Learning to fight early marriages in Kyrgyzstan

Learning to fight early marriages in Kyrgyzstan
"ONE DAY, I WISH TO ATTEND A MEDICAL SCHOOL AND BECOME A DENTIST” - Adina PHOTO: UNDP

The number of early marriages in Kyrgyzstan still remains high. According to recent statistics, roughly 12 percent of brides in the country are under the age of 18.

Highlights

  • About 12 percent of brides in the country are under the age of 18.
  • After introduction of courses, number of students attending classes increased.
  • Sewing, cooking and computer classes are attended by 15 girls. It's planned to make them mandatory for the whole class.

In rural areas, girls are often subjected to arranged marriages upon completion of high school. Early marriage can have several deeply negative impacts on the lives and livelihoods of women and girls.

One of these impacts is in their education. These girls are usually forced to leave school, never gettting the chance to complete their education.This minimizes their opportunities to find work and become self-sufficient. These young brides are thus forced to depend on their older husbands even more. This is why it is important to get these girls back in school.

Paradoxically, one way to make both young girls and their parents understand the consequences of early marriage appears to be learning how to sew, cook, and use computers. Such workshops help these girls gain new skills – and renewed self-confidence.

In the village of Shark in Southern Kyrgyzstan, UNDP and the European Union, as part of their joint project, are helping one high school join the fight. To keep girls longer in school and thus prevent them from early marriage, the school has created sewing, cooking, and computer classes in addition to their regular curriculum.

Before this initiative was launched a year ago, the number of students attending school after ninth grade was low, with only two 10th grade groups. They now have three, and are growing still. Although courses are mainly intended for young girls, the school hasn’t neglected its boys.

Teachers talk with them about the consequences of early marriages, such as health and domestic violence issues. A specialized workshop class was also created so that young boys, as well as girls, learn sewing, cooking, and computer literacy.

“Children are interested in doing some real work,” says Roza Yuldasheva, one of the leaders of the community project. “We also noticed that the number of students who are skipping classes has declined, because they have computers and other new tools at disposal.”

“The local government will soon take over financial care of the school courses for preventing early marriage. They will implement a new course on sewing, cooking, and computers. Just like the current one, a new serious of courses should open these young girls to new opportunities and influences,” says project coordinator, Sharabidin Tairov.

While sewing a special glove for baking bread in tradtional clay ovens, a young schoolgirl named Adina says: “I have a lot of free time after school and I like coming here to learn how to sew. One day, I wish to attend medical school and become a dentist.” When we asked Adina if she would like to get married soon she started laughing along with the whole class.

The current class will graduate soon, and recently they won a regional competition for “Girls in technology”. Some of them are interested in cooking and sewing classes too, but they all share one common goal: to continue and finish their education before they do anything else. When the courses become part of the  school curriculum, they will be obligatory for everyone.