In Kyrgyzstan, a new law protects girls against early marriage
25 Nov 2016 by Lucio Valerio Sarandrea, Chief Technical Advisor on Rule of Law
In only the first five months of this year, 49 children committed suicide in Kyrgyzstan.
A helpline set up to assist children saw 476 cases.
Too many young people in Kyrgyzstan feel hopeless and try to end their lives. In many cases, suicides of girls are prompted by sexual violence and the so-called local practice of “bride kidnapping.”
The numbers are staggering: The latest study on a state-representative survey showed that 38 percent of Kyrgyz women married through such a practice. This averages 32 bride kidnapping a day, with 40 percent of them including rape. Nearly 14 percent of women currently aged 25 to 49 in Kyrgyzstan report having married by age 18.
At UNDP in Kyrgyzstan, we asked ourselves:
How do we support the state’s efforts in better protecting their children and help prevent this terrible loss of human lives?
When we heard a draft law was in progress to forbid underage religious marriages, we knew our work was cut out for us. Having a law is one thing, but winning the hearts and minds of local people to own such a law is another. That’s where we came in.
With this in mind, in Spring 2016, we helped facilitate a public dialogue process to overcome the difficulties that had previously blocked attempts to pass a similar law.
From organizing seminars to training representatives of the Ministry of Education, journalists and municipal staff members, to faciliating state-wide discussions with religious leaders and civil society representatives, we did everything we could to push the process further.
The work was one of the most challenging things we have ever done, because it dealt with the sensitive aspect of religious freedoms as well as political bickering. In the beginning, for example, the draft law asked that all religious marriages, regardless of age, be celebrated together with civil ones. But the provision was later cancelled on the basis of its non-compliance with human rights standards after UNDP and OHCHR highlighted the issue.
Last year, the short film we produced on early marriage won international attention and was awarded the silver medal at the RED Jolbors Festival.
The draft law was recently adoped by the Kyrgyz Parliament. The new law considers marriage with a minor as a criminal offense, and “extends criminal punishment of 3 to 5 years in prison to both clergy and parents who participate in the religious marriage ceremony.”
We’re happy to have been a part of the fight towards upholding human rights in Kyrgyzstan. We expect that, aside from helping reduce violence against girls, it will also help decrease maternal mortality rate, which at the moment reaches 17 out of 1,000 live births.
All of this is not to say it’s time to stop fighting. As the law enters into force, we will be shifting our attention to ensure proper implementation of the legislation - and make sure no girls shall be forced into early marriage or be subject to any form of violence ever again.