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Police probe case of ‘child bride’ at MoBay facility

Head of the Area One Police, Assistant Commissioner Clifford Chambers, says they are yet to lay any charges against the 'husband' of the 16-year-old girl who was allegedly forced into marriage at the Bayith Yahweh Church in St James.

But he said they are working closely with the court and Child Protection and Family Services Agency (CPFSA), who are leading that aspect of the investigation.

"When they are convinced that the offence is properly made out, then we will be so tasked. The legal team is going through those step by step," he said.

On Wednesday, 23 children between ages one to 17 were removed from the religious compound which is located in Paradise, Montego Bay. The children were deemed to be in need of care and protection. Among the children was the 'child bride'. According to Jamaican law, the minimum age for marriage is 18 for both males and females. However, if an individual is 16 or 17, they can get married with the consent of their parents or legal guardians. Chambers, however, stated that there is no information to suggest that consent was granted for the teenager to wed.

"Having become a member, the organisation is of the view that they can marry without the consent of the parents at that age, which is wrong. The person who allegedly performed the marital rights is not a registered marriage officer and that means the marriage cannot be legitimate under Jamaican law," he said.

He said it was revealed that under the religious group's doctrine, marrying at age 16 is considered normal. He noted that most of the children have not reached that age.

"There are guardians there that exercise guardianship to the child. As it relates to the parents of the child, the CPFSA is trying to find out who are the biological parents of some of these children. Some of the children that were removed, the parents were also there but some parents were not," the senior cop said.

"In some instances there are relatives who give permission for the children to be on the compound, and in some instances the parents were there but had to leave. But one would normally presume that if that is the case and so when these parents are spoken to, they are wondering how come the children reached there without their consent or, if so, what led the children to be there in the first place," he added.

Chambers said investigations also uncovered that girls who go against the facility's rules, have their heads shaved as part of the punishment.

"That obviously has a psychological impediment on the child," he said.

This is not the first time that the Jamaican authorities have removed children from the facility. In 2019, the chief apostle, Omar Thompson, accused the authorities of traumatising his three children after they were taken from the property and handed over to their mother.