Rescuing young girls from child marriage
Grant recipient: Union Women Center (UWC), Georgia, and Baku Volunteer Centre of Azerbaijan
Project: Strategies to resist child marriage in ethnic minority communities in Georgia and Azerbaijan
Child and forced marriage and bride kidnapping are among the harmful practices affecting women and girl in some regions of Azerbaijan and Georgia. The WHO claims that Georgia has a high level of early marriage; it is common practice f0r girls aged between 9 and 15 to be married to older men. The effects and consequences are vast – early marriage leads to early pregnancy, which increases the risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth. The increased risk of death or serious lasting complications such as obstetric fistula is greater for girls in early and middle adolescence. Infants born to young mothers are more likely to be born under-weight and prematurely, and to experience serious health problems. Child marriage has also been shown to increase the likelihood of HIV infection and risk of domestic violence. Furthermore, child brides are at risk of abuse and exploitation.
Rural parts of Georgia where Azir and Georgian Muslim communities are concentrated have the same problems as in Azerbaijan. Despite the strict provisions on early marriage in new legislation passed in 2016 and changes in the Civil Code, forced marriage of children imposed by parents is still widely practiced.
Our project was implemented by two organisations — the Union Women Center (Georgia) and Baku Volunteer Centre of Azerbaijan (Azerbaijan).
The project included 6 meetings in regions where Azir population and Georgian Muslims are concentrated in Georgia and in Azerbaijan, held jointly with religious leaders. These aimed to raise awareness of the relevant legislation, gender-based violence and the government response among rural communities, teachers, young married women, regional NGOs, health care providers, volunteers, municipal representatives, social workers, hot-line specialists, doctors and nurses. 120 people took part.
In Georgia a meeting was organised for regional family doctors and nurses specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology about specific features of pregnancy, possible complications and ways of preventing them. 60 people took part.
In Georgia a meeting was also organised with the regional authorities with the aim of creating appropriate mechanisms at the regional level. 30 people took part in this.
Information brochures were published In Georgia and Azerbaijan.
1. 500 copies of the brochure “Reproductive and Sexual Health Consequences of Child Marriage were distributed in Georgia, resulting in 104 calls to the hot-line, 16 face to face consultation and 2 girls being directed to crisis centres
2. NGO representatives distributed a power-point presentation on early marriage and its consequences and the relevant legislation. 5 regional NGOs are now using this in their work
4. Through shared information on the UWC website we highlighted the work done by the UWC and Azerbaijan Volunteers Organisation in this area, and BEARR’s support for it.
5. Following our workshop with family doctors and obstetricians they have been able to prevent complication during youth pregnancy in 23 cases
6. One big achievement is that this project has enabled the local authorities to understand the importance of prevention and treatment. As a result the municipality has authorised funds in its budget to continue the work in the regions concerned, and created multisectoral groups of social workers, police, doctors, NGOs and municipal representatives to response in these cases
We trained police, doctors, social workers and municipal representatives and established cooperation among local authorities, doctors, police, teachers, religious representatives, social workers, and municipal and local NGOs, which led to the creation of an implementation mechanism, the Strategy Against Early Marriages (SAEM), at the municipal level in Kvemo–Kartli .
Enhancing the quality of municipal and NGOs services and creating an effective multi-sectoral approach in target regions of Georgia mean that gender discrimination and domestic violence towards girls and women will fall significantly due to the effective work and necessary measures taken by the relevant bodies: the State Fund for the Protection of Victims of Domestic Violence and Trafficking, and the Public Defender’s Office (Ombudsmen). Most significantly of all, this multi-sectoral group will ensure a timely response to cases of child marriage.
Among the participants were senior schoolgirls, young rural girls, women, representatives of NGOs, indeed representatives of a whole different layer of the population. Naturally, the problem of child marriage exists in Azerbaijan, as it does in many countries. However, the number of such cases has fallen sharply compared to previous years. Coordinated work needs to be done to prevent these problems. A nationwide hot-line should be created exclusively for this issue. Of course, as soon as our NGO receives a signal about child marriage or other cases of violence, we automatically direct our employees to the case. We negotiate and talk to families faced with these kinds of problems. We encourage families to support young girls as they come of age. Sometimes these signals come to us too late, following suicide or other tragic consequences.
Dr Ia Verulashvili
Union Women Center