Consanguineous marriages, early marriages, early motherhood, femicide...

Azerbaijan finds itself at a crossroads regarding the legality and social implications of related marriages. In a public discussion titled "Related marriages," Rustam Gasimov, head of the sector of the Department of Legislative and Legal Policy of the Presidential Administration, revealed that discussions are underway to potentially prohibit marriages between cousins up to the third and fourth degree of kinship at the legislative level. This announcement has ignited a debate surrounding the efficacy of such a prohibition and its potential impact on Azerbaijani society.

Gasimov highlighted that despite extensive educational efforts over the years, related marriages persist as a significant societal issue. The proposed prohibition is viewed as a proactive step by the state to address this persistent problem. Araz Poladov, Head of the Legislation Development Sector of the Legislative and Legal Policy Department of the Presidential Administration, echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the limitations of education in preventing related marriages. He argued that state intervention is necessary, citing examples from developed societies where stringent regulations have led to a low incidence of related marriages.

The proposed prohibition aims to classify relatives up to the third or fourth degree of kinship as close relatives, effectively outlawing marriages between cousins within these degrees. Proponents argue that such legislation would serve as a deterrent and contribute to the preservation of familial and societal well-being.

However, the debate extends beyond legal considerations to encompass broader social implications. Sanubar Heydarova, a social worker, gives valuable information about the multifaceted nature of the problem in an interview for ASTANA. Heydarova emphasizes that related marriages are not merely a legal matter but a complex social phenomenon deeply rooted in cultural and familial dynamics. While legislative measures may offer a solution on paper, their effectiveness in addressing the underlying social factors remains uncertain.

Furthermore, the proposed prohibition raises questions about individual autonomy and human rights. Critics argue that state intervention in personal matters such as marriage infringes upon fundamental rights and freedoms. Balancing the need for societal welfare with the protection of individual liberties presents a formidable challenge for policymakers.


Question: Sanubar khanim, the issue of annulment of consanguineous marriages is on the agenda in Azerbaijan. What is the place of consanguineous marriages in the number of marriages in Azerbaijan?

Answer: According to official statistics, consanguineous marriages make up only 4.1% of official marriages. However, if we add child marriages and families without official marriage to the account, the probable numbers are much higher. If we add the problems in recording and calculating statistical numbers in our country, we can say that official statistics cannot be considered correct even if we do not have valid alternative numbers.

It is claimed that 10% of marriages around the world take place between relatives. These are mostly marriages between cousins.

Question: Why should consanguineous marriages be annulled? Should it be abolished at all? Why do they want to cancel it?

Answer: Any ban can be considered wrong from the point of view of human rights and freedoms. But in such matters, there are more important issues than people's freedom of choice: the health of unborn children and the issues of violence.

For society, the first is basically clear: the organism formed as a result of the combination of related genes is weaker, even if it is not diseased. This topic has been discussed for years. But, of course, the discussion is not enough. Some time ago, the state made premarital medical examinations mandatory to prevent disability and hereditary diseases. But we all know the selling price of the health certificate at the polyclinic. The accuracy of laboratory analyses in polyclinics is also doubtful. No one expects a serious answer after taking an analysis at the polyclinic where he/she is registered for serious diseases. In particular, analyses related to hereditary diseases should be given in special laboratories. A health certificate is absurd. If this measure had any benefit, I have no doubt that the health authorities would announce to society that there is a sharp difference in the number of children born with hereditary and blood diseases and disabilities since the introduction of that reference. But, of course, there is no such news or statistics. Because both the references and statistics given to the VVAQ (Registration of Civil Status Acts) administration are fake.

As for violence, it is an extremely difficult subject to measure. Based on our observations, we can say that the majority of consanguineous marriages are carried out by means of family pressure on young people. In other words, families encourage young people to marry in order to solve some problems more easily. Although the ancient basis of such marriages was not to transfer wealth to a foreign generation, to maintain trust and intergenerational power, reconciliation, etc. and it was more common among wealthy families, nowadays it is mostly done to force young people into marriage, supposedly to prevent future divorce and rumors. This is one of the popular topics studied in anthropology. Parents claim it. Both young people, mainly the woman, are pressured to enter into this marriage, to ignore the points they disagree with in this marriage, and not to publicize the violence and problems within the family. Furthermore, families who have decided to marry off their children limit the activities and choices of these children, the social lives of these children, the education of many girls are put at risk, they are constantly monitored, their personal lives are monitored, and they are the subject of conversations inappropriate for their age. This is child abuse.

Children born from consanguineous marriages are 4-6% more likely to have disabilities and genetic diseases than from other marriages. Moreover, consanguineous marriages are considered normalized for children who grow up in consanguineously married families, so the percentage of continuity increases. All this gives us a reason to support the banning of consanguineous marriages.

Question: Do you think that legalizing the annulment of consanguineous marriages is a way out of the problem? Can the law prevent this?

Answer: Considering the above points, we see that there are no real preventive and punishment mechanisms for any problem. All we have left is a ban. However, the question is whether this ban will have a real effect in a place where there is so much corruption. I don't think so. First of all, it is necessary to consider the concepts: who will be considered relatives, what degree of kinship will be considered in accordance with the prohibition, how to prove whether they are relatives or not, and what will be the punishment for not observing this prohibition? The decision-making body usually leaves these questions to the executive authorities, but so far there are no answers to these questions.

