Any marriage to a person aged under 18 is technically a child marriage, as the Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as anyone aged under 18. The phenomenon we discuss here is often called “early marriage” in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan’s Civil Code currently allows girls to wed at age 17, but due to religious and cultural traditions, as well as poverty, in some areas it is commonly accepted for underage women to marry. Since these marriages are illegal, they are not registered with civil authorities, and thus it is not possible easily to measure the extent of this problem.
While child marriage is rather uncommon in major cities, it is accepted in some provincial areas and mountain regions where education is meagre and economic opportunities for women limited.
Experts say girls as young as 14 are taken as wives, and that marrying at age 15 or 16 is common because of the social stigma attached to a female’s unmarried status. In such areas, marriage and childbearing are often considered the highest female achievements.
NGOs cooperate with UNICEF to train teachers about early marriage, and explain the physical risks of early pregnancies and the emotional stress caused by early separation from one’s parents; not to mention that it is a violation of the law (not only the Civil Code, but also the law preventing under-age sex: the age of consent for sexual relations is 16 for girls in Azerbaijan).
Likewise, the benefits of putting off marriage are promoted, such as the advantages of completing one’s education, as well as pursuing a higher education. Combating early marriage is an important contribution toward protecting the rights of children and empowering young women.