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Plight of Single Mothers in Azerbaijan
Suraya Qahramanova and one of her children. (Photo: Gulnaz Qanbarli)
Single mothers in Azerbaijan often find themselves trapped in poverty because state safety-net systems are so inadequate, and ex-husbands renege on alimony payments.
Government statistics indicate that it has become much more common for mothers to be unmarried since the end of communism in 1991. That year, just 4,800 children were born outside wedlock, while last year’s figure was 18,500. Around 5,000 of these births were registered without a father being named on the certificate.
It is also common for couples to go through the Muslim wedding rite without notifying the state; this denies wives of the protections afforded by a legal marriage.
Aynur Sofiyeva, deputy head of the State Committee for Families, Women and Children says women are also left to fend for themselves by divorce and the death of a spouse, and wants the government to do more to help them.
Official figures show that the number of divorces rose by 16 per cent in 2009 and 2010.
Chingiz Qanizade, a member of parliament who is a lawyer by profession, points out another problem – absent husbands who are not officially divorced.
“In the provinces, there are many single mothers whose husbands have gone abroad to earn money, decided to stay there and don’t help their children at all,” he said. “In such cases, all the financial problems fall to women.”
By law, husbands have to pay alimony to their ex-wives, but since average wages are low, the mandatory payments are inadequate. In any case, husbands frequently ignore court orders requiring them to pay alimony.
“After a divorce, men often think all the entire financial and moral burden of responsibility for the children falls on the woman,” Matanat Aizova, head of the Women’s Crisis Centre. “They distance themselves from paying for the children. In spite of court decisions, men don’t pay alimony.”
Justice ministry official Khanlar Zeynalov explained that judges could order one-off or monthly payments from the ex-husband, or a sum to be paid by the state if the man was unemployed. He insisted that non-payers were subject to prosecution and faced stiffer penalties than before.
Qanizade has proposed an “alimony fund” which would be controlled by the state and which absent fathers would be forced to pay into. His suggestion has yet to be debated in parliament.
Child benefits are too small to make a difference to single-parent households in Azerbaijan. The government issues a single payment of 75 manats, about 95 US dollars, for each newborn child, and the poorest families are entitled to an additional 30 manats a month until the child’s first birthday.
Experts agree that these tiny sums are of little use to women left to raise their children on their own.
“It isn’t enough to pay for nappies and baby food. The benefit paid for a newborn baby shouldn’t be a one-off thing, but monthly – 75 manats would be a miserly sum even to cover the monthly outgoings on a child. For single mothers, it’s just catastrophic,” Mehriban Zeynalova, head of the Clean World group which campaigns for women’s rights, said.
Women who have not formally registered their marriage with the state face particular problems after separation or the death of a spouse.
When Suraya Qahramanova’s partner died, leaving her with two young children to support, she was unable to claim child benefit because she had not been legally married.
“Normally children left without a parent receive money from the state until they become adults,” she explained. “But our marriage wasn’t registered officially, so my children have been refused social benefits.”
Qahramanova said she was unable to get a full-time job because she had no one to take care of the children.
“Sometimes I go and do cleaning for an acquaintance, but the money I earn doesn’t cover my outgoings,” she said.
Gulnaz Qanbarli is a freelance reporter in Azerbaijan.
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