It is reported that around 6:00 p.m. on February 4, information came in about the deaths of a resident of Bina township of Khazar District, Nigar Rustamova (first and last name altered), born in 2006, and the fetus in her womb. The investigation established that the teenage girl had been married off 10 months previously. The prosecutor’s office has tentatively identified the girl’s husband.
According to information available to Minval.az, he is a resident of Lankaran District, one M.G., previously convicted for illegal acquisition, possession and carrying of firearms, as well as for extortion of weapons by threats.
The prosecutor’s office reports that at 2 p.m. on February 4, due to the deterioration of her condition during home delivery, Nigar Rustamova was taken to City Clinical Hospital #3, where she died four hours later without regaining consciousness. Forensic medical experts examined the body of the minor but found no signs of foul play.
Meanwhile, it is known that her common-law husband was detained on February 5. A criminal case was opened against him on the same day under Article 152 (sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 16) of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Azerbaijan. The article stipulates a punishment of up to three years’ imprisonment.
Unfortunately, the efforts of the public, psychologists, social workers and legislators to reach out to some members of society who prefer to live in the abyss of medieval prejudice even in the 21st century of high technology have yet to succeed.
Minval.az discussed the subject with Professor Fuad Ismailov, Director of the National Mental Health Center.
The case of a 15-year-old girl who died in childbirth stirred the public. Sadly, we have been hearing more and more about early marriages lately, although by the logic of society’s development, this phenomenon should have long become history as a shameful relic of the past. And while we used to talk to human rights activists and sociologists before, it was of little use. Which means it’s time to talk to a psychiatrist, who might be able to explain to this stratum of society what is good and what is bad.
First of all, there are several aspects that must be taken into account when these kinds of issues are raised. The first one is, of course, the legislation, the legal aspect of the issue. And it is not only about early marriage, there is another point: it is more about the age at which a person can freely consent to sexual relations. In the most liberal countries, the lowest age of consent is 16. What can a 13-year-old child understand? Can she or he be fully aware of what sexual relations are, much less give her or his free consent to those relations? Of course not! I should stress that this is a very important point, which has to do with the development of the intellect, the ability to think critically, to consider the consequences of one’s actions.
The second one is the criminal aspect. I believe that when underage daughters are married off, not only the parents of the bride and groom should be criminally liable. Those who performed this “wedding” ritual should also be punished for violating the law. Obviously, the marriage was not registered officially, which means that the “newlyweds” were married by a representative of a religious cult. And that means that he is just as much to blame. The law is clear about so-called “kabins” (Muslim religious marriage that has no legal force—Interviewer’s note): they cannot be performed before the marriage is registered officially. And if the “kabin” was performed before that, the clergyman who performed it should be punished according to the relevant article of the law.
The third aspect is psychological: how such marriages, and sexual intercourse in particular, affect a child’s psyche. After all, each behavior must correspond to a certain age, and early marriage is in no way compatible with the current stage of development of personality. As a rule, it results in cognitive dissonance, causing extreme negative emotions: fear, anxiety, depression, often leading to suicide. Early marriages deform the psyche of a child who can in no way be ready for such a serious step as family life, much less motherhood. Most of the time these early marriages end tragically, as in the case of this 15-year-old girl who died in childbirth. We know nothing about what happens to girls married off at such an early age, do we? After all, according to the law, they could not have been married officially, which means that the so-called “husband” bears no responsibility. Then there are purely social factors: the lack of education, the inability to earn a living for herself and her child, the tyranny of the “mother-in-law” and the family of the “husband” who took her to be his “wife” and can just as easily leave her. As a result, the victim of adults’ stupidity, essentially deprived of a childhood, often ends up on the streets or living a life of crime. Human rights activists and your colleagues, including yourself, have repeatedly spoken about this.
The highly publicized case of the poor girl who died in childbirth is being widely discussed on forums and social media. And the worst part is that the number of defenders of early marriage and, consequently, defenders of intimate relations with minors, is already almost equal to the number of opponents of this archaism. How do you explain this phenomenon?
I regret to say that if this topic is not becoming obsolete in this country and early marriages keep happening, moreover, if people try to justify them, it means only one thing: the decline of morality in the society. I repeat: if this shameful phenomenon is accepted as a norm in modern Azerbaijan, it means that all moral and ethical values are dying out. It is all the more surprising given that at the beginning of the 20th century our country established itself as one of the most progressive countries of the world: suffice it to remember that the first Azerbaijani constitution was signed and adopted earlier than in Europe, women took off their veils and went to school because they were given freedom and the right to choose. Just remember how many forward-thinking, brilliant people Azerbaijan has given to the world as a progressive, enlightened and thoughtful nation! All these people are the fruits of civilization and progress, the course our wonderful country followed then and is following now.
Society has already labeled those who like to “marry” 13-14-year-old girls with the word that defines what they are: pedophile. Is that correct?
Let me put it this way: who is most likely to become a pedophile? People who themselves have been victims of sexual abuse. Very often pedophiles and maniacs are people with psychosexual development disorders. The most important part of their psyche is not sexual gratification, but the sadistic pleasure of dealing with a defenseless victim. A pedophile never loves the victim, only using them to solve some personality issues. And those who support pedophiles are deeply damaged people, because a successful, properly brought-up and educated person with normal morals would never support pedophilia in any of its manifestations. Especially if that “supporter” has a teenage sister or daughter. Theoretically, they should first imagine her in a similar situation, and then talk about how necessary and useful pedophilia is as a “traditional aspect”.
Those supporting early marriages usually invoke two things, the Quran and tradition, like “my grandmother got married at 12, her sister at 14, and my mother got married at 15, so it’s normal”.
I will say this: those who talk about the Holy Quran don’t quite know what they are talking about, or even don’t understand what they have read in it at all. Generally speaking, religious sources have an extremely vague foundation. But most importantly, none of us lived at that time; therefore, no one knows what was acceptable in the early Middle Ages. All I can say is that what was considered normal in the Middle Ages is unacceptable in the 21st century, because society is developing, living conditions are changing, and technological progress reigns supreme in the world.
The point of religion is for people to become kinder and purer. But for some reason, those who cite the Quran advocate sexual relations with minors, but do not carry the truth of goodness and beauty, which this Holy Book is filled with. Islam is a highly moral religion; everyone knows that. If someone justifies the early marriages described in religious books, they should keep in mind people’s life span then and now. Today the average life expectancy reaches 72 years, but in the early Middle Ages, because of infections, wars, and epidemics, people barely lived to see forty. It was only natural that with such a short life span, people were in a hurry to start families and produce offspring. But again, bathing used to be considered a sin, but we have not taken this bad tradition as an example to carriy through the centuries like a banner. So why should we adhere to “traditionalism” when it comes to early marriage? There is no such “tradition” among civilized people, and there never will be. And to those who say that “my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother got married at the age of 12, 13 or 14, so it’s normal”, I will say this: the intergenerational continuity is not always useful and necessary, especially if it is against the laws of the country and the Criminal Code. And the code of civilized human beings in general.
Interview by Yana Madatova
Translated from Minval.az