Getting married at 14
A 14-year-old bride is a usual phenomenon in Azerbaijan’s regions, though such cases are rare in the capital. Is it legal? Certainly not. The marriage age in Azerbaijan is 18. It can be reduced by at least one year under exceptional circumstances.
How to prevent parents from marrying off their children early?
We turned to a shelter at Təmiz Dünya (Clean World) public association to find some stories about early marriages. Women, who have nowhere to go to, are provided with legal and psychological assistance here.
Aitan. An ambiguous story
Our character, Aitan, is 21. A brunette in the ordinary home clothes, she is a little bit tensed, but she doesn’t refuse to talk and even allows to take a photo of her, warning us not expose her face.
Aitan has got to the shelter just recently. She has lived through two unsuccessful marriages and she has a child.
“We used to live in Ganja. There were seven children in our family-an elder brother and six sisters.
Aitan’s mother died when she was just 11. By the time a stepmother came to their family, Aitan was already a senior grade student. Her brother and sisters had already started their own families, so, she was the only child in the family. “My stepmother and I didn’t get along with each other well; she was jealous of my relations with my father, not letting me to communicate with him normally, the girl said.
When ‘a suitable’ age came and she turned 16, her sisters started hastily looking for a husband for Aitan. “I graduated school and I wanted to continue my studies. All children in our family had studied well, but my father said: ‘What does a girl need education for’? My father has no higher education, he is an ordinary worker, she noted.
Aitan was married off to ‘a proper’ guy. Her sisters had made an inquiry and decided that he was good enough for the younger sister. At that time he was 28, 12 years older than Aitan. “He turned out to be a heavy drinker, the young lady recalls. “He battered and tortured me. He stopped beating me only when I fainted. Sometimes he would undress me, drag me out into the street and leave me there for the whole night, or would make me massage his legs and be up all night through.
She became pregnant three months later. However, even the daughter’s birth didn’t improve the situation in the family. “The situation became even worse, since it was a girl and not a boy, said Aitan. – “The husband’s parents treated me badly, they did not defend me and when he beat me, they used to say: “See, it’s you, who have driven him, a poor guy, to such a condition!
When the child turned 1, Aitan realized that she couldn’t stand that any longer. She returned to her father’s house. There was no official divorce: she didn’t have an ID card, to say nothing of the marriage certificate.
Early marriages are not registered and therefore, there are no precise statistical data in this regard. According to Mehriban Zeynalova, the Chairperson of ‘Təmiz Dünya’ (Clean World) public association, searching for official figures makes no sense: “Early marriage statistics should be kept track of based on the number of children born in the country.
Forcing someone into marriage may be punished by a fine, ranging from AZN2,000 to AZN3,000, ($1200-1800) or by a 2-month imprisonment. If a bride or a groom hasn’t reached her/his legal age, the fine will increased to AZN3,000-AZN4,000, ($1800-2500) and the imprisonment is increased to 4 years.
According to the official data provided by the State Statistics Committee, 479 marriages, where brides were under 18, were registered in Azerbaijan in 2014. According to the same statistics, child marriages reached their peak in 2008 – 5544 marriages. These data include only the cases, when marriages between 17-year-olds were registered on the relatives’ requests.
Other cases cannot be traced, because in the regions the documents are neglected: children may have no birth certificates and passports until they reach their school age; and a marriage certificate can be substituted with a generous treatment at the wedding party, which is remembered by all relatives. Or, at least ‘a Kabin paper’, a religious marriage certificate (kabin), issue by a mullah.
Thus, Aityan didn’t have to divorce. “At first, my father hadn’t talked to me for two months, but later he started talking, Aityan is telling about it as a matter of course. “And he immediately started looking for a new husband for me.
The new husband was found soon, literally right ‘behind the fence’ – he was my matrilineal second cousin. The life with him went a wrong way too. “The neighbors gossiped that I was going out, but I actually didn’t. Although, it was already his third marriage, but my husband was still telling me: ‘You’ve been thrust on me!’ I used to go to my sister (I’ve kept contact only with one sister), I complained to her: ‘I can’t stand it any longer!’ but nobody understood me, they said I should tolerate, it was a marriage and there was no other way out.
