Baku, Azerbaijan, Jan. 13
By Elena Kosolapova - Trend: Kazakhstan's laws allow a man and a woman to enter into a marriage only in case of mutual voluntary consent and if both of them are at least 18 years old. However in reality the laws are frequently not observed and women turned out the most vulnerable group in such cases.
Fifteen-year old Aliya was kidnapped by a 25-year old man who wanted to marry her several years ago. Her parents did not allow her to return home, because such a situation is accepted as a disgrace for a family according to old traditions in Kazakhstan. The couple held a religious wedding ceremony, Aliya dropped out of school and gave birth to three children in next four years. The young woman's life story could have been better.
However, when she was 19 her husband died in a car crash. As a result she has to work from morning till night and ask her relatives and neighbors for help to get enough money to feed her children. Since she hasn't even had the opportunity to finish grade school the only job she can find is that of a low-paid cleaner and there is no hope to change the situation.
The story of Aliya is not unique. The problems of early and forced marriages and woman kidnapping are still problematic in Kazakhstan and all Central Asian countries.
About 3,000 minor girls are married in Kazakhstan annually, according official statistics. The number of kidnapped brides reaches 12,000 annually, according to Women's League of Creative Initiative NGO. The official statistics on this issue does not exist. Meanwhile any official data on such issues is unreliable as the majority of girls do not report to police.
The NGOs urge the Kazakh authorities to include separate items on 'woman abduction to compel her marriage' and 'minor girl abduction to compel her marriage' and sentence the people guilty of such crimes to long-term imprisonment. A similar law was passed in Kyrgyzstan in early 2013 and as a result the number of such abductions has decreased by tenfold since its adoption.
A new uproar regarding this issue was sparked in Kazakhstan in December 2013 after an amateur video of a bride kidnapping in southern Kazakhstan appeared on Facebook.
The head of South Kazakhstan region Askar Myrzahmetov commenting on the video admitted that the "bad tradition" still exist but the number of women abductions considerably been reduced compared to the 1990s.
The worst thing in situation is that the rights of the kidnapped and forcibly married girls especially at a young age are not defended by law. The majority of them are wedded in only religious marriage ceremonies which are not recognized by the state. Women haves no rights to their husband's property in case of divorce.
"Religious ceremonies are a very common occurrence now. It emanates from popular tradition. We have to think over this issue," Kazakh Parliament's speaker and president's daughter Dariga Nazarbayeva said in 2012.
The other problem is that young women having no education and job are completely depend on their husbands. And even in case of ill-treatment, domestic violence and other internal family problems they do not dare to divorce and prefer to suffer.
The survey held on the website of Kazakh crisis center Podrugi (Girlfriends) showed that 73 percent of questioned women suffered from domestic violence and 40 percent witnessed such violence. Some 198 women took part in the survey.
National traditions are very common in Kazakhstan. Some, such as hospitality, respect for older people, strong family links and etc. are worthwhile and should be set as examples for other communities. But when some tradition violates people's rights there is no justification for its perpetrators and it should be eradicated without regret.