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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 December 2006, 15:06 GMT
Tajik girls drop school to marry
By Dina Newman
BBC World Service

Sarvinoz
Sarvinoz was married off - but then kicked out of her house
The collapse of the Soviet Union and the civil war in Tajikistan have made girl children particularly vulnerable.

Girls are brought up to be good Muslims and obedient wives, but many are unable to fend for themselves if family links break down.

During the civil war, parents married off their young daughters in order to protect them from kidnapping and rape by soldiers on both sides. But after the war, many impoverished parents in the countryside could not afford to send their daughters to school.

"My parents told me - don't go to school, stay at home," says Sarvinoz, who at the age of 19 cannot read or write.

When she was 16 she was married off. But three years later she had to leave her husband's home as she did not get on with her mother in law, and they told her to leave.

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Now Sarvinoz is wondering what to do. Although she would like to get an education and work as a teacher, at the moment she cannot even sign her name.

Teaching sewing

The village where Sarvinoz lives is situated in Garm, in Eastern Tajikistan, an area known for its patriarchal traditions. During the Soviet Union a modern school was built here, with money coming directly from Moscow.

When it was finished in 1989, it had the facilities of any modern secondary - language and science labs, and good sports facilities.

But Negina, a fifth-form teacher, says that every year there are fewer and fewer girls coming, and that as a result, the school has had to adapt its curriculum in an effort to attract girls.

"We visit parents, and we ask them: would they allow their daughters to go to school if we bring sewing machines and teach them sewing?" she said.

"They say, 'yes, why not? If girls are going to learn something, they can go to school.'

"Yes, we teach academic subjects, but parents say - 'what's the point of this?' They don't want their girls to study."

Teachers in Garm
Teachers are worried about the lack of girls attending school

Another teacher, Mairam Uruzbekova, is reading out a list of local girls who have dropped out of the school

This is the first year when the school is required to keep such a list. But even if the government has only just started thinking about it, non-governmental organisations have been raising the issue for years.

"Girls do not go to school, they work in the fields and they look after younger siblings," says Gulchikhra Mirzoeva, an expert in gender relations from Dushanbe.

"They have too much work from a very young age."

She recently visited a rural area and spoke to 12 girls aged between 10 and 12, none of whom attended school. Instead, they were all working in the fields.

'Future mothers'

Ms Mirzoeva says she found that amongst them there was a total lack of interest in getting an education.

"They said, 'we learn to read the Koran and we pray five times a day'. I said - the Koran is very good, but what about other books, what about reading and writing? They did not understand," she explains.

Abdujabor Rahmonov
Minister Abdujabor Rahmonov denies there is a problem
"They were more interested in talking about marriage, the kind of husband they are going to get, is he going to be young and good looking, is he going to have more wives or not.

"In the Soviet Union such cases were rare. It was illegal not to send a girl to school."

However, the Tajik education minister, Abdujabor Rahmonov, says he believes that the case Ms Mirzoeva observed is rare.

"Girls are future mothers, they should be well educated," he argues.

"Only one or two per cent of girls do not attend school."

If that is the case, then we were very lucky to meet several such girls as soon as we arrived in a village in Garm - some of whom were illiterate.

But the minister insisted that new literacy centres are being created for these girls to teach them to read and write.

And he also contended it is "very rare" for underage girls to get married and work in their husband's home.

"It happened during the civil war, but not now," he said.

"These are criminal cases, and the prosecutor's office is investigating them. We make sure it does not happen."




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