However, Aitan couldn’t tolerate that. Having learnt from her acquaintances that there were organizations in the capital, that assisted the women, she took a bus and came to Baku. By a happy chance, she met a woman in the bus, who turned out to be a lawyer. After they arrived in Baku, the woman took Aitan to one of the police departments in Binagadi district and they sent her to the shelter.
Aitan was luckier than many other women, who found themselves in a similar situation. She has managed to finish school and she takes a sober view of things in life. “I don’t want to return back home. I know they will accept me, but they will urge me to marry again, she said. “I don’t want all that, I want to work and provide for my child.
The end of this story is not clear so far. Under the rules, the shelter personnel should contact a woman’s relatives and her family; they should try to carry out social and psychological work. However, the final decision rests with the woman. Sometimes it helps: according to the social workers, they could reach an agreement with one of the women’s husband, who respected the psychologist’s feedback, leased an apartment and moved there together with his wife in order to stop conflicts with the relatives.
Tarana. The story with unhappy ending
Unlike the previous character, Tarana didn’t receive any education. According to Kamala Aghazadeh, the Chairperson of ‘Azerbaijan Ushaglari’ (Children of Azerbaijan) NGO, who provides shelter not only to the children, but also to the women, who are the victims of domestic violence, Tarana was absolutely illiterate. She got married at the age of 16. Her marriage, that seemed to be a happy one at first sight, turned into a real nightmare- her husband turned out to a drug addict, he beat and mistreated her.
The girl learned about the existence of such a shelter from Kamala hanum’s televised address. She took her two children and went to the shelter. “The children were very scared, they were afraid of people, they couldn’t communicate with others, said Kamala hanum. “The boy, who was 4-years-old, didn’t talk at all, and the girl just wept and cried. Our psychologists and social workers put a great deal of effort to work with them. At least the children become more adequate, they started developing and no longer shied away from people.
Tarana came from the region, which meant that her marriage wasn’t registered. Moreover, she gave birth to the children at home (which is a common practice in the regions, especially in rural areas). So, there were no documents. “As we usually do in such cases, we started making documents for children, said Kamala hanum.
“However, for some reason, Tarana refused to do it. We were going to appeal to court for paternity confirmation and registration of the identity cards. But despite our efforts to persuade her, we couldn’t make Tarana change her mind. She stayed in the shelter for about a year; the work that we carried out with children could be regarded as the only success that we achieved throughout that period.
Tarana returned to her family. Scandals and physical abuses continued. The shelter personnel still keeps contact with her. Later, she left her husband, she found a job, hired a woman to look after her children. But the problem with education and documents still remains unsolved.
Kamala Aghazadeh, the Chairperson of ‘Azerbaijan Ushaglari’ NGO, says, she’s been often dealing with the victims of early marriages throughout her practice. In her words, most of them are from the regions, and she confirms that in such cases, as a rule, there is a problem with marriage and child birth documents. A problem with women’s legal rights in divorce also arises here: “Women in divorce can’t claim either property or alimony. Whereas divorces, or, to be more precise, separations, are quite common.
But those are the legal problems. However, it’s far more difficult, when a young lady, almost a child, is rejected by her own family, because she allegedly brought shame on her family, having returned from her husband’s house. And a woman is left alone; without any support and with no future prospects, given that she has had no chance to get education. The majority of such women either received only primary education -4 years at school, or, at best, finished 8 classes.
In such a situation, many women acquire bad habits and get involved in some criminal gangs. Kamala Aghazadeh says, the worst thing in this case is that a woman can abandon her child and leave. Given the fact that the marriage was, in essence, illegal, the child has no documents and he/she couldn’t be taken to any institution or be enrolled in kindergarten or school.
Kamala hanum believes, education is the main path of struggle against early marriages and the consequences thereof. “Public services should be closely monitoring the situation; such families should be under regular supervision on part of the social workers and executive authorities.
