Azerbaijan is trying to ban consanguineous marriages

Azerbaijan is trying to ban consanguineous marriages

In a significant move to address the rising health concerns associated with consanguineous marriages, the Milli Majlis Committee on Family, Women and Children Affairs proposed an amendment to the Family Code on June 11. The amendment aims to ban marriages between immediate family members, reflecting a growing awareness of the genetic risks associated with such unions.

The proposed changes come in response to alarming statistics and scientific studies highlighting the high risk of genetic diseases in children born from marriages between close relatives. Officials reported that the number of registered marriages between relatives in Azerbaijan rose from 2,363 in 2021 to 2,542 in 2022. The Ministry of Justice noted that these figures are part of a troubling trend that underscores the urgency of legislative intervention.

In addition to the prohibition of consanguineous marriages, the proposed amendment includes the elimination of a provision that allows for a reduction in the legal age of marriage by one year. Furthermore, it introduces penalties for parents who arrange marriages for individuals under the age of 16, aiming to curb the practice of early marriages which remain prevalent in certain regions.

According to the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs, scientific research indicates a significant risk of genetic disorders in offspring from consanguineous marriages. The Committee emphasized the necessity of legislative changes, stating, "The state regularly takes measures to address the negative consequences of marriages between blood relatives, making adjustments to the legislation to protect public health."

Efforts to raise public awareness about the risks associated with consanguineous marriages are ongoing. The State Committee, in collaboration with various ministries and experts, organizes educational events, publishes informational materials, and conducts outreach programs. In 2023 alone, 107 educational events reached over 210,000 participants, disseminating crucial information on the health risks and legal implications of consanguineous and early marriages.

Despite these efforts, cultural and traditional stereotypes continue to challenge the effectiveness of the state’s measures. Patriarchal values and a positive approach to consanguineous marriages in some communities perpetuate these practices, leading to a rise in health issues such as hereditary genetic diseases and congenital anomalies. Azerbaijan currently has approximately 70,000 children with disabilities, a number that experts believe could be mitigated through increased public education and stricter enforcement of marriage laws.

Mehriban Zeynalova, chairwoman of the Clean World Women Assistance Public Union, in an interview with Radio Azadlig  raised concerns about the enforcement of the new legislation. She pointed out the difficulty in verifying the relationships between individuals who might change their surnames to circumvent the law. "If their surnames are different, it is very difficult to find out whether they are relatives or not. Only if the child is born sick, then they investigate whether the parents are relatives," she noted.

Zeynalova also suggested that the actual number of consanguineous marriages might be higher than reported due to underreporting and inadequate data collection methods. She urged for a more robust approach, including increased presence and educational efforts by healthcare professionals in rural areas to better inform the population.

As Azerbaijan navigates the complex interplay of tradition, law, and public health, the proposed amendment to the Family Code represents a critical step towards protecting future generations from the preventable health risks associated with consanguineous marriages. The success of this initiative will depend not only on legislative changes but also on sustained public education and cultural shifts within communities.

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