Today.Az » Society » Marriages with underage girls spread throughout Azerbaijan's regions
13 April 2005 [15:24] - Today.Az
Even in the 21st century, cases of underage, forced marriages are still widespread in the regions of Azerbaijan. In these cases, parents force their underage daughters against their will into wedlock. This is despite the fact that Azerbaijani law forbids women under 17 and men under 18 to marry.
These girls are often ill-equipped for married or family life and can suffer terribly. Elnura from Belokan District, north Azerbaijan, was one such victim. Elnura, 13, was married off to a close relative who was working in Russia. Within a year of the marriage, the girl had been raped and murdered by commercial rivals of his husband in Russia.
A sad fate was also suffered by 14-year-old Zeynab, from Lankaran. She turned up in hospital after marrying her new 'father' - her husband who was 18 years her senior.
"Zeynab became pregnant during the first year of married life, but the first months of the pregnancy were very hard for her immature body. The poor girl complained of pains in her stomach every day," Zeynab's aunt told Trend on condition of anonymity [she also asked for Zeynab's surname not to be revealed]. "We repeatedly visited the local hospital, but the doctors asserted that her pregnancy was normal. However, her poor condition really concerned us and we decided to take her to better qualified doctors in Baku," she said.
These doctors said the pregnancy could kill Zeynab and recommended immediate surgery to release her young body from a 'heavy burden'. "She was not ready to carry a child," the doctors noted, and they carried out a termination.
"Thank God, we could save her. The doctors said Zeynab should not conceive for at least four years. Her body first needed to recover and repair itself," her aunt said.
Meanwhile health professionals think Zeynab was lucky, as she'll still be able to get pregnant in the future. "She is alive and she could have a child - this is a very good result for such cases," a midwife of one of the Maternity Hospitals in Baku said on condition of anonymity. She noted a number of cases linked with the pregnancy of minor girls, who are taken to hospital with problems during the gestation period. "In some cases we carry out surgery which mostly means that future pregnancies will be impossible," she stressed.
Tarana Hassanova, a gynecologist and consultant of the Women Crisis Center of Azerbaijan, confirmed that such surgical intervention usually results in infertility. "The female body is not fully formed until 17 or 18 years old. Any sexual intercourse between 13 and 15 years old is dangerous and impedes full development of the young human body," Hassanova says.
According to Hassanova, under-aged pregnancies are very painful, giving birth is pathologically hard and the risk of dying in labour is high. "The doctors well understand it and take special care of these young girls, because their pregnancies are often accompanied with bleeding and the probability of death is high," she stated.
Hassanova points out that difficult labour usually causes further problems for under-aged girls. And her problems can be exacerbated by her husband. The midwife cited cases when a girl's husband was so infuriated by the loss of chances for further pregnancies that he came to the hospital and rebuked his wife.
"I advised her to go to the police, as a man married to a 15-year-old girl had broken the law. However, she was so frightened that she asked me not to mention it," the midwife recalled.
In these conditions, being pregnant at such a young age is both physically and psychologically traumatic.
"Husbands and relatives who cannot reconcile themselves with miscarriages routinely beat the helpless girls. Obviously such couples split up very soon. How can an under-aged girl be a fully-fledged wife to a man 20-25 years her senior," Hassanova asks.
What makes parents in the Azerbaijani regions marry off their daughter and put them through all this? According to research, economic difficulties were the main drivers for early marriages.
This finding was echoed by experts of the Union of Azerbaijani Children, who have also studied the problem. According to the organization's chairman, Kamala Agayeva, the families get rid of a financial burden in this way.
"Besides, rural people believe a girl who fails to marry before the age of 16 will never bring up a family, as she is considered too old to start a family.
Because so many local single men work abroad, many girls in the regions remain unmarried, leading to a society of "old maids".
The situation in the southern regions is even worse. "Girls who leave school at 13 or 14 years old, after the 7th grade, get married and their husbands do not allow them to continue education," says Agayeva.
Moreover, Agayeva says an increasing number of girls are being trafficked to Iran. When this happens, the parents lose track of their daughter and have no idea what becomes of her.
During the research Agayeva also discovered that local men in there mid 30s saw a famous literary hero in Azerbaijan as a role model. In the story, the character Mashadi Ibad married an under-aged girl in his old age.
She says the situation is exacerbated by young people from the Azerbaijani regions emigrating aboard, in particular, to Russia, Iran and Turkey. "Once they've saved up enough money, the men feel the need to start a family, and to make up for their lost youth, they hunt out an underage bride," says Hassanova.
Agayeva also noted a tendency in recent years which demonstrates that men have a strong aspiration to marry underage girls, even though it's against the law.
Shahin Akbarzada, a lawyer, confirmed that it's a crime to marry off girls aged 13-16-years old.
And sexual intercourse and other sexual acts with girls under 16 is punishable with two to three years in prison.
"Under-age girls are married off by force in Azerbaijan, which is regarded as an oriental country.
But these problems do not just involve young girls. There are also cases when parents are pressured by their sons to allow them to marry before they're 18. "Marriage is seen as a way of avoiding sex out of wedlock," Sakina Allahverdiyeva, an expert on gender problems told Trend. The number of girls being raped by young men is on the increase in the regions, she said.
"Unfortunately, some people see having sex by force as the only way of satisfying their needs. So parents allow their young sons to marry to avoid such behaviour," Allahverdiyeva added, "However, by overcoming one problem they actually create another set of problems for themselves and for society, as such marriages end in divorce."
By Rufat Abbasov
The article is written through a joint project with Trend Analytical Information Agency and the Media Diversity Institute