But the lack of state control isn’t the most imortant problem. “The worst thing is that there is no public condemnation, said Kamala Aghazadeh. “Aren’t there many families that we know, where girl were married off too early? Many of us even attend with great pleasure the weddings, where a bride has barely turned 14 or 15. According to our mindset, it’s inadmissible to interfere in the affairs of someone else’s family.
Zeynab. The story with a happy ending
Fortunately, according to Kamala hanum’s statistics, there are much more stories with happy ending. Like, for example, the story of Zeynab. He husband’s family rejected her. She got married at the age of 16. Her husband was unwilling to acknowledge a child as his own. On a side note, it’s a common argument to avoid paying a child support.
So, she had to appeal to court, to take a paternity test, to produce the evidence in the form of wedding photos and videos, as well as the neighbors’ testimonies. Fortunately, the legislation allows awarding a child support based on paternity proof, even without official registration of marriage.
So, Zeynab was awarded alimony; the shelter sent her to a confectioners’ training course, which she successfully completed, and now she works at the sweets producing company.
Zulfiya. The story with a bad ending
Zulfiya lived in Sabirabad, in an ordinary working-class family, where there were three more children. She finished 9 classes and then helped her mother with the household chores. When she turned 17, she was ‘abducted’. Although abduction is a crime from the legal point of view, but it is regarded quite differently in Azerbaijan: most often it’s a kind of ‘alternative ritual’ in order to avoid organizing a costly wedding party, or a way out for the young people, whose parents do not consent to their marriage.
Zulfiya knew the ‘groom’, which allowed the guy and his family to claim that she actually ‘didn’t mind’. Her relatives allegedly called the police and went to help her out, but as a result of negotiations with the abductor’s relatives, she was regarded as married off.
And if, according to the patriarchal tradition, a woman should ‘tolerate a marriage’, Zulfiya lasted out for quite long. She even managed to give birth to two girls, one after another. She used to complain about her husband throughout her marriage: he was drinking heavily, he beat her, and, most importantly, did not earn anything, so Zulfiya and her children were almost starving.
In the end, she couldn’t stand that any longer. She took the children and went to her parents. However, her parents considered it a shame to take her back. Or, rather, she was told: “Who will need you with two kids; it’s impossible to marry off a divorced woman again. Don’t kid around and go back to your husband. Zulfiya left the children with her sister and drowned herself in the Kura river.
Causes and effects
What makes the parents marry off their children early?
The first of the unobvious reasons is a taboo on having sex before marriage. If a girl is 14-15 years old, she certainly hasn’t managed to do something wrong, even in her thoughts. A boy’s family is pleased to accept such a girl, and, at the same time, to ‘bring her up’ a little bit, so as to perfectly adapt her to their needs. Meanwhile, a girl’s family is afraid that after 20, God forbid, the neighbors will start gossiping about her, and then it will be more difficult to ‘palm her off.’
The second reason is an intention to get rid of an extra mouth to feed and to relieve oneself of a responsibility for the daughter. If a woman is traditionally dependent, first, on her father and then, on her husband (that’s a given, especially without any education and profession), a girl’s father is happy to cut down the number of dependents to a minimum.
And one more reason-to ‘stake out’ a perfect match, before a suitable bride or groom is snatched away by someone else.
As a result, all the reasons boil down to the morbid relics of the medievalism, ignorance, traditional discrimination of woman through the primitive ‘morals.’
As for the consequences of such a marriage for an individual family, that could be some health problems that a woman may be facing due to early onset of sexual activity, premature birth etc., as well as some psychological problems, violence against a woman, who doesn’t know how to stand up for herself yet.
As for the community, the most terrible thing about it aren’t just the stories of those splits, when the victims of early marriages are forced to leave home and are left alone, but rather the stories of those families, that have started with early marriage, where a woman gets accustomed to tolerate humiliation and abuse and endures them all her life, and then passes this family model on her children, along with her own ignorance, prejudices and problems. And a strong belief that this is exactly a family life standard.