Mother of three Zuleikha Jafarova strangled her own 14-year-old daughter Elsan on August 3, 2016 in the Baku village of Balakhany.
As it later became known, some time before the tragedy the daughter had complained of pains in her abdomen and had been transferred to the hospital. After the examination, the doctors reported that the girl was not a virgin. Elsana claimed to have fallen in the bathroom, but the doctors told her mother that the fall could not have happened.
The mother tried for a long time to get her daughter to tell the truth about who she she had been intimate with. Eventually she filed a rape statement with the police. It turned out that Elsa’s rapist was her cousin.
Later at the trial, Zuleikha stated that she was ‘not herself’ when she committed the murder. At the trial, she explained her crime by “wanting to end [my] shame. Elsana was a naughty girl. In the beginning, I thought, the little one will grow up, get better. But then it became worse, she did not obey me, she was rude. And at some point I decided to kill her to end this shame”.
How many more such stories occur each year in the country? The Ministry of the Interior publishes only general data on the number of murders, but not separate statistics on suicides and domestic violence.
A law without effect
A law on counteracting domestic violence was adopted in Azerbaijan in 2010.
Experts, however, believe it is ineffective. For example, it is very difficult for victims of beating to receive a protection order. Lawyer of the public association “Children of Azerbaijan” Fariz Akberov explains why.
“On the one hand, we have a weak level of awareness on the side of the population, on the other – the condemnation of the society. A son must turn on his own father if he wants anything to be done about a beating. Society won’t do it for him. Yesterday, for example, a complaint was filed, but the children did not file a petition together. They were afraid of the condemnation of others.”
In Baku, there is a children’s shelter that has been in operation since the time of the Soviet Union. It has a ‘hot line’, where one can report cases of domestic violence. However, most of the children at the shelter are poorly cared for and subject to additional violence. Many of them do not have documents, because they have been found on the street by police and lead to the orphanage.
Three dozen children, most of them girls, and four mothers have found shelter at the orphanage. What to do with the girls who escaped from the home? It is not clear: family members can kill a girl at home because she “shamed” her relatives by running away.
There are simply no special shelters for victims of domestic violence in Azerbaijan.
“If such shelters existed, we would place those in need there, and then take measures in accordance with the law. But now the police have to return the runaway girls either back home, or to relatives. Such cases inevitably arise. As a result of their return, crimes are committed.”
In 2011, the youth organization “Ümidli Gələcək” (“Reliable Future”) tried to create a shelter in Baku for children who were subject to violence in the family. But due to the lack of constant funding it had to be closed. Now there are several shelters, but they are for women victims of trafficking, single mothers and street children.
Another form of violence is early marriage. According to Zemfira Mustafayeva, the chairman of the public association “Women’s Initiative and Assistance in Resolving Social Problems” in Sumgait, today the situation with underage marriage is a serious problem.
“Another girl came to us the other day. She was to be summoned to the mayor’s office for a conversation. And I offered to put her somewhere else. But where? The 15-year-old girl is going to be forced into a marriage. She is a very smart girl, and she studies well.”
The head of the press service of the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs Elgin Safarov asserts that now in Baku, Sumgait and Ganja shelters for women and children are still functioning.
“Before, there were even more of them, unfortunately, some of them stopped functioning. There is the Istanbul Convention (the Convention on the Prevention of Violence against Women of the Council of Europe – ed.). Unfortunately, Azerbaijan has not yet joined it. It requires that for every 200,000 people in the country one shelter be built. Unfortunately, there are no state shelters in Azerbaijan. ”
Indifference is also a form of violence
Not every child in a difficult situation can make the decision to call the police. To increase access to aid, hot lines are being created through which victims can receive psychological help.
Executive Director of the organization “Reliable Future” Kamala Ashumova says that the “hot line” of the organization receives from 3500-4000 children each year.
“The complaints are mainly related to physical, sexual and psychological violence. It is also a problem with their peers in school. There are times when parents abandon their children or treat them with indifference in fact, indifference is also a kind of violence.”
Ashumova says that since 2008, they have received about 20,000 calls on the hotline, and that they have individually worked with around 3,000 families.
According to the head of the press service of the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs Elgin Safarov, a preliminary outline of the National Plan of Action for the Prevention of Domestic Violence has now been drafted.
“The project was coordinated with other state bodies. It includes the creation of public shelters at the expense of the budget. Nevertheless, we expect that the National Action Plan will be adopted by the end of the year. Its implementation has already been planned for next year. International experience shows that most childhood suicides are related to domestic and family problems. To solve many important issues, you need finance. And this is one of the biggest problems”.
Witnesses are also victims
The Istanbul Convention separately notes that children become victims of domestic violence as witnesses of domestic violence. These children are not only psychological, but also legal problems. In June, the trial of a resident of the village of Kurd Gabala district, 25-year-old Khayal Verdiyev, who killed his wife Sabinu.
Their three children, the eldest of whom is only 6 years old, have been left in the care of the parents of the arrested father. The mother’s family seeks custody of the grandchildren – they do not want them to “live in the murderer’s house”.
The local branch of the Committee on Family Issues is keeping an eye on the situation. The director of the Mother Support Center Gunel Agayeva says that frequent checks show that the children are well cared for in this family. But “children who have lost both parents do not accept other people.” They need psychological support.