By 1946, The Bahamas was almost twenty years behind Britain, in amending its minimum age for marriage laws. For girls, in 1946, the minimum marriage age was still 12 years old.
Bahamas was decades behind Britain in expanding rights for women and girls during colonial rule
Two world wars, 1914 and 1939, began to change perspectives on minimum marriage age.
Historically speaking, child marriage was used as an expedient moral and legal tool in society. Morally and legally, if a young girl became pregnant, the man could escape criminal liability by marrying her. This legitimised many carnal knowledge crimes.
Poverty was also a factor. Families with too many mouths to feed, would try to thin the numbers, by marrying off their girls. Females would become the husband’s problem and his responsibility to feed and provide for. For the well to do in Europe, Asia and Africa, early marriage sealed political and economic bargains and alliances.
After the First World War, perspectives began to change. Women started to speak up for each other, as minimum marriage age, became part of the overall umbrella lobby for women’s suffrage, right to inherit property from their father and access to more jobs traditionally held by men.
With the rise of women in work, a new global voice emerged. They wanted the vote and they wanted not to be forced into child marriages.
Consider that for Britain, the First World War ended on 11 November 1918 and on 21 November 1918, Britain passed its Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918, allowing women to be elected to Parliament for the first time in its history. Then, in 1928, women in England, Wales and Scotland received the vote on the same terms as men (over the age of 21). Minimum marriage age was increased to 16 in 1929 for England, Wales and Scotland.
These are incredibly important events, for two reasons. Firstly, The Bahamas was a British colony in 1946 and remained so until 1973.
Secondly, for Europe, women’s perspectives and opportunities expanded as the laws regarding their rights also expanded. The same happened for The Bahamas. As women’s roles began to expand, Bahamian women too began lobbying for new rights. However, things moved very slowly in The Bahamas. Women didn’t get the vote in The Bahamas until 1962.
BAHAMAS 1946 – Marriage for 12 year old girls still legal
In 1946, minimum marriage age for marriage for girls was still 12 years old and for boys 14 years old.
Governor William Murphy had asked the Assembly to amend the minimum marriage age to at least 16 years of age for females and males. Britain had already raised the minimum age of marriage to 16 for both sexes in 1929. The Bahamas was woefully behind the times in this matter.