At the age of 14, Kifayat Mammadova was married and already an expectant mother. A year and a half later, her marriage had failed, her child had died, and she was on the road to Baku from her village in the mountains of southern Azerbaijan in search of a new life.
Barely literate, 18-year-old Mammadova now works as a waitress at a Baku café. Her husband, six years her senior, left for Russia for work soon after the death of their child and did not return. “It was not possible to live with his parents, but my father did not allow me to return to our home,” she related. “I had to escape to Baku.”
Mammadova’s parents had forced her to get married at a local mosque, thus leaving her legally vulnerable. Her story is far from unique in Azerbaijan, and it’s part of a pattern that Azerbaijani authorities want to end by holding parents and mullahs criminally responsible for underage marriages.
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Shahin Abbasov is a freelance journalist in Baku and a board member of the Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation – Azerbaijan. Sitara Ibrahimova is a freelance photojournalist based in Baku.