Question: What does the experience of developed countries say about this?

Answer: As early as Roman law, marriage of relatives closer than the 4th degree was prohibited, and the modern West continues this prohibition. However, consanguineous marriage has been condemned and banned in the countries of the Far East (East Asia) as well. Consanguineous marriages are prohibited by law in 31 American states. Even in his time, Darwin did research on this topic and predicted that these marriages would decrease in the future. The church also did not warm to cousin marriages. For a while, it increased the degree of prohibition from the 4th degree of consanguinity to even the 7th degree of consanguinity and then stepped back again. In many Western countries, these prohibitions are at the level of taboo.

For example, in Kazakhstan, which is close to us, related marriages are absolutely prohibited at the patriarchal level. It's out of the question! There is a custom called "Zheti ata" (Seven fathers), which means seven ancestors or seven grandfathers. This is the custom of the seven tribes. According to custom, relatives up to the seventh generation have been considered close since ancient times, and marriages between them are strictly prohibited.

Question: What is the situation regarding early marriages in Azerbaijan? Has the situation changed for the better in recent years?

Answer: The number of consanguineous marriages has increased in Azerbaijan. In 2021, 2,363 marriages between relatives were registered, while two years ago the number reached 2,542. Most noticeable is the three-fold increase in the breakdown of such marriages. In 2021, 204 relative spouses ended their marriages. In 2022, the number was 608. The most consanguineous marriages were recorded in Baku (742), Mil-Mughan (296), and Lankaran-Astara zone (274).

In 2022, there were 3 divorces before the age of 18 and 31 divorces at the age of 18. These statistics show that those who divorced at the age of 18 got married earlier than those who divorced at the age of 18. 270 marriages were concluded with girls under the age of 18. In other words, 270 people officially married girls at the age of 17.

The fact that we have seen the deterioration of the social situation of families and religiosity and traditionalization in Azerbaijan in recent years as a result of the administration tells us that we should expect an increase in such marriages.

Question: Early motherhood is one of the problems of the society. What do the statistics of recent years show about this problem?

Answer: 122,846 live children were born in 2022. 10% of these children were born by women younger than 20 years old, 37.3 children per thousand women aged 15-19. According to the statistics of 2022, women aged 15-17 gave birth to 2,011 children, of which 1,880 were the first, 120 were the second, and 11 were the third. That is, in 2022, 11 women aged 15-17 gave birth to their third child.

There were years when this number was less and more. However, we should also take into account that the total number of births in the country is decreasing. In addition, as a result of the Internet becoming more accessible, information about contraceptives has become more widespread and these drugs have become more accessible.

But, in general, a child born by an unformed female body can be very risky for both the child and the woman.

The concept of maturity does not only mean sexual maturity; to consider someone as an adult, it is important that the person matures biologically, cognitively, and socially, a process that can take up to 24 years. Even if becoming a parent before this period is physically successful, it coincides with a very difficult period from a psycho-social point of view, both for the child and for the young parent, and the consequences of this are likely to be bad. Among these consequences, it is possible to list risks such as post-natal depression, violence, harming the child as a result of not managing stress, the loss of children due to the youth of biologically unaware parents, or traumatic experiences as a result of social-psychological imbalance. Furthermore, women who do not and cannot do family planning are more likely to suffer from women's diseases and autoimmune diseases in the future. It is no coincidence that the queues of doctors dealing with women's diseases are full of young women.

Question: By the way, we should touch on the subject of murders of women as well. What is the status of this problem lately?

Answer: Since 2019, the new wave of the feminist movement in Azerbaijan has been actively drawing attention to this issue. Unfortunately, the progress we have made over the years is not enough to make a noticeable change in the statistics. We still haven't been able to get women's rights recognized as human rights by the government. Authorities such as the police, prosecutor's office, and courts continue to call crimes against women domestic violence.

Moreover, no one has been charged with incitement to suicide. However, the majority of female suicides are the result of systematic violence against them.

Question: What are your suggestions? What steps should be taken to solve these problems?

Answer: These numbers will not change until femicides reach the level of murder - that is, until the violence is punished with appropriate punishment by the power structures. The attitude of power structures and punishment structures completely reflects the attitude of power and is political. Since there was no serious reaction to our proposals, they have not changed:

  • The number of shelters across the country should be increased several times;
  • There should be female police officers;
  • The number of personnel specialized in working with violence in prosecution, investigation, and judicial bodies should increase, women workers should be more involved in these cases, and officials should be involved in mandatory training;
  • Preliminary intervention centers related to sexual violence should be opened in the country;
  • Regardless of the type of violence, punishments should be given and announced;
  • All persons who, while performing their duties, are indifferent to such situations, rude, or use their official powers, as well as those who try to achieve reconciliation, should be sent to mandatory training and courses on violence;
  • Health and education systems should be made more sensitive to violence;
  • Work with the population, continuous education, propaganda should be carried out without interruption;
  • Barriers to organizations working with abused women and children must be removed;
  • Doctors, teachers, and officials who turn a blind eye to child marriages, children skipping school, and announcing the gender of the fetus before the 12th week should be punished;
  • 2nd and 3rd party reports of violence should be investigated;
  • Programs should be adopted for the restraining order and rehabilitation of the abuser, not the victim;
  • State fees for violence-related appeals should be abolished, and the number of 24-hour hotlines should be increased.

There are many to mention, but for now, it is enough if they make these things happen.

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