Early Response to Early Marriages

UNCT-KG-UNDP-LucioPhoto Credit: Participant of the "Y-peer" Forum Theatre on Early Marriages . National Forum of Women of the Kyrgyz Republic, Bishkek, March, 2015, Umutai Dauletova, UNDP Gender Mainstreaming Specialist

Every so often, browsing news feeds, I think about how the information life is short-lived. Daily news are being lost so much in other news and it seems that human mind can fit everything, nevertheless how is it analyzed and conclusions made after all, since there are in the queue dozens of other news?

Certainly, there are news that live in our environment of the discussions for several days. Unfortunately, for the most part, these are the news that have negative content, where it is addressed to the consequences of any cruelty, violence or even maybe involuntary engagement in the marriage?

Why do we pay attention only when there happens something worse?

How to draw attention of the society to the problem long before the consequences happen and perhaps preempt them?

These and other questions have been raised recently in Osh at the hearings dedicated to discuss the societal consequences of early marriages, which was attended by representatives of the Committee on Social Affairs, Education, Science, Culture and Health of the Jogorku Kenesh.

The event, of course, seems like ordinary meeting, where representatives of the Parliament, civil society and development organizations have been gathered, however, right there we touched upon the rights of all underage girls.

Imagine, that (according to the Ministry of Health) every year around 1000 underage girls become mothers, and the numbers have kept growing since 2008.

Who are those young mothers? Why are they giving birth at such a young age? In some conversations there were discussed several reasons: early pubescence of girls, strive for starting a family, irresponsibility of today’s youth.

Law-enforcement institutions reported only three official cases of forced marriage as of last year.

Although, Vice-Prime Minister on Social Affairs, in her speech to the participants, announced that the reason for girls giving birth at young age are forced marriages. This is the first time that a high-ranking politician has acknowledged that it has become acceptable in our society to arrange a marriage for girls at young age, a sad fact, that women’s and youth’s organizations are “proclaiming” on a constant basis. In the Kyrgyz Republic, according to the Children's Code and other regulatory and normative legal acts - the minors are envisaged those, who have not attained 18 years of age. The minimum age for marriage by the Family Code of the Kyrgyz Republic is set at 18.

"This is an organized sex exploitation, as 14-15 year old girls are still fragile both physically and mentally. Helpless, they are victims of the groom's wishes, the parents. The marriage of minors - a criminal offense. With regard to the registration of marriages in mosques, according to Muslim traditions, couple are married in the mosques. Imams issue a marriage certificate, which has no legal force. And spouses think they are legitimate partners”, - says the representative of the “League of Child Rights Defenders”- Erkaiym Aliyeva.

Marriages are being arranged through a Muslim religious ceremony named “nikah” without being officially registered. When I had a meeting with local committees in the city of Uzgen, they told me what happens after those marriages. The local authorities have witnessed cases where girls would be banished from their “new families” and would have no way of proving that they were ever a married and had rights. The body of those young girls isn’t ready to carry a child, and as such, pregnancy comes with a lot of complications. As such, most of these young mothers are likely to end up having limited social economic perspectives and their children may have health issues once born.

We really hope that this meeting will serve as a step forward in improving girls’ lives. We also hope that Jogorku Kenesh will adopt a Draft Law on restricting to conduct any ceremonies of “nikah” for underage girls and that the law-enforcements, police, and other institutions will prevent cases of forced marriage to happen. Marriage has to be consensual, and only when both parties are mature physically, socially, psychologically.

Elmira Shishkaraeva, (UNDP Gender Mainstreaming Country Coordinator), elmira.shishkaraeva@undp.org