Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Uzbek girls turn to teen marriage

Schoolgirls weighed down by home and family responsibilities are becoming a common sight in
Uzbekistan, which is seeing an upsurge in teenage marriage.
“It took me about 18 months to get used to my new life. I have accepted my
lot, but it was hard to adjust to no longer being a girl,” said Muborak Mukhitdinova, married at 15 and
already a mother. Muborak lives in Andijan, a city in eastern Uzbekistan that has seen 27
marriages of underage girls in the past two months. Uzbek law only permits marriage from the age of 17,
but many children are being wed in mosques, where imams observe the Islamic Shariah law, which does not specify
any particular age for marriage. The state shows little inclination to intervene. “It is hard to establish any
statistics on 15- and 16-year-old brides, as the wedding ritual is performed by the clergy.
The first we see of these couples is when they come to register their babies,” said Dilzoda Mutalova, director of the Andijan city registry. During the Soviet era, the usual marriageable age for Uzbek girls was around 20. Families prized brides with good education and professionalstatus. Today, youth and inexperience are valued above all, as younger women adapt more easily to their newly restricted roles.
Commentators link early marriage directly with the rise in national self-consciousness which accompanied Uzbek independence in the early 1990s. Nationalists who claimed that communism had suppressed Uzbek traditions and rites began to adopt Islamic practices and rules. Key to this movement was an active
campaign to return women to their “original” place in Uzbek society, as keepers of hearth and home.

The declining living standards of independent Uzbekistan have also contributed to the trend, according to Mavlyuda Isomova of the Sabr (Patience) center. “Social problems such as poverty, unemployment, and low income drive parents to try and marry off their daughters earlier. The longer a girl stays home, the more
expenses her parents must shoulder. Today the matchmakers are even looking for 14-year olds,” she said.
Early Shariah marriages leave women more vulnerable to divorce. Islamic law states that a man need only repeat the word talak (divorce) three times in front of witnesses in order to leave his wife. With no official register of her marriage, the divorced wife finds herself unable to claim any property rights
or social benefits. Out of 2,050 marriages recorded in Andijan last year, 130 have already broken up. Isomova believes that the immaturity of many brides is a significant factor. “At the age of 15 or 16 a girl is not ready for sexual life and maternity. She may look mature, but her psyche and personality are not yet fully formed. For those reasons, family life can be extremely stressful for her,” she said.
Widespread unemployment is increasing the pressures of married life. Unable to find work, many husbands cannot provide for their families and take out their frustrations on their wives.

After one year of marriage, 17-year-old Sanobar Jumaeva was divorced by her unemployed husband, who would beat her regularly. She has had no success in claiming any rights over their property. While Uzbek women remain equal to men under the terms of the constitution, the strides made during the Soviet era are gradually being rolled back. No wonder Uzbek girls are starting to look for suitable men abroad, where they can be not a housekeepers and breeders, but true partners.