A 16-year-old girl has been murdered in the southern Azerbaijani city of Masalli just two weeks after illegally being wed. The girl’s 19-year-old husband has been arrested on suspicion of murder but has denied his guilt.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs released a statement on Wednesday saying that the body of Fatima Gambarova was delivered to the district hospital with signs of violence earlier that day.
The ministry said that a forensic examination found injuries on Gambarova’s neck, right arm, and back, and suggested she was strangled.
The district Prosecutor’s Office has opened a criminal case on charges of murder.
The case has sparked a heated discussion in Azerbaijan over the practice of early marriages. Pictures of the couple’s wedding were spread widely online with many dubbing it ‘the children’s wedding’, as both the bride and the groom looked young.
According to the Interior Ministry, Gambarova married 19-year-old Iman Mammadov two weeks before her death.
Their statement said Mammadov was suspected of strangling Gambarova ‘during a dispute arising out of personal relationships’, however, during questioning, Mamedov denied committing the crime.
Vazir Huseynov, a representative of Masalli District Council, told Meydan TV on Wednesday that Gambarova was living with her grandparents. Huseynov reportedly said that her parents had divorced and that her mother had re-married.
Women’s rights activist Zumrud Yaghmur told OC Media that according to her source in Masalli, Gambarova and Mammadov had been engaged for two years and had constant conflicts in their relationships.
Yagmur said that Gambarova’s funeral took place on Thursday morning.
Elgun Safarov, head of the Information and Analytical Research Department of the State Committee for Family, Women, and Children Affairs, told Report on Wednesday that the committee was investigating the case.
He also noted that Azerbaijan had established a monitoring mechanism to protect children’s rights.
‘Any neglect, violence, or cruel treatment of children is inadmissible and, in such cases, those responsible should be held accountable under the law.’
‘According to Azerbaijan’s legislation and international conventions, in particular, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, minors are registered as children and the involvement of children in marriage is inadmissible. In this regard, criminal liability is provided’, he said.
Under Azerbaijani law, only those aged 18 and above can get married.
[Read more on OC Media: Two suicides in one week: the cost of forced marriages in Azerbaijan]
‘Many more cases’ in the south
Shahla Ismayil, the chair of the Women’s Association for Rational Development, a Baku-based NGO, told OC Media that there was, unfortunately, no data in Azerbaijan regarding early marriages or domestic violence.
‘No records are being kept and there are no attempts to record these cases. There is still an effort to smooth it over and show the public fewer [cases] than there actually are’, she said.
However, she also noted that their monitoring of data from the Interior Ministry ‘already shows an alarming situation not only in early, but also in forced marriages and marriage between relatives’.
Ismayil noted that according to monitoring by their’s and other women’s rights groups, while early marriages were a problem all over Azerbaijan, the southern regions had ‘many more cases than other regions’.
‘If you walk into the schools [in these regions], starting from the 7-8th grades, you will not see schoolgirls in the classrooms. Their parents don’t let them proceed with their education, and the girls prepare to be brides’, she said.
Ismayil said that even though the investigation was ongoing, her previous experience suggested the perpetrator was unlikely to be held responsible.
She said that such young couples ‘definitely are not able to create a family, either physiologically or psychologically’.
‘The law sets the age for marriage at 18. This is the minimum threshold, but not optimal […] Before 20, it’s not rational to create families. Obviously, this greatly affects education, especially for girls’, she said.
[Read about child marriages in the Azerbaijani communities of Georgia on OC Media: Georgia’s early marriages: destinies blackened in white dresses]