14-year-old girl engagement ceremony outrages Georgian, Azerbaijani public
An investigation has begun in Georgia after a video was posted on social media portraying the engagement ceremony of a young girl who clearly looks underage.
The individuals in the video clip speak Azerbaijani, and judging by the dialect they are Azerbaijanis living in Georgia. Presumably the video was filmed in the outskirts of Tbilisi, Ponichala.
Social media users speculated the girl in the video was 11 years old, which caused a storm of indignation. Then it turned out that she was 14 years old, which, however, is still a violation of both the law and prevailing moral attitudes in society in the country.
An investigation was launched under Article 150 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, which punishes forcing a minor into a marriage.
Videos and photographs from the alleged engagement of the girl caused a loud public reaction in both Georgia and in Azerbaijan.
The photographs clearly show how she distributes sweet tea to the guests, according to the Azerbaijani tradition of engagement.
The girl’s family, however, says the reports are false.
“This is not a marriage. They have just received confirmation from the girl’s family, and the wedding will take place in three years, when she turns 18,” a relative of the family told the correspondent of an Azerbaijani TV channel who arrived in Ponichala to report on the story.
According to Georgian law, the kidnapping and forced marriage of a minor girl faces criminal punishment. But many Azerbaijani and Georgian activists consider this insufficient and demand toughening of Georgian legislation regarding the coercion of girls into marriage.
In particular, the law says nothing about engagement ceremonies. Meanwhile, according to local stories, the engagement of young children is a common practice in the Azerbaijani community in Georgia.
“Engagement is a path to early marriage, and it should be prohibited in the same way as early marriages themselves,” wrote Samira Bayramova, a civic activist from the Azerbaijani-settled Kvemo Kartli region on her Facebook page.
According to local media reports, many in the population support these demands.
In her other status, Samira recalls her own story and says that in traditional Azerbaijani society, girls are often deprived of childhood:
“I was 10 years old and I asked my mother to buy a doll. She answered me: you are already a big girl, why do you need a doll. By that time I had never had my own doll, but a dowry had already been collected for me. I still remember it with great pain,” wrote Samira Bayramova.
Marriage with minors is an unresolved problem in Georgia
Every year in Georgia, several dozen schoolgirls are kidnapped to start a family with them.
According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, in 2019, 175 child marriage cases were reported in the country. Almost the same number of such crimes was detected in 2018 – 176 cases.
The situation is especially difficult in several regions of Georgia, including in the mountainous part of the Adjara region and in places with large communities of several ethnic minorities. Premature marriages are common here and, as the locals say, are part of the local tradition.
The kidnapped girl is often not supported by her own family, she is not allowed to return home, as in this case she will be considered “disgraced”. In fact, girls are not protected by the state, since relatives, elders and neighbors cover such events and do not allow information to reach law enforcement agencies.