Myth v Reality: Child Marriages in Central Asia

Katarina Valieva is the Editor of Breaking The Glass Ceiling.

The UNFPA defines child marriage as the “union of two persons, at least one of whom is under 18 years of age”. It is estimated that annually 15 million girls around the world marry before the age of 18. This article will examine the impact of child marriages on the physical and mental health of young brides, the legislation in Central Asian states regulating marriage procedures, possible causes of the persistence of this practice and some measures to combat it.

There is no doubt that child marriage has a negative impact on the mental and physical health of the girls. It also places limitations on the personal development and freedoms of the young brides. In research for the Norwegian Helsinki Committee published in 2013, Larisa Ilibezova found that nine out of 11 child brides experience psychological and/or physical abuse at the hands of their husbands.  The child marriage is internationally recognized as a humiliation of the Rights of the Child. The United Nations actively cooperate with various international organisations and governments around the world to abolish this practice.

Women are sometimes unable to fully recover from the trauma caused by their early marriage. Nilufar Karimova is an IWPR-contributor in Tajikistan who wrote various articles on the issue and interviewed women who were subjected to child marriage.  One of the Karimova`s interviewees, a Dushanbe resident, Tahmina, shared her story. Her mother forced her to marry an older man at the age of 14. He forced her to leave school and did not allow her to leave the house without his permission. A few months after her marriage, Tahmina escaped. She experienced a psychological breakdown and it took her a long period of time to rehabilitate and rebuild her life.

The authorities of Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan implemented a set of legislations aiming to reduce the number of early marriages. The laws state that the minimum age of marriage is 18 years old. In some regions of Central Asia, there are two marriage procedures: the civil registration in a state registry office and nikoh, the traditional religious marriage under the Sharia law. In order to perform both of these registrations, the couples are obligated to provide the civil servants with a documentary proof of their age. The wrongdoers will face a punishment that might include a prison sentence. The laws did have a pivotal impact on the reduction of early marriages, however, some researchers suggest that a great number of marriages are not registered or reported which makes it difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of the law.

The Institute for War and Peace claim that despite the reforms made in the legislation, child marriages persist. It is difficult to explain why child marriages still exist in the 21st century. One of the possible reasons is based on religion and culture. Some of the Central Asian states are known to support conservative views and the patriarchal model of the family. The influence of these views might force people to endorse and preserve this inhumane practice. It is also important to take into account the influence of the society and pressure that people might experience. In order to avoid isolation families might support the practice, ignoring the harm they might cause to their daughters. For instance, in Kazakh Almaty Region, the researchers from Girls Not Brides project interviewed the local population and concluded that the interviewees predominantly advocated the stereotypes of the patriarchal family model where women have a subordinate role.

Another possible reason is rooted in the economic conditions. Recent World Bank reports suggest that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 marked the decline of the economies of the Central Asian states. Low wages, and high unemployment rates force families to seek economic security for their daughters through marriage.


Of course, the abolishment of child marriages is a long-term process that requires various measures. However, I believe that improvement in educational sector can significantly contribute to the eradication of the practice. Young girls should learn about the harmful aspects of the early marriages and inform their communities. The reforms should also educate adults and persuade them to protect their children. The periphery of the Central Asian states have a poorly developed infrastructure where not everyone has an access to education. The lack of education results in poor understanding of the issue and thus measures should be taken.

I firmly believe that direct action should be taken by the international community to reduce the number of Child Marriages and ultimately abolish this practice. The changes in legislation is an important step forward, however it is also important to tackle the origins of the practice. If the girls would receive a good education, have a safe economic environment to develop they would not have to sacrifice their freedom. No one has a right to take the free will from another person.



UNFPA EECA, Child Marriages in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

Plan International, Child Marriages

Central Asia Institute, How Education can end Child Marriage

Girls Not Brides Campaign

The Guardian: Early Marriages in Tajikistan

Human Rights Watch: Kyrgyzstan Ups Fight Against Child Marriage

UNDP Europe and Central Asia: Learning to fight Early Marriages in Kyrgyzstan

KazInform , Child Marriage Still on Rise in Kazakhstan: Head of Children`s Fund


Images and Illustrations:

Maria Fabrizio, NPR,

Daily Mail , the image edited by Katarina Valieva,






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