The minimum marriageable age in Russia is 18 years old. However, in some regions, it is common practice for teens to marry before the age of 18. Some may even marry as young as 14 years of age. For instance, in Moscow, the legal marriageable age is 16 and in Bashkortostan, it is 14, with underage marriages in Chechnya as well. In recent years, the idea of child marriage in Russia has sparked legal and social disputes between various communities.
In 2015, Putin lowered the legal age of marriage to 14 in Bashkortostan. This dropped the age of consent for special circumstances like teen pregnancy. However, the number of marriages is reportedly rising as teen pregnancies are increasing. Moreover, the public has agreed to the lowering of the age of consent. This brings up the issue that lowering the age exploits children. The problem extends in regions across Russia that are predominately traditionalists in their views and do not have close monitoring like in the northern and southern Caucasus regions.
Child Marriage in Chechnya
In Chechnya, reports indicated that an underage teen unlawfully married a man that was three times her age and already had multiple wives. The bride was 17 years old while the man was either in his late 40s or early 50s. The leader of the Chechen Republic attended the marriage even though Russian law does not permit polygamous marriages and child marriages. This highlights the pervading difficulties in enforcing laws across different regions.
Bride kidnappings have increased since the fall of the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union fell, Russia monitored other forms of social control, such as law enforcement, less. In addition, under Chechen rule, there has been a decrease in woman’s rights. Some even view bridal kidnappings as a tradition in Chechnya. The day of the wedding is often the last day brides see their families.
Many Caucasus states have reverted back to traditional social roles; women stay at home, especially in small towns and villages. In these small villages, people have accepted child marriage for hundreds of years. Some communities believe that their religion mandates it.
In Chechnya, there is no protection against forced marriage for young women, despite its illegality. The lack of control across the region explicitly inhibits the rights of women. Since the Chechnyan government runs locally, authorities’ biases influence women’s rights and child marriage. Enforcing laws in the North Caucasus region is difficult for Russia because of a lack of both executability and accountability.
Reports on Child Marriage in the South Caucasus Region
According to a UNICEF estimation, 7 percent of Armenian girls entered into marriage by 18 years of age in 2014. Unfortunately, this number may be much higher, since many underage marriages do not undergo registration. Women have little access to higher education. Moreover, people treat them unequally so others make decisions for them without their consent. Poverty and the familial need to ensure social status makes child marriage especially prevalent in small villages since marriage (and having children) can raise a girl’s standing and relieve financial burdens on her family. In Yezidi communities, children rarely seek out help for fear of suffering exclusion from their families. Soviet exceptionalism is a problem in this region, where Yezidis do not have to abide by Russian laws concerning the minimum age of consent.
In Azerbaijan, 2 percent of girls entered marriage by age 15 and 11 percent by 18, yet some believe that these statistics are underestimated. Bridal kidnappings are even more common. There is a direct link between bridal kidnappings and child marriages since early marriage is a threat to bridal abduction. Most families are more willing to marry their child off young than to have someone eventually abduct their daughter.
Russia’s Steps Forward
Despite the ongoing issues, Russia has taken multiple steps towards ending child marriage. According to girlsnotbrides.org, Russia has aimed to end forced child marriage by 2030. The Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination on Women, adopted in 1979, is an international bill consisting of 30 articles that define what constitutes discrimination against women. CEDAW has also taken charge of the issue by spreading awareness, for instance during Russia’s review in 2015. The bill ensures equal opportunities and equal access to public life including education, health and employment. In 1990, the minimum age of consent was age 18. In addition, the CEDAW Committee states that partners must have full consent for marriage.
UNICEF is leading the way towards support for women in the Caucasus regions. The organization offers youth grants supporting education for women, hotlines and supportive services to girls, strengthens legal protections and promotes awareness. Along with the government’s initiatives to stop child marriage, Russia is taking the initiative to guide communities across all regions, providing solutions toward a brighter future for girls.
– Joelle Shusterman