf and other laws and policies protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of opinion and expression. These rights are generally respected in practice.

The government reportedly funds the Inter-Religious Organization (IRO) which brings together representatives of faith-based groups, including Christians, Hindus, Muslims and Bahai’is, but does not include representatives of the atheist or humanist community. The organization’s founding mandate is to “speak to the nation on matters of social, moral, and spiritual concern.”4https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/TRINIDAD-AND-TOBAGO-2018-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

Leaders from five religious groups – Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Orisha, and Baha’i – are reported to deliver invocations at government-sponsored events, including the opening of parliament and the annual court term.5https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/TRINIDAD-AND-TOBAGO-2018-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

Education and children’s rights

The government subsidizes both non-denominational public schools and religiously-affiliated public schools (for example, Catholic, Hindu, and Islamic).6https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/TRINIDAD-AND-TOBAGO-2018-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

The government permits religious instruction in non-denominational public schools, allocating time each week when any religious organization with an adherent in the school may provide an instructor.7https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/TRINIDAD-AND-TOBAGO-2018-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf Humanist or atheist education is not an option for children from secular backgrounds, though attendance at religious instruction classes is voluntary.

In July 2020, the IRO announced a new youth program designed to give children attending non-denominational schools an opportunity to learn about spirituality and morality, among other social issues faced by young people in the country.8https://www.guardian.co.tt/news/iro-to-create-programme-for-tt-youth-6.2.1153552.39f0d63036

Family, community and society

Marriage

Under the law, marriage is defined as a contract between a man and a woman. There are four kinds of marriage recognized under the law: civil,9https://rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/laws2/Alphabetical_List/lawspdfs/45.01.pdf; Miscellaneous Provisions (Marriage) Act 2017: http://www.ttparliament.org/legislations/a2017-08.pdf Muslim,10https://rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/laws2/Alphabetical_List/lawspdfs/45.02.pdf Hindu11https://rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/laws2/Alphabetical_List/lawspdfs/45.02.pdf and Orisha,12http://www.ttparliament.org/legislations/a1999-22.pdf each with their own acts and legal differences.

All Christian marriages performed in a church are considered civil marriages, provided the presiding minister is a licensed Marriage Officer.13https://tt.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/local-resources-of-u-s-citizens/getting-married-trinidad-tobago/#:~:text=Civil%2C%20Muslim%20and%20Orisa%20marriages,by%20a%20licensed%20Marriage%20Officer.&text=Under%20Civil%20Marriage%20law%20you,Hindu%20marriages%20is%20age%2016

While previously, each act allowed exceptions for individuals under the legal minimum marriage age to be married – especially on religious grounds, – the Miscellaneous Provisions (Marriage) Act 2017, raised the age of consent to marriage in all cases to 18, despite the objections of the IRO.14http://www.ttparliament.org/legislations/a2017-08.pdf; https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/articles/religious-defence-of-child-marriage-sparks-debate-in-trinidad-and-tobago/

Matrimonial affairs are heard by the Family Court. However, Muslim marriages are heard by a Muslim council.15https://preventforcedmarriage.org/forced-marriage-overseas-trinidad-tobago/

The Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act is the only religious marriage act with specific provisions on divorces and annulments. Otherwise, the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act outlines the law regarding dissolution of a marriage.

Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

Under the Offenses Against the Person Act – a legacy of British colonial rule16https://centreforfeministforeignpolicy.org/journal/2020/3/9/the-globalisation-of-punitive-abortion-laws-the-colonial-legacy-of-the-offences-against-the-person-act-1861-ygeff – abortion is a criminal offence punishable with up to four years imprisonment for those who procure an abortion and two years for anyone who assists in the procurement of an abortion.17https://rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/laws2/Alphabetical_List/lawspdfs/11.08.pdf Exemptions appear to be permitted on the basis of: to preserve mental health; to preserve physical health; or to save a woman’s life. However, access in practice remains limited.18https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/resource-pdf/FINAL_Trinidad_and_Tobago.pdf; https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/theme/policy/AbortionPoliciesAGlobalReview2002_Vol3.PDF

LGBTI+

In June 2018, a coalition of religious groups came forward to express their concern for proposed amendments to the Equal Opportunity Act that sought to include LGBTI+ definitions of sex and gender.19https://cruxnow.com/global-church/2018/06/interfaith-leaders-in-trinidad-express-unity-on-traditional-marriage/

In April 2018, the High Court ruled (in the case of Jason Jones v. Attorney General of Trinidad and Tobago) that sections of the Sexual Offenses Act20Sexual Offenses Act prior to amendment in 2019: https://rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/laws2/Alphabetical_List/lawspdfs/11.28.pdf that criminalized prohibited “buggery” and “serious indecency” between two men, criminalized consensual same-sex activity between adults, and were unconstitutional.21https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/13/trinidad-and-tobago-sexual-offences-act-ruled-unconstitutional; https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/TRINIDAD-AND-TOBAGO-2018-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf; Sexual Offenses Act 2019, as amended: http://news.gov.tt/sites/default/files/E-Gazette/Gazette%202019/Acts/Act%20No.%2019%20of%202019.pdf

