The FINANCIAL -- 694 underage girls and 36 underage boys got married in Georgia in 2012, according to the National Statistics Office of Georgia. The highest number of girls’ marriages was recorded in Lower Kartli where 142 underage girls got married followed by Imereti with 106 cases of such marriages and Adjara - with 94 marriages. The smallest number was recorded in Racha-Lechkhumi and Lower Svaneti where only 5 underage girls got married.
As for boys, in Adjara and Imereti an equal number of marriages was recorded - only 6 underage boys got married, which is the highest number of boys’ marriages in Georgia. The number of underage boys that got married is almost the same, about 1-6 cases, in different parts of Georgia.
Child marriage is defined as a formal marriage or informal union before the age of 18. While child marriage is observed for both boys and girls, the overwhelming majority are girls.
The legal age to get married at in Georgia is 18, according to the Civil Code. People aged 16 and 17 can get married with parental permission. An early marriage (under the age of 16) has not been registered in Georgia officially. So the statistics which are provided by GeoStat account for the number of children who get married at the ages of 16-17. It is expected that the real number of child marriages is much higher that the official statistics show. As representatives of the United Nations Population Fund and Public Defender’s Office say, child marriages have reached a catastrophic number in Georgia.
The fact that more girls get married than boys means that in general underage girls are getting married to grown-up men, where the age difference varies from 10 to 20 years mostly, according to the United Nations Population Fund. Early marriages are considered to be forced marriages because depending on their age, children cannot give their free and informed consent for marriage.
After Moldova Georgia is the second country in Eastern Europe with the biggest number of early marriages, according to the United Nations Population Fund.
There are several reasons for why early marriages are undesirable. “First of all children are restricted from their rights to education and often become victims of violence,” said Ana Abashidze, Lawyer of the Department of Gender Equality at the Public Defender’s Office. “Early marriages are mainly the girls’ problem. Early marriages may be voluntary or involuntary. According to our observation in Georgia early marriages are voluntary for girls. In this case the husband is 10-20 years older than his wife, which is a criminal offence. The age difference between the spouses creates a basis for domestic violence. There are many cases of abortion which harms the reproductive health of girls. When a man is against protected sexual intercourse the danger of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is increasing. In the case of early marriages this danger is high,” she added.
Professor Givi Makashvili, a gynaecologist at Imedi Clinic, says that because of early marriages the probability of pregnancy at early ages is high, which creates a risk of mortality. “Sexual maturity, which is the age or stage when an organism can reproduce, is at or over the age of 18. The best period for a first pregnancy is from 18 to 25 years. Earlier than these ages neither the reproductive system nor the osseous system is ready for childbirth. The nervous system is not ready to produce lactation. Unfortunately, for of all these reasons the risk of mortality during childbirth is high,” Makashvili said.
From October 2011 to January 2013 receiving school education was stopped by a total of 7,367 girls, according to the Ministry of Education. These girls were mostly 7th-9th graders.
“None of the schools in Georgia register whether early marriage is the reason for leaving school or not. There are special forms in the schools which must be filled out before leaving the school but early marriage is not included among the reasons so children cannot state that formally as a reason. This is why we do not have official statistics for this. During the last five years in the territory of Marneuli about 430 girls got married and the youngest was 12 years old. This is a catastrophic rate for such a small territory like Marneuli,” Abashidze said.
“When a child gets married at the age of 14 for example, it does not mean that he/she is not a child anymore,” said Marina Gogsadze, psychologist. “It is a fact that people under 18 are teenagers. Because they get married underage does not lead to their rapid development either physically or mentally. It is a trauma for a child to be responsible for a family, because they cannot avoid this responsibility and their marriages finally end in divorce. A child may very well agree to get married but he/she cannot understand the role which he/she will have in the family and what it will entail. In this case the role of the parents is crucial,” she added.
But the parents are not against early marriages in most of the cases, according to the Public Defender’s Office. The majority of parents questioned say that because of their economic instability and social problems they had to let their daughters get married.
“We have asked the teachers why they did not inform the police about cases of early marriages. They said that the parents agreed to the marriages, the pupils also wanted to get married so they could not find any reason to call the police. The parents say that their economic conditions are so poor that they’d better not refuse their children’s early marriages. If a child cannot get a proper education then the parent is fined GEL 200, according to the law. And early marriages are one of the most frequent reasons for interrupted education,” said Abashidze.
To solve this problem there should be more information available about the dangers and risks of early marriages, proposes Abashidze.