Learning to fight early marriages in Kyrgyzstan
Be it for economic or social reasons, the number of early marriages in Kyrgyzstan remains high. According to recent statistics, roughly 12 percent of brides in the country are under the age of 18.
In rural areas, girls are often subjected to arranged marriages upon completion of high school. Early marriage can have several deeply negative impacts on the lives and livelihoods of women and girls.
One of these impacts is in their education. These girls are usually forced to leave school, never gettting the chance to complete their education.This minimizes their opportunities to find work and become self-sufficient. These young brides are thus forced to depend on their older husbands even more.
This is why is it important to get these girls back in school.
Paradoxically, one way to make both young girls and their parents understand the consequences of early marriage appears to be learning how to sew, cook, and use computers. Such workshops help these girls gain new skills – and renewed self-confidence.
Eleventh grade students on their new computers procured by UNDP
In the village of Shark in Southern Kyrgyzstan, UNDP and the European Union, are helping one high school join the fight. To keep girls longer in school and thus prevent them from early marriage, the school has created sewing, cooking, and computer classes in addition to their regular curriculum.
Before this initiative was launched a year ago, the number of students attending school after ninth grade was low, with only two tenth grade groups. They now have three, and are growing still.
Although courses are mainly intended for young girls, the school hasn’t neglected its boys.
Teachers talk with them about the consequences of early marriages, such as health and domestic violence issues. A specialized workshop class was also created so that young boys, as well as girls, learn sewing, cooking, and computer literacy.
“Children are interested in doing some real work,” says Roza Yuldasheva, one of the leaders of the community project. “We also noticed that the number of students who are skipping classes has declined, because they have computers and other new tools at disposal.”
“The local government will soon take over financial care of the school courses for preventing early marriage. Next year they will implement a new course on sewing, cooking, and computers. Just like the current one, a new serious of courses should open these young girls to new opportunities and influences,” says project coordinator, Sharabidin Tairov.
While sewing a special glove for baking bread in tradtional clay ovens, a young schoolgirl named Adina says:
“I have a lot of free time after school and I like coming here to learn how to sew. One day, I wish to attend medical school and become a dentist.”
When we asked Adina if she would like to get married soon she started laughing along with the whole class.
Currently, 15 girls are signed up on a voluntary basis, but when the courses become part of the curriculum, they will be obligatory for everyone.
The current class will graduate soon, and recently they won a regional competition for “Girls in technology”. Some of them are interested in cooking and sewing classes too, but they all share one common goal: to continue and finish their education before they do anything else.