WASHINGTON - The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union, supported by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries.
Russian law bans forced, underage and polygamous marriages. But in Russia's remote Caucasus region, tribal laws and traditions carry more weight than state law. And so on Saturday, 47-year old Nazhud Guchigov married a 17-year old bride.
Chechen leader Kadyrov attended the wedding and one his aides was at the bride's side for most of the ceremony. Police warned Russian journalists who investigated the controversial wedding to stay away.
Despite laws against child marriage, in developing countries one in every three girls is married before reaching age 18. One in nine is married under age 15. The problem was discussed at a symposium in Morocco this week.
"We realize now that if we do not accelerate the pace, and if we do not respond more or put more programs in place, there will be 1.2 billion girls who will be married before the year 2050," said Lakshmi Sundaram, head of Girls Not Brides.
Bangladesh, India and Niger are the most affected countries with three in every four girls getting married before age 18. The practice continues mostly due to persistent poverty and gender inequality and is often arranged by a girl's parents.
"So it is at this level that we must first intervene. And the second level is at the community level, for the community to start perceiving these dangers," said Sidikou Moussa, a child advocate from Nigeria.
Experts say governments in the affected countries need to do more to keep girls in the educational system and protect them from abuse and violence.