“The government is strict about requiring Muslim clerics to perform a religious wedding only if the bride and groom produce a marriage certificate proving that they registered with the authorities,” he said.
“These days, one needs permission from the local authorities to hold a wedding, for which the passports of the groom and the bride must be produced to confirm that they have attained marriageable age.” Nazriev said local government implemented the law in most cases, but he also noted reports that some corrupt officials allowed families to obtain a fraudulent marriage certificate showing a higher age.
“As a result of their marriage, there are 12 of us in the family and we are all healthy, we all studied.
Cited a study which his institute conducted three years ago, he said, “The research showed that because of early pregnancies…
their children had health problems, and these difficulties put a strain on the marriage, resulting in its breakdown.” Supporters of early marriage argue that it is a centuries-old Tajik tradition.
There have several cases across the country in which Muslim clerics were fined or given short prison terms for blessing marriages where the bride was a minor.
Last August, Saidazam Atoev, a former imam in the Bobojon Ghafurov district of the northern Soghd region, was sentenced to one year’s corrective labour for sanctioning the marriage of a 16-year old girl.
The leader of a mosque in the southern Khatlon region, who asked to remain anonymous, told IWPR that blessing the union of two young people was a virtuous act that provided a safeguard against immorality.
“It is better for them to enter into marriage than to go down the path of sin,” he said.
In Tajikistan, it has been customary for girls to marry at 16 or even younger.
Before it was raised, the official age of consent was 17, but a provision in the civil code allows local authorities to permit marriage below the official minimum age, under in exceptional circumstances.
Dushanbe resident Hilvatshoh Mahmud, director of the Ozodagon media group, told IWPR that early marriage did not have to be fraught with problems.
His own mother was 14 when she married his father, who was then 20.
Anyone involved – parents, Muslim clerics or even the bridegroom – can be fined or spend several days in prison.