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Lost childhood – increasing statistics on early marriages

31.10.2017

 Lana Giorgidze

Early marriage is official or unofficial union of two persons, one of whom is not 18-years-old yet. Generally, early marriage infringes human rights, and in particularly the rights of the child because it is believed that a child cannot give conscious consent on marriage. 

In accordance to the special report of the Public Defender of Georgia – Early Age Marriages: Challenges and Solutions (2016), in 2015 one child aged 13 left school because of marriage. The figures increase with the age of girls: 14-years-old– 16 girls, 15-years-old– 65 girls, 16-years-old– 143 girls and 17-years-old -183 girls left schools because of marriage.

However, according to the report, this data are not accurate: “It should be noted that most likely these numbers are not exact, since during the meetings, held in Kvemo Kartli region, teachers and principals did not have information that they should have registered the causes of school drop out by students and should have made relevant notifications. However, the majority of them noted that almost none of the girls graduate school in their villages exactly due to early marriage. This gives us grounds to believe that after the introduction of the register system, the data may be further increased.”

Early marriage – legal mechanisms

In accordance to the Article 140 of the Criminal Code of Georgia, sexual intercourse with a person who has not yet attained the age of 16 is punished. Regardless the legislative amendments, the facts of early marriages still happen. Representatives of the Georgian nongovernmental organizations speak about this problem.  

“Unfortunately, although the legislation forbids early marriages and strictly protects sexual freedom and inviolability of underage persons, the traditions often contradict the law. The tradition of early marriages varies in Georgia across the regions, cultures and traditions. When we speak about early marriages, it shall be noted that its identification is particularly difficult because often kidnapping of underage girls end up with marriage without notifying the law enforcement bodies about it. It is linked with cultural and traditional factors, when the family tries not to make the fact public, neither educational institutions inform respective bodies about the fact of kidnapping and consequently the state cannot timely and effectively respond to similar facts,
“ said Anna Tavkhelidze, representative of the nongovernmental organization Partnership for Human Rights. 

Anna Tavkhelidze noted in her interview with humanrights.ge that term 
“early marriage” applies to both registered and unregistered marriages. 

“Unfortunately, despite the legislative amendments, early marriage is still a problem in Georgia. Term “early marriage” applies to both registered and unregistered marriages. The Georgian Civil Code regulates the issue of registered marriages, according to which, pre-conditions of the marriage are marriage age and consent of both parties. Since January 1, 2017 the marriageable age is 18 that means marriage with the person younger than 18 years is inadmissible. Consent of the both parties means that they shall demonstrate free will about the marriage that cannot be done by the third person, like a parent,” representative of the PHR said. 
According to Tavkhelidze, when two persons voluntarily (not by force) enter into unregistered marriage, none of them are held responsible under the criminal law. “Unfortunately, there are cases when parents compel a girl to get married at an early age. In order to eliminate this negative tradition, the Criminal Code envisages punishment for forced marriage (including unregistered marriages) and the offender is punished with the restriction of freedom from two up to four years in length.”

When underage girl is kidnapped for the purpose of marriage:

“Kidnapping of a person is a crime without any doubts and the purpose of marriage cannot ease the charge. When an underage person kidnaps another underage person, the former is punished if he has already reached the age of criminal liability that is 14 years. A person younger than 14 years is not punished under the criminal law,” representative of the PHR said. 

Ana Tavkhelidze said the national legislation is quite strict when the boy is underage and is aware that the girl has not yet attained 16 years and has sexual intercourse with her. In similar case, the boy is punished under the Article 140 of the Criminal Code of Georgia. The sanction is quite strict – imprisonment from seven to nine years. However, if a girl is 16, she already has right to plan her sexual life and the boy is not held responsible for sexual intercourse with her. “We have different situation in case of marriage as a result of kidnapping; regardless the age of the girl the boy is punished for kidnapping that is illegal restriction of freedom according to the criminal law. However, if in addition to kidnapping the boy forced the girl to have sexual intercourse with him, this action will be qualified as rape or the person will be punished for the crime against sexual freedom and inviolability. The legislation envisages imprisonment as preventive measure without any alternatives.”

Geographic scope of early marriages

Lawyer of the nongovernmental organization Safari Tamar Golijashvili spoke about Geographic scope of early marriages and said Adjara and Kvemo Kartli regions are leaders in this direction.

“We encounter this problem in many regions of Georgia, but Adjara, Kvemo Kartli and regions inhabited with ethnic minorities are particularly vulnerable in this direction. Often, both partners are underage or only girl is underage. In the Eastern Europe, Georgia is second in the rating with the marriages of girls younger than 18,” Tamar Golijashvili said. 

Golijashvili said Sapari is implementing a project about early marriage, which aims to raise public awareness about the problem.

