Early marriages in South Caucasus

On March 18, 2014 in village Kharajala, Kakheti region, 16-years-old girl committed suicide as she disagreed with father’s decision on her marriage and could not resist either.

Other cases show that, especially in ethnic and religious minorities, it is common to change daughter on domestic animals or money. A year before in village Kabali, Kakheti region, father wanted to change 16- years-old daughter on 10 cows to a 45-years-old man. Along this, kidnapping girls is common reason too. The ombudsman documented three cases of kidnapping girls and twenty early marriages in January-February 2014.

According to UNFPA 14 million girls under 18 get married every year; 13 girls in every 30 second… If we do nothing, population growth means that, by 2050, the total number of woman married as children will grow to 1. 2 billion, with devastating consequences for girls, their families and their countries…


Society of child-marriages

From 2002 to 2009 the number of teenagers married between ages 16-19 became triple, in 2010-2011 figures slightly decreased. The numbers reached pick in 2009 when 5596 teenage girls and 1271 boys married earlier than marriage age. Georgia has one of the highest rate of early marriages among Eastern European countries equal to 17 %, close to Moldova (19%) and Turkey (14%).

Lack of awareness of teachers, agreement of parents and family members, no reaction from society and appropriate social agencies, makes the issue closed circle.

You can see in the video what Tbilisi citizens think is the best age for marriage and what is real practice.

Gap between the law and traditions

Early marriage, or child marriage, is defined as the marriage or unregistered union between two people in which one or both parties are younger than 18 years.

In the end of 2015 year, amendment to law on marriage age was introduced in Georgia. Legal marriage age remains 18. Before the amendments, only parent’s approval was enough for couples under 18 to create a family. According to changes, creating family in ages 16-18 is still possible; however now it happens based on court decision in cases of pregnancy or a child.

Some of experts and Children rights workers think that even though the change should affect positively, it won’t eliminate the problems connected and caused by child marriages. One part of challenge is that Georgians don’t give big importance to legal registration of the marriage. “Even in adult ages and especially, for teenagers, if girl is seen with some boy for some time it automatically means that girl got married, even if she doesn’t plan to do so”, young mother from Marneuli. Moreover, traditionally, church ceremony is absolutely enough for many young couples and their families for creating a family. No registration makes it much harder to track the statistics of such cases and protect young girls’ rights in the future.

According to amendments to the law it is forbidden to get married under 16 by any circumstances. However, statistics of previous years’ show that it is common practice. 32 % of married women from ethnic minorities created families under 18; 5% got married at ages 13-14; 16% - at ages 15-16. According to expert respondent of UNEFPA research there are many unregistered cases of such kind as they don’t consider legal procedures necessary.

Article 140 of Crime Law of Georgia says that it is forbidden to have any sexual Intercourse or Other Action of Sexual Character with One under Sixteen. However, according to data from Georgian National Statistics office, in 2012 year 26 births were given by mothers under 15, under 16 years – 114 births, at age of 16 – 425 childbirths.

“Chaining the traditional understanding of the topic is very hard, but possible. As for the law, legislative frame of Georgia in this regard is already proper to the European standards. However, real figures show that the issue still remains unsolved, which means that reaction mechanisms need to be improved through involvement of appropriate agencies, including Guardianship and Custody Division of Social Service Agency, as well as responsible executive bodies”, Lela Akiashvili, Lawyer.

“No one wants to ruin a family”

Sexual Intercourse or Other Action of Sexual Character with One under Sixteen shall be punishable by restriction of freedom or by imprisonment up to three years in length, Article 140, Crime Code of Georgia.

In case of unregistered marriage, when girl living with adult is under 16, it is law enforcers’ duty to apply appropriate measures against offender of the law. However, UNFPA study showed that policeman refrain from interfering into “family business”. “No one wants to ruin a family”, former policeman, participant of the study explains.

In late November, 2015 the Parliament of Georgia adopted new law on marriage age, according to which teenagers younger than 16 are not able to get married under any circumstances and from 16-18 only with court decision.

This change already caused few court cases. After the amendment, in Gori Prosecutor’s office three cases on early marriages were initiated. However, one of the stories showed that if law is protected not in right situations, it might cause even more difficulties for early-married girls. One of the accused is 20-years-old Giorgi Nibladze. He might be sentenced to 7 to 9 years in prison for marring and having sexual intercourse with underage 15-years-old Nino Kokauri. Couple already has a two-month daughter. “I didn’t know it was punishable… We had ceremony in church and signed registration of marriage too, but no one stopped us or said anything about it. Neither doctor had any reaction when my wife was pregnant and got registered in hospital. Now they say I violated new regulations. They are going to ruin my family with small child just because of new law. The new regulations should not affect those, who already have created families”, says Giorgi. According to him no one including their teachers at school or parents knew about this article. He added that there are many such cases happening in nearby villages.