According to Amnesty International, as of 2020, the government continued to appeal against this landmark High Court judgement, and that the government “indicated that it intended to have this case heard by the country’s highest appellate court, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the UK.”22https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/americas/trinidad-and-tobago/report-trinidad-and-tobago/

While making amendments to the Domestic Violence Act, the government failed to include couples in same-sex relationships, anouncing that they were awaiting the outcome of the state’s appeal in the case of Jason Jones before extending rights to LGBTI+ groups.23https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/americas/trinidad-and-tobago/report-trinidad-and-tobago/

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

Freedom of speech is constitutionally guaranteed, and generally respected.24https://freedomhouse.org/country/trinidad-and-tobago/freedom-world/2020 Print and broadcast media are independent, diverse and vibrant. Trinidad and Tobago ranks 31 out of 179 countries on the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, rising five places in the past year.25https://rsf.org/en/trinidad-and-tobago

Freedom of association and assembly are also constitutionally guaranteed and respected. There is an active civil society in operation.26https://freedomhouse.org/country/trinidad-and-tobago/freedom-world/2020

‘Blasphemy’

Although not enforced in practice, the Trinidad and Tobago Criminal Offenses Act 1844, as amended, stipulates that any person who is convicted of any act or an attempt to commit “blasphemy, writing and publishing, or printing and publishing, any blasphemous libel . . . is liable to a fine and to imprisonment for two years.”27http://rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/laws2/alphabetical_list/lawspdfs/11.01.pdf

Additionally, the Miscellaneous Offenses Act 2000,28http://www.ttparliament.org/legislations/a2000-85.pdf added a new offence to the Summary Offences Act.29https://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/tt/tt030en.pdf Article 96A reads,

“Notwithstanding any other law to the contrary, any person who brings into contempt or disbelief or who attacks, ridicules or vilifies another person’s religion in a manner that is likely to provoke a breach of the peace commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine of one thousand dollars.”

Effectively inserting an additional de facto blasphemy law into the national legislative framework.

References

References
1 Forde, Maarit. (2020). Religions in Trinidad and Tobago. Online: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341056430_Religions_in_Trinidad_and_Tobago
2 https://cso.gov.tt/subjects/population-and-vital-statistics/population/
3 https://www.oas.org/juridico/english/mesicic3_tto_constitution.pdf
4, 5, 6, 7 https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/TRINIDAD-AND-TOBAGO-2018-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf
8 https://www.guardian.co.tt/news/iro-to-create-programme-for-tt-youth-6.2.1153552.39f0d63036
9 https://rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/laws2/Alphabetical_List/lawspdfs/45.01.pdf; Miscellaneous Provisions (Marriage) Act 2017: http://www.ttparliament.org/legislations/a2017-08.pdf
10, 11 https://rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/laws2/Alphabetical_List/lawspdfs/45.02.pdf
12 http://www.ttparliament.org/legislations/a1999-22.pdf
13 https://tt.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/local-resources-of-u-s-citizens/getting-married-trinidad-tobago/#:~:text=Civil%2C%20Muslim%20and%20Orisa%20marriages,by%20a%20licensed%20Marriage%20Officer.&text=Under%20Civil%20Marriage%20law%20you,Hindu%20marriages%20is%20age%2016
14 http://www.ttparliament.org/legislations/a2017-08.pdf; https://www.girlsnotbrides.org/articles/religious-defence-of-child-marriage-sparks-debate-in-trinidad-and-tobago/
15 https://preventforcedmarriage.org/forced-marriage-overseas-trinidad-tobago/
16 https://centreforfeministforeignpolicy.org/journal/2020/3/9/the-globalisation-of-punitive-abortion-laws-the-colonial-legacy-of-the-offences-against-the-person-act-1861-ygeff
17 https://rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/laws2/Alphabetical_List/lawspdfs/11.08.pdf
18 https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/resource-pdf/FINAL_Trinidad_and_Tobago.pdf; https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/theme/policy/AbortionPoliciesAGlobalReview2002_Vol3.PDF
19 https://cruxnow.com/global-church/2018/06/interfaith-leaders-in-trinidad-express-unity-on-traditional-marriage/
20 Sexual Offenses Act prior to amendment in 2019: https://rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/laws2/Alphabetical_List/lawspdfs/11.28.pdf
21 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/13/trinidad-and-tobago-sexual-offences-act-ruled-unconstitutional; https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/TRINIDAD-AND-TOBAGO-2018-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf; Sexual Offenses Act 2019, as amended: http://news.gov.tt/sites/default/files/E-Gazette/Gazette%202019/Acts/Act%20No.%2019%20of%202019.pdf
22, 23 https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/americas/trinidad-and-tobago/report-trinidad-and-tobago/
24, 26 https://freedomhouse.org/country/trinidad-and-tobago/freedom-world/2020
25 https://rsf.org/en/trinidad-and-tobago
27 http://rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/laws2/alphabetical_list/lawspdfs/11.01.pdf
28 http://www.ttparliament.org/legislations/a2000-85.pdf
29 https://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/tt/tt030en.pdf

Support our work

Donate Button with Credit Cards
whois: Andy White WordPress Theme Developer London