The kidnapping of underage brides to force them to marry is an old Caucasian tradition, today shameful in Georgia, a country that aspires to join the European Union (EU) and that fights hand in hand with human rights defenders to eradicate this scourge.
“We are in second place after Moldova in Eastern Europe for kidnapping underage brides to force them to marry, something that cannot be a source of pride,” Tamar Dekanosidze, coordinator for Eurasia of the defense organization for women’s rights Equality Now.
According to data from the Ministry of the Interior, each month in Georgia an average of ten girls are kidnapped to force them to marry, 20% of whom drop out.
For Goga Jatiashvili, one of the leading Georgian experts on the subject, the main causes of this problem are “the patriarchal way of life that is preserved in the periphery, gender inequality, the socio-economic problems that afflict the country and the shortcomings in education and prevention “.
TESTIMONY OF A GIRL SAVED BY HER TEACHER
According to research carried out by the UN in 2018, 14% of married Georgian women were married before the age of 18, the legal minimum age since 2014 to do so, and many families circumvent the regulations by not formalizing the union.
For Chinara Kodzhaeva, 20, from the town of Kolosari, about 40 kilometers south of Tbilisi, the trust she had in one of her teachers was the lifeline so that her parents did not marry her when she was 15 years old.
“I was 14 years old when my father told me that a wealthy family was asking me to marry their son and that, for that reason, the wedding was a settled matter. He was older than me and I didn’t even know him. They arranged the wedding for my 15 years,” she told Efe.
She shared her family’s decision with a teacher, who reported the incident to the Police.
Chinara was transferred by the authorities to a residence in Tbilisi, where she continued her studies on a scholarship and in September she plans to enter the Police Academy or the Faculty of Law.
PUNISHMENT AND PREVENTION POLICIES
The young woman’s father was sentenced to two years in prison for trying to marry her by force.
“Relations with the family normalized. I go home frequently. They also visit me. After this story in Kolosari they have not forcibly married any girl. It has been a great victory, mine and that of other girls,” says Chinara with pride.
Former head of the Human Rights department of the Interior Ministry, Jatiashvili told Efe that the main failure of the authorities is that they focus on the punishment of those guilty of kidnapping girlfriends, and “they should pay more attention to preventive policies.”
“In my land if a girl is kidnapped, she can no longer return home, as the family rejects her because they consider she has been dishonored,” Mindia Dzhgamadze, a student from Senaki, a city in western Georgia, told EFE.
The problem of underage brides is especially serious in localities where members of ethnic minorities live compactly, such as the Changuilar village, inhabited mainly by Azerbaijanis and located about 60 kilometers northwest of Tbilisi.
“I was frozen when I spoke with the people there. They told me that their daughters and granddaughters of 10 or 12 years old did not have to study, that the important thing was to get married on time, and ‘on time’ for them is at 12! or 13 years!”, Feridé Babáyeva, author of an investigation on early marriages in Georgia, told Efe.
“I will never forget the eyes of those girls, who cried when they told us about the fear they felt for their future,” she said.
At the instruction of the Georgian Ministry of Education, girls in higher grades are given lectures in schools on the risks of early marriage and their rights.
“Early marriages practically exclude the possibility of receiving training and this means that girls are left in a situation of dependency and vulnerability,” expert Elena Mamédova, author of a report on this problem for the Tbilisi State University, told Efe.
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