Teens Forced into Marriage at Bayith Yahweh Church in Montego Bay

Following the early morning police operation at the Bayith Yahweh church compound on Wednesday, officials have disclosed multiple alleged infractions of the Child Care and Protection Act, including forced teen marriages.

Twenty-three children with ages ranging from 1 to 17 were taken from the Bayith Yahweh church in Paradise, Montego Bay, and placed in state care after they were brought before the St. James Family Court yesterday. Assistant Commissioner Clifford Chambers, the commanding officer for the Area One Police, disclosed that the children were allegedly subjected to forced marriages after turning 16.

The commissioner shared with the Jamaica Observer that humiliation was used as a means of punishment, with the heads of girls shaved if there were any issues. The formal education of school-aged children was allegedly withheld, and the young were accommodated in shared areas that were unwholesome. Multiple adults were removed from the compound and taken into police custody during the operation.

Reports state that there has long been concern and controversy surrounding the church, and yesterday’s operation was met with a sigh of relief from Paradise residents as well as questions about why the children had not been removed from the premises sooner.

Paradise resident James Montague shared with the Observer that Bayith Yahweh changed drastically after a power struggle within the church. The previous leader was allegedly “manhandled,” and new restrictive leadership was put in place as the church was closed off from the outside.

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Further detailing the odd behaviour of the church’s members, one female resident shared unsettling memories of “10 or 12-year-old” girls who were kept at the compound and how the older men would walk with them as if they were their wives. When reporters tried to speak with one woman garbed in purple at the compound, she reportedly fled towards a building before they were dismissed by a man.

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