“Girls are told from early childhood that they’re strangers in their own home”
Shalala Amirjanova thinks that, although the incident in Ponichala served as a bad example, it is good that it generated such an uproar.
“People see that the public gets upset about these things and protests against them, and so they try to exonerate themselves, saying ‘it’s our tradition.’ But that’s a mistake, you can’t do that. Therefore, as activists, we try to demonstrate that this has nothing to do with Azerbaijani national traditions,” states Amirjanova.
According to activist Tozu Gulmammadli, Azerbaijani families try to marry off their daughters as early as possible in order to shed their responsibility for them:
“I would say that gender roles are the main issue. An opinion has emerged about girls that they are superfluous in the household, they’re second class, and so they are raised specifically for marriage. Girls are told that that have nothing to do with their own home, they are strangers and they need to get married, while boys are perceived as continuing the family line.”
What about the government? The schools? The police?
“There’s another problem here related to schools. What’s going on in the schools? In theory, every parent is obligated to send their child to school, otherwise they are guilty of neglect and in violation of the law. But schools don’t register girls who are not allowed to attend. School principals do not inform the ministry promptly. Although if the principal informed the ministry promptly, then these incidents could be prevented, while the girl is still only engaged, for example,” says Gulmammadli.
According to the activist, the police are often aware of underage betrothals, “but they don’t interfere, they don’t want to stir up the public by publicizing these incidents.”
Gulmammadli, who has experience working with victims of domestic abuse in Georgia, says that she has seen instances where girls who were forced into underage marriages ran away from home:
“If the child runs away and turns to the police, then either the parents are brought to justice, or the person who was supposed to marry her is arrested. I can’t say that the system works perfectly, because the government’s resources are insufficient. I mean, this is how it works—the girl runs away from home, her parents are charged with a crime, and she lives in a shelter until she turns 18. Once she is a legal adult, she has to leave the shelter, and then they try to reconcile her with her family. Overall I can’t say that the system works well here.”