Single Mothers in Azerbaijan: No Rights to Assistance
Tens of thousands of children are born out of wedlock in Azerbaijan every year. When their parents split, children cannot count on child support from their father. Meydan TV took a look at how single mothers cope with such difficulties in Azerbaijan.
Saida (name changed – editor's note) gave birth to three children out of wedlock. After her partner and the children’s father left, Saida and her children had to ask relatives for help. When the pandemic began and many lost their jobs because of lockdown, she and her children had to move to a women’s shelter in Baku.
"My brother told me, “Your husband is enjoying his life, but I am not able to support your children”. He is right, my partner was not interested in the children for years, he never asked if they had anything to eat or wear, he did not help. My mother helped us all that time. But when our relatives refused us, too, I had to seek help at the shelter," Saida says.
Wedding reception instead of marriage registration
Rough estimates show that there are more than 100,000 single mothers in Azerbaijan. The practice of starting a family without an official registration of marriage is widespread in this country. Many young couples, especially among the traditional youth, simply do not find it necessary to legitimise their relationship at the state level. For society to regard their union not just as cohabitation but a family, it is enough just to throw a large wedding party. Being officially registered as married is not as important. However, many women and children later have to pay for the lack of that registration.
Parvana Najafova gave birth to five children out of wedlock. Her partner died several years ago. After her husband died, she was not been able to receive a pension that she would have received if they had legally been married. Parvana currently lives with her children in a railway train carriage and rightly feels left to the mercy of fate.
"I am raising five children in this carriage," Parvana says. "The children do not go to school because I don’t have the means. In order to feed them, I took on any job. I’ve worked as a laborer, I’ve worked in the fields. But I have been out of work for more than a year now." To somehow make ends meet, Parvana and her children collect and sell scrap metal.
No marriage registration, no child support
According to local human rights activist Shahla Ismail, more than 20,000 children were born out of wedlock in Azerbaijan in 2019 alone, which is 15 percent of the total number of newborns. Having a baby out of wedlock makes it very difficult for the mother to receive child support after breaking up. Child support can only be obtained if paternity is established in a court of law.
"Every time I had a baby I asked him to legalise our relationship and recognize our children. He did not agree to do it, and now he does not even want to listen," says Saida, who now lives with her three children in a women's shelter.
"If the man does not recognize his child, the woman needs to take legal action," lawyer Samad Rahimli explains. "After legal action is taken, a DNA paternity test needs to be done. But it is expensive for Azerbaijani standards, around 1,000 Euros. Women are not able to pay for it, which creates serious problems for them. Without paternity established, one cannot file a lawsuit to claim and obtain child support.”
Single mothers in Azerbaijan do not have, and have never had, any additional rights or benefits.
"Two people will back you, but twenty will judge you"
However, material difficulties are not the only problem that single mothers in Azerbaijan face.
Unlike many other single mothers, Gunel Farhadgizi has no problem providing for her child. She earns good money and provides her son with everything he needs, which is because she received higher education, she believes.
However, after Gunel learned that she was pregnant, both the child's father and many of her relatives and friends abandoned her. Gunel was not legally married, nor had she had a wedding party that could legitimize her union with the man in the eyes of society. any people condemned her decision to have a baby out of wedlock:
"He did not want the baby, but I was determined to keep it. This is the reason why we broke up," Gunel says. "But becoming a single mother turned out to not be an easy thing. It is really very difficult to have a baby out of wedlock. Two people will back you but twenty will judge you. When I was looking for a job, men made obscene offers when they learnt that I was single. I have received these kinds of obscene offers from men around me many times."
Human rights activist Shahla Ismailova says that single mothers have an especially hard time in the country, where there is already serious control over women:
"Society has a special interest in and pays special attention to widows and divorced women, as if it is trying to control their behavior. Any step they take may receive condemnation. The biggest condemnation may be given to women who gave birth to children out of wedlock."
To support her seven-month-old son, Gunel has to work all day long, while a nanny takes care of the baby. She spends weekends with her son, but says that everyday problems do not allow her to fully enjoy the time she spends with him:
"The thing that saddens me most is that I can only see my child grow up at weekends. I may miss the moment when he takes his first steps, because I am having to be a father to him, too, and I have to work and support the family."
Lawyer Samad Rahimli says that respectful treatment of mothers and children could be possible even if the country's legislation does not provide for a status or socio-economic benefits for single mothers:
"It is worth taking into account the fact that Azerbaijan joined the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The convention states in general terms that children have a right to decent upbringing. In this case, regarding financial support for children, single mothers need to be provided with certain help so that they can raise their children."
With the support of the Russian Language News Exchange
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