Married at 15: Ancient traditions return to Uzbekistan

There are increasing numbers of 15-year-old brides in Uzbekistan ©
The growth in the number of underage marriages is beginning to concern Uzbek authorities. The Women’s Committee reports that last year about 160 marriages were annulled due to the age of the woman.

However, an increasingly number of people do not believe there is anything wrong with a early marriage.

To marry off one’s daughter well is considered to be as good as having a son. Uzbek families place a lot of importance on their daughters’ husbands.

In traditional religious families it is considered the right thing to do for a daughter to marry as early as possible.

Married at 15

Zulfiya became a married woman immediately after she turned 15.

She had wanted to study medicine and become a nurse. When she came home from school one day her mother told her that a matchmaker had paid the family a visit and that she would soon be a bride. Zulfiya did not expect that her parents would wish her to be married so soon.

Her daily responsibilities now include doing all of the housework, taking care of her husband, and everything else to keep her mother-in-law happy.

“Matchmakers kept coming to our house. And my parents kept pushing me into marriage. I did not have a choice,” says Zulfiya.

During Soviet Union times it was customary for women to get married after they reached 20 years old. And university degrees were valued. However, even then there were cases of 15 or 16-year-old brides, however that was the exception not the norm.

In the past 10-15 years the age of matrimony in Uzbekistan has significantly dropped. And expectations about women has changed – education does not matter so much. Brides between 15-20 years are much in demand.

The reason for this drastic change is the return to the old family-centric traditions and the establishment of Islamic religious norms. However, according to current family laws the legal age of matrimony is 18 for men and 17 for women.

“Married off after the seventh grade”

Parents marrying off their daughters early rarely respect the young girl’s wishes. As a result, they are often forced to forget about further education or career aspirations.

That was Hosiyathon Akbarova’s fate, whose parents went so far as falsifying her age in her passport in order for her to be married at 15. She and her husband Sabirjan are going to celebrate a 45-year anniversary this spring. They have raised seven children.

“I have survived a lot. I had dreams of finishing school. In those times it was different. When I finished 7th grade, my parents married me off,” Akbarova tells “So I promised myself that I would not let my daughters marry until they finish their education.”
The civil registry office refuses to process marriages if a bride is younger than 17 years of age ©

Her elder daughter got married at 24, another at 25, and two others at 26.

“Early marriages are a return to the past”

Dilzoda Mutalova, the head of Andijan city civil registry office, says that it is very difficult to actually compile statistics on early matrimony. Girls younger than 17 cannot be officially married at the civil registry office.

This is when the clergy steps in and performs marriage ceremonies for underage girls. Only when the young family gives birth to a baby do they show up at the registry office.

Marfua Tohtahajaeva, a researcher of post-Soviet marriage trends and a women’s rights activist, believes this return to the past is cause for concern.

Tohtahajaeva’s books “Between Communist slogans and Islamic laws” and “Burdened by the past” talk about the past and future of women in the East.

“My experience with a women’s organization shows that early marriages are usually unsuccessful. Violence is the norm and a woman’s chance for personal growth are zero,” she says.

Underage marriage is a criminal offense

On April 30, 2013 the parliament amended the country’s criminal and administrative responsibility codes.

According to the Violation of Marriage Age Law act, marrying an underage individual can be subject to administrative and criminal prosecution.

The parents’ or guardians’ can also be criminally charged for participating in underage matchmaking and marriage.
Article 15 of the Family Law Code states that in exceptional and well-justified cases the city mayor can lower the age by one year, but only at the request of the bride and groom.