Lost in Tradition

Myriam Meloni

2015 - 2016


In Georgia, a small post-Soviet country, having romantic relationships without being married is mostly unacceptable, sex is a taboo, and traditional gender roles are still very marked.

It follows that, according to a recent UNFPA study, 17% of Georgian girls get married when they are still underage: for the will of their parents, for love, for tradition or following the kidnapping by a suitor.

Most of the girls quit school, give up their dreams and become wives, mothers and often servants in the home of men they don't know at all.

Often isolated from their peers and from their families of origin, young brides are extremely vulnerable to physical and emotional abuse and only with a few exceptions manage to get some kinds of economic and decision-making autonomy.

In order to adapt to the requirements of the European Union in terms of human rights protection, Georgia tries through new regulations to address and eliminate the practice of early marriage.

I strongly believe child marriage is not a practice that can be simply removed with a tougher law: it’s necessary to gradually work on the mentality of people so to turn a practice considered for centuries as natural into one perceived as a problem.

Being conscious of the power of photography to grab our attention and speak directly to our emotions, the aim of this project is not only to promote a deeper understanding of the phenomenon but also to generate empathy of the audience toward those young mothers and brides who have the courage to tell their story despite the strong social pressures they receive.

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  • Maca, 17 years old from Omalo, Pankisi, North-Eastern Georgian region inhabited by the Kists (descendants of Chechens). Maca got married at 16, is mother of a six months old child and is now once again pregnant.

  • Bows decorate the entrance of a house. According to tradition, the pink or red bows indicate that in that house lives a newly married or engaged girl.

  • Girls playing in the patio of a school in the Azeri village of Iormuganlo.
    Secondary-school education through 12th grade is compulsory in Georgia, but many families often do not see why a teenage girl should pursue an education, if her primary role will be housekeeping and childrearing.

  • A bridal shop in the town of Marneuli (Kvemo Kartli). According to the Azeri tradition two separate weddings take place: one for the groom, where women need to wear white dresses, and one for the women, where the brides need to wear colored dresses. Women normally rent rather than buy their wedding dresses.

  • An empty classroom in the village of Dzevri.
    One of the consequences of early marriage is the dropout from school: to address this problem and encourage girls to continue their studies, the Mac Laine association for children, set up in 2012 a scholarships program for the students of Dzevri school. The only requirement for the scholarship is not getting married before finishing college.

  • Tamuna, an early bride, performs a traditional Georgian dance in her family's home. Her family in law prohibited her to dance. Few months ago she fled her husband and returned to her family's home. She has now pressed charges against him for mistreating her, from which she hopes to get some money to be able to live decently.
    Kvemo Kartli region, Georgia, 2016.

  • Samira, 17. She is engaged since she was 16 with a man who glimpsed once. When asked if she felt in love with another boy before being compromised, she began to cry.

  • A sanctuary where women come to express their desire to get pregnant. When underage girls become pregnant, they often experience complications during pregnancy and childbirth, as their bodies are not ready for childbearing.
    Imereti region, Georgia, 2016.

  • An underage girl the day of her wedding. Before December 2015, girls aged 16-18 could get married with permission from their parents. On the initiative of the Ombudsman of Georgia, the law was amended and now 16-18 years old girls must get permission from the court as well as from their parents to get married.
    Kakheti region, Georgia, 2016.

  • Megi, 16, taking care of her newborn baby in the house she shares with her husband and parents in law. Most of the child spouses live with their parents-in-law since the beginning of their marriage and some experience a great deal of stress and pressure from the mother-in-law.
    Batumi, Adjara region, Georgia, 2016.

  • A rose bush in bloom. Many women avoid getting married in May as according to the Georgian tradition, getting married in May brings bad luck for women.

  • Megi,16 portrayed with her husband. She got married when she was 15, after talking with her future husband via chat during 3 months.

  • A carpet edged with a portrait of a married couple. When girl get married she must be virgin that’s the couple don’t live together after engagement.
    Kakheti region, Georgia, 2016.

  • Eggs. The young brides are supposed to have their first child, within the first years of marriage.

  • Women prying in an Orthodox church: Local NGOs attempts to introduce sexual and reproductive health and rights in Georgian school curriculum have always found the opposition of the Church.

  • Ia with her child. She got married at 17.
    According to the Georgian Ministry of Education and Science, 7,367 girls dropped out of school before the age of 15 during the period of October 2011-January 2013. There are no data about the reasons that these girls dropped out, though based on the observations referred to in reporting by the Public Defender, early marriage was a prominent factor in most cases.
    Ia is one of the rare exceptions, as she never stops to study, and dream to become a pharmacist.
    Imereti region, Georgia, 2016.

  • Harvest of pumpkin in Naila's home. Naila is now 21 years old: she got married at 16 and is mother of a 5 years daughter and a four years son. When I asked permission to portrait Naila, her husband objected, saying he could not allow his wife to be photographed alone.

  • A young girl hides behind hanging blankets at Tamuna's house. According to the few data available, Georgia has one the highest rates of female underage marriage among European countries.Child marriage is a gendered phenomenon that affects girls and boys in different ways. Overall, the number of boys in child marriages around the world is significantly lower than that of girls.