Uzbekistan cracks down on underage marriage

Uzbekistan has tightened controls on underage marriage by making it punishable with fines and even jail, a move officials in the secular but mostly Muslim country said was made out of concern for mothers and children's health.

Marrying age is set at 18 for men and 17 for women in Central Asia's most populous country. However, there has had been no actual punishment for breaches in the Uzbek family code until now.

"According to new amendments to the law, first there is a fine from five to 10 times the minimal salary (around $380) as an administrative punishment," said Svetlana Artikova, a member of Uzbek senate.

"If the marriage is re-committed within a year following administrative punishment, then there is criminal prosecution," she told AFP.

Underage marriages following administrative warnings are punishable by fines of up to $1,100, deductions in salary for a year, or imprisonment for three months.

Parents and guardians could face fines of nearly $2,000, two-years' salary deductions, or four months imprisonment, according to the changes.

The law also slaps three-year salary deductions and imposes prison time of six months on couples who renew their wedding at religious ceremonies.

The Uzbek authorities have spent years fighting fundamentalist Islamic influences in the country of 30 million people.

But some parents have still been marrying their children under Islamic rules before those marriages are registered with the state once the couples turn of age.