Marriage equals to pregnancy?

“If she doesn’t get pregnant soon after the marriage, it is considered to be a problem. The girl is taken to doctors to hill her. She need to have a baby after marriage, there is no other opinion,” respondent of UNFPA survey said.

Experience of early married women, (respondents of Reproductive health survey Georgia, 2010), showed that they feel some kind of pressure to have a baby soon after creating a family to met expectations of society. That’s why they don’t even consider using contraceptives and majority of early married get pregnant soon after. 76,6% of women married at ages 15-19 don’t use any modern contraceptives at all.

Along with social mentality, lack of information is an issue too. Information on reproductive health or family planning and connected health-care issues is not included in schools. Only 3% of girls have received any information about modern contraceptives at school in higher grades. Consultations on these topics are more accessible for ethnic Georgians, than for ethnic minorities, Reproductive health survey Georgia, 2010 showed.

Meanwhile, pregnancy and childbirth complications are among the leading causes of death of girls at age 15 to 19 in low and middle-income countries.

In the video below Doctor Vaja Baramidze speaks about real situation in Marneuli region, Azerbaijanian community.

Girls who marry as children

Girls who marry as children are particularly at risk of violence from their partners or their partners’ families. They are consistently more likely to be beaten or threatened by their husbands than girls who marry later. The greater the age difference between girls and their husbands, the more likely they are to experience intimate partner violence. Child marriage is a manifestation of violence. Often married to much older men, child brides are more likely to believe that a man is sometimes justified in beating his wife than women who marry later. Additionally, according to recent statistics, “girls aged ten through fourteen are five times more likely to die in pregnancy and child birth than women in their twenties”.

Early marriage leads to loss of youthfulness and disturbed personal development. The denial of freedom and forced sexual relation has psychosocial and emotional devastation.In addition, early marriage limits female educational opportunities by dropping out school early, thereby reducing the employment opportunity and economic independence and depriving our society of intelligence that could come of use in the well-being of the entire community as well as to the individual. Some social, emotional and physical torture leads to psychological devastation and marital disharmony and instability. According to studies about child marriage and mental health has found that Caucasian women who married before age 18 are at increased risk of psychological problems, like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder etc.

Being married is adequate happening for an adult who makes this important choice. But, being married as a child — especially in the Caucasus — is probably associated with familial pressure and sexual coercionby the husband. These women require more attention from mental health care.

“Now she will at least have something to eat”

7367 girls left school in 7-9 grades within two years (2011-2013) due to reasons connected to early marriages, Ombudsman’s report reveals. The researches show that there is especially big number of girls leaving schools before finishing secondary education in Marneuli. During last five years 341 girls stopped attending schools located in Marenuli Municipality region.

UNICEF’s 2005 year study showed that only 7 % of girls married between 15-19 years have received full or partial secondary education in Georgia, 34% fulfilled elementary education and 49% didn’t got any education at all.

To continue higher education in Georgia one needs to achieve the minimum scores during receiving general education (12 grades) to get the graduation certificate. Otherwise they receive the certificate of attendance, which is not enough for job-givers.

Due to no special employment policy for young mothers, they have to go through standard requirements on job market, which in majority cases include owning a certificate of higher education. For reaching this step, an individual needs to receive graduation certificate from school.

According to World Bank the secondary education for a girl correlates with as high as a 25% increase in wages later in life, it has direct connection with country’s GDP too. Despite these statistics, even teachers at schools sometimes do think that this is a good decision for young girls. While discussing case of two sisters, both got married at age 13, teachers answered: “Now they will at least have something to eat”.

One of the main priorities for joint work of European Union and Georgia in the period 2014- 2016 focuses on children's rights. „Address the situation of children's poverty and give considerably higher priority to the situation of vulnerable children; Focus on measures to protect children against all forms of violence...“, urges the Association Agenda. However, due to lack of information and understanding of the problem, early marriages are still celebrated by society, lawyers, policemen, doctors, psychologists, teachers... By clicking on each of the figures at the feast table you can explore why the issue remains unsolved in a closed circle.