Child marriage is driven by gender inequality and the belief that women and girls are somehow inferior to men and boys. Many girls who are married off before they turn 18 or are forced into early marriages are made to leave school, depriving them of their right to education and future independence. Child brides are also more likely to experience domestic violence.
Child marriage is a gendered phenomenon that affects girls and boys in different ways. Overall, the number of boys in child marriages around the world is significantly lower than that of girls. Girl child spouses are also vulnerable to domestic violence and sexual abuse within relationships that are unequal, and if they become pregnant, often experience complications during pregnancy and childbirth, as their bodies are not ready for childbearing. Upon marrying, both boys and girls often have to leave education to enter the workforce and/or take up domestic responsibilities at home.
Various international treaties, conventions, and programmes for action address child marriage. These include: the 1962 Convention on Consent to Marriage, Minimum Age for Marriage, and Registration of Marriages; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979); the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989); and the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action (which followed the UN Fourth World Conference on Women). These international instruments cover the abolishment of harmful customs and traditions, violence against the girl child, marriage consent, marriageable age, registration of marriage, and the freedom to choose a spouse
UNICEF calls child marriage “a fundamental violation of human rights,” and Georgia has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Europe. It’s a tradition that goes back centuries and isn’t confined to one region or religion. 14% of girls in Georgia are married before their 18th birthday and 1% are married before the age of 15.Child marriages in Georgia are difficult to track because families often circumvent the law and do not officially register the marriage until a girl is old enough. Sometimes weddings are held in rural churches or mosques and couples are considered culturally or religiously married rather than by law.
In a 2017 study by UN Women in Kvemo Kartli (Georgia), a region dominated by ethnic minorities, including Azerbaijanis, Armenians, and ethnic Russians, women were interviewed to answer the question of how old they were when they got married or started living with a partner. The study found that 32% of married women among ethnic minorities married before they reached the age of 18. Of these, 5% were married already at the age of 13-14 years, and 16% at the age of 15-16 years.
Samira Bayramova, a sociologist at the international humanitarian organization Mercy Corps, says the number of early marriages in Georgia continues to grow, despite tightened laws and penalties.
“Unfortunately, our surveys show that growth in the number of early marriages has been registered in the last two years. Apparently, neither toughening the law, nor punitive measures can interfere with these traditions that ethnic Azerbaijanis have been practicing for hundreds of years, ”she says.
And while the reasons for the marriages differ from town to town and group to group, there are a few commonalities . According to the observations of the director of the Women’s Information Center, Elena Rusetskaya, in Georgia, parents of underage girls consent to marriage for two main reasons: daughters are married either for traditional, religious reasons, or for selfish ones – by giving their daughter to another family, they reduce their financial costs. “This is directly related to poverty,” the human rights activist says, noting that the Georgian language even has the expression “«ავაბარე პატრონს”, which can be translated as “given into the hands of the owner”.
According to the Civil Code, the minimum age for marriage is 18 years in Georgia, but marriages can take place from age 16 with parental consent or in special circumstances. This makes the law practically ineffective. Despite the fact that legislation stipulates what should be done in the event of marriage under the age of 16, these laws are not properly applied. Reproductive health and rights education is not part of the school curriculum. As a result, adolescents lack appropriate information on this subject. Due to this lack of knowledge of reproductive health issues and the social expectations pressuring girls to become pregnant immediately after marriage, child marriages result in early motherhood in Georgia.
To end child marriage, individuals, lawmakers, and world leaders need to challenge norms that reinforce the idea that girls are inferior to boys, and, instead, empower girls to be their own agents of change. Providing girls with equal access to quality education and allowing them to complete their studies will enable them to support themselves and lead fulfilled, independent lives. Creating safe spaces and channels for them to speak up for what they want and speak out against harmful practices will allow their voices to be heard. Girls who are allowed to stay with their families and stay in school are able to more fully engage in society, to become financially independent, to care for their families, and themselves — and ultimately, to work toward ending poverty.
Written by Elmar Khalilov, WAVE Youth Ambassador from Georgia