There was a rise in the number of early marriages in Georgia in the 1990’s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. During that time, early marriages were often linked with bride kidnapping. Parents would marry their daughters to prevent them from being kidnapped. At the same time this was also linked to the school drop out of girls, as parents would remove their daughter from the school to protect them from the threat of kidnapping. Nowadays, bride kidnapping is regulated by criminal law, which has meant that cases have decreased and rarely occur.
The statistical data from UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) shows that among 1,000 girls aged 15-19, 39 are already married and are delivering babies in Georgia, which is much higher than the European data. Child marriage is not homogeneous; it varies according to ethnic, religious and regional factors. For example, the highest age-specific fertility rate among girls aged 15-19 is by Azeri women-143 births per 1,000 girls, while Armenians is 59. For these ethnic minorities this practice has become a norm and they don’t see it as abnormal, but it is a reality that child spouses are exposed to social isolation, absence of reproductive control and dropping-out of school.
A teacher, a member of an ethnic minority, reported that in the 12th grade there are normally 25 boys and only 5 or 6 girls. In the first grade number of boys and girls are equal, after 9th grade, girls drop out school because of the pressure from their families.
A child spouse from an ethnic minority reports that “when a girl is born, she is always told that she will get married, she should learn how to cook, how to clean and wash, nobody tells her that she should read and write”
Experts note that the issue is quite severe in Georgia, as the second country after Tajikistan in Eastern Europe and Central Asia to have a high number of teen pregnancies. According to the Gender gap Index 2014, Georgia has one of the highest rates of female marriage under age 18 (14 per cent) among European countries, along with Moldova (11 per cent).
According to the Ministry of Education and Science, 7,367 girls have dropped out school before completing the basic educational level during the period of October 2011 – January 2013. There is no indication regarding the reasons for drop outs but in most cases it is often related to early marriages.
However, the Ministry of Education is not taking responsibility in that issue, they argued that “if parents make their children leave school we cannot do anything”. Police and concerned authorities state that the issue is very sensitive and complex and in most of cases they don’t interfere in the name of “respecting their traditions”.
The Civil Code of Georgia states that 18 years is the legal age for marriage, but marriage is allowed from the age of sixteen years with parental consent or approval by a guardian. Moreover, marriage before the age of 18 is usually not registered by the Public Registry. Therefore, data is not complete because most child marriage is not officially registered.
Besides, according to the data from the Gender gap Index 2014, the adolescent fertility rate in Georgia is quite high (births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 is 46,8). This may be a consequence of the non existence of education in reproductive health issues in the schools. The high adolescent fertility rate and the high early marriage rate it is also linked since if a girl under 18 gets pregnant, in most of cases will have to get married to avoid the social pressure. In that sense, it is needed education and awareness on those topics among adolescents.
In Georgia the UNFPA is the most active organization working to stop the child marriage, through informal education on reproductive health and rights issues among young people in the country. However, they claim that there should be an integration of these issues into formal education in the schools to ensure the changes in knowledge, attitudes and behavior among young people.
Child marriage is not good for girls and neither for development. The world cannot afford to see the rights, health and potential of thousands of girls each day wasted. We must invest to build up girl’s skills and capabilities, to encourage them to continue studying and building a professional future.
Mercè Girbau is an international volunteer at the Women’s Information Centre (Tbilisi) who was born in Barcelona. She has a strong interest in women’s rights and the struggle for female equality and hopes to address these topics in her future work.