Concern at Spread of Unofficial Marriages in Uzbekistan

Concern at Spread of Unofficial Marriages in Uzbekistan

Thursday, 15 January, 2009
More and more Uzbeks are marrying according to the Muslim rite but without going through the civil registration process. Commentators note that unless a marriage is officially recognised, wives in particular enjoy few legal protections.

On January 5, the Uzbek internet portal reported that President Islam Karimov had launched a campaign to deter people from going through marriage – and divorce too – with only a religious blessing and no formal registration.

Local media have articulated official concerns about the growing number of divorces involving partners with no marriage certificate, after which the wife is liable to lose all her property.

Some people in Uzbekistan agree with this view, arguing that a wedding conducted outside the state system can often mean storing up problems for the future.

“If the marriage ceremony is held in the mosque [only], divorce cannot legally take place and neither party can make claims to property,” said 19-year-old Jahongir, who is planning to get married himself.

The young man from Tashkent has already submitted all his documents to the civil authorities, and believes it will safeguard both him and his wife-to-be.

“In the case of divorce, for instance, each spouse can claim a share of property, and child custody and support”, he said.

Charos, a 26-year-old also from Tashkent who has a marriage certificate, is sure the system is the best way of ensuring both partners honour their obligations. A marriage contracted by religious rite is only as good as the spouses’ words.

“Men in religious marriages may disregard their responsibilities as husbands, thinking that they can easily dissolve their marriage by saying 'talaq' to their wives three times,” she said, referring to the Islamic prescription for divorce. “However, if a marriage has been registered officially, the divorcing spouses are given some time to think and change their minds and thus save their family.”

Others disagree, saying that the “unofficial” kind of marriage can be as lasting as an official one, if both partners have gone into it with consent and careful consideration and swear an oath to God.

Amina, an 18-year-old from the Tashkent region, got married according to the Muslim rite recently, and does not plan to follow this with a civil ceremony.

“In Islam you don’t have to register your marriage officially,” she said.

The vast majority of the 27-million people in Uzbekistan are Muslim.

Legal experts say couples will find it hard without a marriage license in daily life, since that means they cannot obtain birth certificates for their children naming them as parents. Nor can they apply for a joint mortgage or business loan.

In all likelihood, then, the bulk of people who go through the tradition Muslim wedding ceremony will continue contacting a civil-law marriage as well.

(NBCentralAsia is an IWPR-funded project to create a multilingual news analysis and comment service for Central Asia, drawing on the expertise of a broad range of political observers across the region. The project ran from August 2006 to September 2007, covering all five regional states. With new funding, the service is resuming, covering Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.)

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