“We see the problems in the lack of awareness because often underage children and their parents are not aware of the problems of early marriage. In the case of early marriage girls are deprived from the possibility to get education. As they do not have education, they cannot get employed and have career. Often, they become victims of psychological and physical violence from their husbands,” Tamar Golijashvili told humanrights.ge.

Role of school in the reduction of early marriages

Coordinator of the Kvemo Kartli office of nongovernmental organization Human Rights Center Tamar Lukava said the school administration is responsible to record how many pupils left school and for what reason. It could help reveal of the facts of early marriages.

“Often we visit regions and hear problems of the population. However, Kvemo Kartli office of the organization does not have case of early marriage. I can explain this fact with the tabooed issue, because nobody speaks about this problem. In the villages, everybody is aware about early marriage facts but they do not inform law enforcement bodies or nongovernmental organizations about it.

A year ago, we had a meeting with the school children in Bolnisi. The teacher brought her pupils to the meeting, who knew much about early marriage, including legislative amendments, about medical problems. They said their class-mates did not want to get married but mostly the family members, particularly their grandparents, forced them to get married. The school children said grandparents often tell girls that it is high time to get married and have their families. The problem mostly comes from traditions. Another problem is that nobody records why girls stop education. Although the Ministry of Education instructed all public schools to find out why a pupil stops schooling, it is another problem how the school administrations follow this instruction,” Tamar Lukava said. 

Representative of Sapari also spoke about the role of the school. She said despite the fact that pupils shall receive information, it is necessary that teachers were also aware about the problem so that they could provide the children with the information about expected threats and problems.

“Sapari is organizing meetings with ethnic Azerbaijani pupils in schools, which aims to explain negative aspects of early marriages to the pupils. The school has particular role in the solution of this problem; the school helps children to grow up individuals. However, the role of a parent is also very significant. The parents shall have more information to protect their children. Of course, the state shall be party in this process to carry out information campaigns, reach out the children in the remote regions so that to prevent them to make similar decisions,” Tamar Golijashvili said.

Psychological and medical problems

Early marriage, which is punished by the law and deprives girls from the right to get education, also causes psychological and medical problems.

Head of the Reception Unit of the Gagua Maternity Hospital Paata Makharashvili said they receive 16-17 years old women-in-childbirth mostly from Azerbaijani community. 

“When girls start sexual intercourse at early age they often face risk of trauma, and often we have to restore their wombs because underage children have serious cuts. The reason is that they have not yet reached anatomic maturity and it is not reasonable for the underage girls to start sexual intercourse. It is better if a girl gets married over 18 and then gives birth to a child because early age for the delivery of a child is additional risk. When we accept a woman under 18, we check her documents because the legislation has become very strict and this issue is much more regulated in comparison to previous years,” Paata Makharashvili said.

Psychologist of the association “Tanadgoma” Maya Jibuti told humanrights.ge that besides medical trauma, early marriages result into psychological problems. 

“Age of adulthood is very difficult phase, people are overwhelmed with hormones. It is not necessary to get married to enjoy the life. Particularly when this age lasts for a short time and then everything turns into tragedy because it is connected with social-economic factors. Often, people, who get married at early age, are deprived of the right to get education. At the same time, a family, which is created based on physiological requirements and emotions, will collapse one day. The main value for two individuals is the unity that means the partner will be your friend and ally. I am against early marriages. Only the stereotypes in the society justify early marriages; people say it is so good if a woman will become a grandmother at an early age and so on; it is big nonsense,” the psychologist said. 

Maya Jibuti added that there are diverse reasons to early marriage. It may be poverty, or oppression from the side of parents, or even violence. “Often, a girl has an illusion that if she goes to another environment, she will feel better. However, it is mistake. As a rule, the families created as a result of early marriages collapse more often than others. The reason is that underage girl often turns up in graver situation. She, being a wife or a daughter-in-law, will become a real maid. She will be forced to serve the elderly people or children in the family. Of course, the girl will be under permanent oppression and stress because she expected to get into a better environment but in reality it is worse. 

The special report of the Public Defender of Georgia reads: “As a result of early age marriages, children/juveniles face a danger, such as domestic violence. They are much more vulnerable and have little information about the protection mechanisms. At the same time, violence is regarded as an unsolvable situation, and therefore, they find it difficult to escape from it, especially if we take into account the social aspects and requirements existing Georgia, which originate from the principles of gender inequality, such as, for example, informal requirements imposed on girls/women with regard to honesty, chastity, maintenance of a family and patience.”

This article was prepared in the frame of the project “Support to the Prevention of Violence against Women in Georgia, which is implemented by Human Rights Center with financial support of the U.S. Embassy Tbilisi under Democracy Commission Small Grants Program. The contents of this article are those of the Human Rights Center and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of State.


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